Mild vs Sharp Cheddar: What’s the Difference?

Of all the cheeses, there is perhaps none more American than cheddar—except, of course, American cheese. And also, cheddar isn’t actually American—it’s British. It originated in a British town known, coincidentally enough, as Cheddar. But nevertheless, Americans love cheddar. It’s a popular choice on a burger, in a sandwich, on a charcuterie platter, melted down into a dip, or just chomped on straight from the package in the middle of the night. 

Even for those who are relatively cheese-averse, cheddar is a safe choice. It doesn’t have the overpoweringly strong flavors of, say, a camembert or a gorgonzola. And yet, for those connoisseurs who can’t get enough of the more potent cheeses, cheddar still holds appeal. 

The reason cheddar is beloved by so many is because there is actually a wide spectrum of this cheese with different flavor profiles. This mainly comes down to sharp vs mild cheddar. But, what is the difference between sharp and mild cheddar? Let’s slice into some answers.

Mild vs sharp cheddar: flavor

You’ve probably noticed that cheddar cheese is often labeled as “mild,” “medium,” or “sharp.” You may have even seen labels on some cheddar cheese packages that say something like “Seriously Sharp,” “Extra Sharp,” or “Life-Threateningly Sharp” (okay, I made that last one up). It’s clear that sharpness is a gradation of some kind, but how is sharpness achieved? It turns out that this cheddar metric comes down to how long it’s aged.

Most cheese is aged—though not all. Feta, for example, is brined fresh, and mozzarella is an unaged cheese as well. But generally, cheeses undergo some sort of aging process. During aging, the cheese dries out, but enzymes and microbes keep developing within it. This gives aged cheeses a more crumbly texture, and stronger flavors. When it comes to cheddar, the sharp version is noticeably tangier and richer in flavor than mild cheddar.

Mild vs sharp cheddar: age

At what age does mild cheddar become sharp cheddar? According to the folks at Cabot Creamery, “Mild cheddar cheese is generally aged for 2 to 3 months, whereas an extra sharp might be aged for as long as a year.” And some are aged for even longer. It’s wild to think that some of the cheese we’re snacking on could be older than a baby who can say “mama” and walk on its own.  

Mild vs sharp cheddar: cost

From a scientific/cheesemaking standpoint, aging is the difference between mild and sharp cheddar. There are a few other differences, though. One is the price point. Because aged cheddar takes longer to make and has a more sought-after flavor for cheese lovers, it is usually more expensive than mild cheddar. 

Mild vs sharp cheddar: meltability

Another notable difference between mild and sharp cheddar is the melting point. So, does sharp or mild cheddar melt better? The answer is clearly mild. Mild cheddar is smooth and will melt easily. The sharper a cheddar gets, the harder it is to melt. It will still melt—it is a cheese after all—but expect less unity and more clumpiness than with the mild version. 

As for which cheese is better—sharp vs mild cheddar—that’s entirely dependent on your preference of flavor and the context in which you’re using it. But really, you can never go far wrong when it comes to cheddar or cheese in general. 

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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