Maturation of cheddar is affected by many factors. Some key ones are:
The quality of the milk as it enters the vat will have a large impact on cheese maturation. Milk breakdown commences as soon as the cow is milked. This breakdown leads to enzyme production. Some enzymes, particularly those produced by psychrotrophic bacteria can lead to unpleasant stale flavours in cheese. If milk quality is excellent than a more consistent cheese can be produced.
Traditionally Lactococcus lactis and cremoris strains were used. These produce a clean typical cheddar flavour but often require long maturation times to develop exceptional flavours. Most bulk starter cultures for cheddar are still composed of these. However many direct vat cultures contain a wider variety of species and strains which will develop flavours more rapidly. Starter selection will influence the flavour and character of the cheese
Adjunct cultures are added to impart particular flavour characteristics. They do not contribute to acid development during cheesemaking. This allows product differentiation and also more rapid flavour development. Popular adjuncts include Lactobacillus helveticus and Lactobacill paracasei
I have seen cheddar stored between 2 and 12°C. The lower the temperature the slower the maturation. Cheddar in the US is sold at up to 7 years of age. This would have been made with low moisture and low storage temperatures. This produces very clean cheddar flavour. Maturing at higher temperatures, 9-12°C may lead to development of other flavours such as “fruity” which are favoured by some customers.
Non-starter lactic acid bacteria (nslabs) are those bacteria that are indigenous to the factory environment and enter the cheese from equipment, surfaces, walls and operators. If the same milk and starter was used in different factories the cheese would be different because of the NSLABs. Maintaining excellent hygiene standards will control the nslabs and thus lead to a consistent product. NSLABs may contribute to a depth of flavour which sometimes may be missing from cheddar produced in modern very hygienic plants. This depth of flavour can be attained by the careful selection of starters and the use of adjunct cultures.