Craft: Inside the Making of Black Radish Creamery's New Cheddar

Nicole Rasul
Anne Reese carries a clothbound cheddar inside Black Radish Creamery's cheese cave

Since being named one ofColumbus Monthly's 2017 Tastemakers, John and Anne Reese, owners of Black Radish Creamery, have been busy not only making award-winning preserves and manning their North Market cheese shop, but also fine-tuning their fledgling cheese-making operation.

This summer, the pair released a clothbound cheddar called Charlie's Legend to the public. The young, 4-month-old version is mild and creamy with hints of butter. With several truckles, or tall cylinder-shaped cheese wheels, still resting in the aging room at their creamery outside of Granville, the duo plans to release a sharper, 9-month-aged variety of the cheddar this holiday season.

While honing their skills in the cheese world and managing their shop, the Reeses have been closely evaluating Central Ohio's artisanal cheese needs. “There really aren't a lot of makers in Ohio crafting clothbound artisan cheddar,” Anne says. “We know that people love cheddar. It's an easy, approachable cheese that everyone seems to be familiar with.”

In addition to serving the young variety with charcuterie or on a cheese plate, the Reeses note that the milder version is fabulous in grilled cheese, on top of burgers or melted in a sauce to pour over macaroni. The older version, which contains less moisture and is not as pliable, is best savored on its own. “It needs to be the star,” John says about the 9-month-old cheddar.

Charlie's Legend is an homage to John's grandfather, Charlie Mason, a larger-than-life entrepreneur who served as a mentor to John. You can find the cheese at Black Radish's stall in the North Market, at its farmers market stands in Worthington and Granville or in select Central Ohio stores.

Crafting an Artisanal Clothbound Cheddar

Clothbound, or bandaged, cheddar has deep roots in cheese-making tradition. After it fell by the wayside with the introduction of wax coating, American artisans are rediscovering the use of cloth to protect an aging cheese. The cloth allows greater moisture evaporation during the cheese's maturation, creating a deep, complex flavor in the final creation.

“With cheese, time is part of the recipe,” John says. Cheddar-making is a scientific and labor-intensive process that involves significant stirring, heating, cutting, stacking and cleaning. To make a successful cheese, ingredients must be added or interacted with at the exact times noted in a recipe.

Here's a look at Black Radish Creamery's process for making cloth-bound cheddar:

1. Black Radish starts with raw grassfed cow's milk from the creamery's “partner in farm,” Stone Wall Dairy, located near Cambridge, Ohio, and adds a customized blend of cheese cultures and rennet. This step ferments the milk and enables curd to form. The liquid byproduct, whey, is continually drained off the curds.

2. In a technique called cheddaring, the curds are pressed together to form a solid, dense mass that gets cut into blocks. These blocks are turned and stacked atop one another, which encourages the product to continually expel whey. Due to the considerable moisture loss during cheddaring, the final creation develops a compact and crumbly texture.

3. The blocks are then broken down by hand, the curds are salted, stirred once again and pressed into cloth-lined truckle molds. The molds are left in a cheese press for 24 hours.

4. The Reeses then cover the clothbound truckles in butter, a process unique to their cheddar—most operations use lard. According to John, this gives their cheddar a hint of butter in each bite. They also add sprigs of fresh thyme to the truckles, which serves as an artist's stamp on the final product.

5. The truckles are placed in the aging room where they are tenderly cared for with frequent brushing, patting and vacuuming while acquiring their flavor, texture and rind. When the cheese is ready to go to market, the truckles are removed from the aging room, undressed from their cloth and cut for sale.

5 Cheese-making Terms to Know

Cheesemonger: Not to be confused with “cheesemaker,” a cheesemonger is a professional who knows cheese from A to Z. “They are like what a sommelier is to wine,” John Reese explains. The American Cheese Society offers a Certified Cheese Professional Exam to train these specialized cheese purveyors.

Rennet: An enzyme used in cheesemaking that is extracted from the stomachs of young dairy-consuming animals like calves and lamb. The enzyme aids in the digestion process by curdling the milk. Plant-based rennet is also available.

Raclette: Pronounced “ra-clet” not “race-let,” the term is both the name of a semifirm cow's-milk cheese as well as the technique of heating and melting the cheese and then scraping it onto a plate for consumption. The term is derived from the French term “racler,” meaning “to scrape.” At their North Market shop, John and Anne Reese offer raclette on the lunch menu. The couple is preparing for the production of their own raclette, which will be available for sale in early 2019.

Cheddar: The name of this popular cheese is derived from the Somerset County village in southwest England where it's believed to have originated in the 12th century.

Gouda: Americans are notorious for mispronouncing the name of this mild cow's-milk cheese, one of the most popular in the world. The word is pronounced “ghow-duh” not “goo-duh.” And if you're in the Netherlands, where Gouda originated, it's actually “how-duh.” Black Radish Creamery plans to release its artisanal Gouda to the public in several months.