So I tried a fairly large block of Armstrong, thinking: I KNOW this one will be good, because it's, well, it's Armstrong cheddar! Award-winning Armstrong Cheddar. They're constantly bragging about all their awards, and I have always had good experiences with it. And voila, mild, milky, bland, almost waxen cheese. Not anybody's idea of a real cheddar. It's hard to get your knife through it because it sort of bulges out and sticks to the knife like glue. I could use it in place of mozzarella on a pizza, and it would "string" the same way.
Cracker Barrel, Sharp White
Comments: "There's something weird about this that I can't explain and do NOT like." "Tastes like nothing." "Too creamy, sort of like eating butter." "Bland and waxy." "There's something about this that I don't like. Too lactic?"
Cracker Barrel, Extra Sharp White
Comments: "The texture is too gummy but the flavor is decently sharp." "Boring." "Way too mealy -- how did they manage that?" "Rubbery, with not much flavor." "The texture is weird, but I love the sharpness."
Cracker Barrel, Sharp
Comments: "I like the creamy mouthfeel but it tastes like Velveeta." "Seems like a good melter, but it's not sharp enough." "Tastes fake, like American cheese." "Tastes like American cheese." "Tastes too processed, almost like Velveeta."
Hmmmmmm. There's that V-word again.
Most of the high-ranking cheeses in this comparison test are brands I've never heard of, probably available only in the States. Somebody mentioned Costco, and though I quailed at the thought of bringing home a 30-pound brick of bad cheese, I've been pleasantly surprised at their home brands up to now and am tempted to take a chance, once we've somehow gotten through this awful Armstrong stuff that set us back a miserable $12.00.
Listen, folks, we'd love to be cheese snobs. We'd love to drive 100 miles to a specialty store, but we can't afford the gas. Nor can we afford the cheese. We've got to find something that, like my beloved, rich, piquant Lucerne, can serve me consistently without breaking our budget. I can't afford to have a formerly-yummy cheese end up tasting like a block of blubber. I have to be able to depend on it.
By the way, I discovered in my cheese sleuthing that the "off" texture and Heidi's-milk-pail smell and taste results from insufficient ageing. Armstrong used to pride itself on a cheddar that had been aged 5 years, and it was pretty darned good for the most part. Now it's just junk. It's barely aged at all, maybe for a few months. Rush it along, age it the minimum amount and add some sort of flavoring to make it appear "extra old", while the industry web sites burble on about Canadian cheddar winning international awards. I've even noticed a kind of fake texturing made by small air bubbles injected in it, to imitate the marbled quality of good cheddar with its natural cracks and fractures. From the outside of the wrapper, it even looks kind of like the real thing.
(Cheese-o-philes, take notice. As usually happens when I am exploring a topic, I came across unexpected things. The blog below is cheese porn, no doubt about it, and I doubt if I will ever be able to find/afford any of these. The lady lives in Vancouver, but must spend a lot of her time at the Granville Island market. We're lucky if we get there once a year. But it's a nice blog, nicely set up, simple, no pop-ups or ugly margins or things happening all over the place. Just cheese.)
(Wait! There's more! Trying to suss out the mystery of formerly tasty cheese turning into orange rubber, I came across the Cracker Barrel company fan site. You're not going to get balanced, objective views here, folks. Keep in mind that this is THE SAME Cracker Barrel cheddar that turned the stomachs of the Huffpost taste panel. I'll just include one comment because after reading it, I became sick and had to go lie down for a while.
Back 50+ years ago Cracker Barrel cheese was the most favorite thing in my 3 year old life. My uncle would call me on the phone, I would stand up in a kitchen chair and tell him what I wanted him to bring me from the store. It was always Cracker Barrel cheese with crackers. He and I shared a birthday and a love of cheese, when he passed in 1977, he was 101 y/o he loved it too. Now whenever I sit and have Cracker Barrel cheese and crackers I enjoy a wonderful memory and a wonderful cheese as well. Thank you for a wonderful product and wonderful memories.