Bitter Cheddar? Unveiling the Mystery Behind This Classic Cheese

  • Cheddar cheese can taste bitter due to aging, as older cheeses develop bioactive peptides that contribute to a sharp or bitter flavor
  • The use of rennet, particularly vegetable rennet, in cheese-making can also make cheddar bitter, as it tends to get more bitter with age
  • Undesirable organisms in the cheese-making process, such as bacteria from unclean conditions, can cause bitterness, though this is more of a concern for homemade cheeses
  • Bitterness varies with the type of cheddar, where mature cheddars are likely more bitter than mild ones
  • The choice between animal and vegetable rennet affects the bitterness, with vegetable rennet-associated cheeses being more prone to bitterness over time

Why Is an Aged Cheddar More Bitter?

There’s a variation in cheddar cheese bitterness because not all cheddars are aged the same. During the aging process, a natural phenomenon occurs in cheese, including cheddar.

Bioactive peptides are produced, and the longer the cheese ages, the greater the accumulation of these peptides. This increase in peptides is what contributes to a more pronounced bitter taste in aged cheddar.

Cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality – Clifton Fadiman

These peptides are responsible for the development of a sharper or more bitter flavor in cheese. As a result, mild cheddars aged for just a few months tend to have a smoother taste.

Conversely, mature cheddars aged for several years often develop a more pronounced bitterness due to the higher concentration of peptides.

Can Rennet Make Cheddar Bitter?

Something else to consider is the use of rennet in cheese-making.

Cheesemaking begins with rennet, an enzyme that curdles milk’s casein protein. This separation of curds from whey is the first step in the cheesemaking process.

Traditionally, rennet was sourced from the lining of the fourth stomach in calves, which was cut into small pieces.

I confess I am a cheese addict – Madhur Jaffrey

These pieces are then placed into whey or salt water, and then vinegar or lime is added to reduce the pH of the overall solution.

You may initially believe that this would make the solution bitter, but it doesn’t.

With that being said, it is estimated that only around 5% of all cheese produced in the world now uses animal rennet.

Therefore, the majority of rennet is now produced from plants, such as nettles and thistles, or other bacterial sources.

You’ll typically find that vegetable rennet gets more bitter as it ages, typically after 6 months or more.

Whereas, animal rennet will not get bitter.

But, when you consider that the vast majority of cheddar (and cheeses) now use vegetable rennet, it’s easy to see why the finished product may taste bitter.

Easy Cheese Making With Rennet

Can “Undesirable Organisms” Make Cheddar Bitter?

If you’ve researched online the reason why cheddar cheese is bitter, you’ll typically be greeted with information about “undesirable organisms”.

However, in truth, this doesn’t strictly refer to the cheddar cheese you purchase at the store or the supermarket.

Well, you’d hope not anyway.

This is far more geared to those who make and produce their cheddar cheese.

So, undesirable organisms are something to look out for if you make cheese at home for your consumption.

Cheese: the best thing to happen to milk since sliced bread – Laura Werlin

This refers to perhaps obtaining inferior quality milk, typically alkaline-forming and protein-splitting bacteria.

This is often the case if the milk is collected from dirty cows.

Then again, this could be due to using old starter bacteria, and even from rusty or unclean milk cans.

So, as I say, this is not something that you’d typically have to worry about from store-bought cheddar.

However, if you are making your cheese, any one of these things can cause your cheddar to taste bitter.

My Final Thoughts

So, I hope you understand that there are a wide variety of reasons why cheddar cheese is bitter.

The most obvious of these will have to do with age.

The older (mature) a cheddar is, the more peptides will form, which will impart a more bitter taste.

With that being said, rennet is used in the cheese-making process.

This was traditionally done using animal rennet.

However, in the modern day and age vegetable rennet is much more commonly used.

Vegetable rennet is more bitter (especially when aged) than the animal variety.

Finally, if you’re actually producing your cheddar, or have even gone directly to a farm, the bitter taste could be down to undesirable organisms.

Talking of unwanted stuff, what happens if you don’t refrigerate Cheddar cheese?

Do you lean towards a particular age or type of cheddar based on its flavor profile?

Let us know in the comments below!


Why does cheddar cheese taste bitter?

Cheddar cheese can taste bitter due to the aging process, which increases the presence of bioactive peptides. The use of vegetable rennet, which may become bitter over time, also significantly influences the bitterness of cheddar cheese.

What role does aging play in the bitterness of cheddar cheese?

The aging process is crucial in determining the flavor profile of cheddar cheese. As cheddar ages, it produces more peptides, which are responsible for the sharp or bitter taste. Therefore, a mature cheddar aged for several years is likely to taste more bitter compared to a mild cheddar aged for a few months.

Can the type of rennet used in cheesemaking affect the bitterness of cheddar?

Yes, the type of rennet used in cheesemaking can affect the bitterness of cheddar. Traditional animal rennet does not contribute to bitterness, whereas vegetable rennet, derived from plants like nettles and thistles, can become more bitter as it ages, especially after 6 months or more.

What are “undesirable organisms” and how can they make cheddar bitter?

“Undesirable organisms” refer to bacteria that can cause cheddar cheese to taste bitter. These include alkaline-forming and protein-splitting bacteria, often a result of using inferior-quality milk or unclean equipment. This issue is more pertinent to homemade cheese production rather than store-bought cheddar.

What are the main factors that contribute to the bitterness of cheddar cheese?

The main factors contributing to the bitterness of cheddar cheese include the aging process, the type of rennet used, and the presence of undesirable organisms during cheese production. Age and rennet type are significant for all cheddar cheeses, while undesirable organisms are a concern mainly for homemade cheddar.

Is it possible to reduce the bitterness in cheddar cheese?

While the article does not explicitly address reducing bitterness, selecting cheddar that is younger or made with animal rennet might result in a less bitter taste. Additionally, ensuring clean and high-quality milk and equipment can minimize bitterness in homemade cheddar.

How can consumers choose less bitter cheddar cheese?

Consumers looking for less bitter cheddar cheese should opt for younger, milder varieties and look for cheddar made with traditional animal rennet, if possible. Reading labels and understanding the aging process can help in making a more informed choice.

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