Cheese Mix Cheese
Cheese was probably invented somewhere in Western Asia or Southeastern Europe where herding tribes had domesticated milk producing animals. Someone probably stored milk using the stomach of a young calf or goat as a container and found it had curdled - but was still quite edible. By squeezing out the liquid, milk could now be made more transportable and it lasted longer. By adding salt it could be preserved for some time.

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General Terms and Definitions

Cheddar
Technically, "cheddaring" is the process of pressing the curds and standing them for a few minutes to a couple hours after separating from the whey. This develops a desired texture. Although many cheeses are "cheddared", in trade the name is applied to certain aged cheeses resembling those originally made in England. Cheddaring develops a fibrous texture, but "Cheddar" cheeses are ground after cheddaring to make them smooth.

"Cheddar" cheeses are now made in many countries, in a very wide range of versions and an even wider range of quality.

  • Natural Cheddar:   These cheeses are made by traditional processes and properly aged. They are generally dense, firm, and tangy. They may be in "Mild", "Medium", "Sharp" and "Extra Sharp" versions, the designation depending on aging. The longer the age, the sharper the flavor and the firmer and more crumbly the texture. Natural cheddar melts well and is smooth and not rubbery when melted. It can be white to orange depending on how much annatto is added for color.
  • Industrial Cheddar: This is a product of large factories and resembles real cheese - to an extent. It is almost always a "mild" grade. It melts into a rubbery mess, making it totally unsuitable for uses like Welsh Rabbit. For this reason it is usually grated before adding to anything that will be cooked. Ingredients are often various milk extractions with chemical stabilizers and artificial color.

Fresh Cheese
Generically, any freshly made unsalted or very lightly salted, unaged whole milk or part skim milk cheese. These are made in every region where cheese is made, often in households or on farms, but also in factories, particularly here in Southern California where the demand is very high and safety controls are very tight.

Fresh cheeses are subject to rapid spoiling (5 days or so refrigerated) and can easily become contaminated with pathogens if due care is not taken. These cheeses are predominantly soft, but can be firm, and are white unless dyed.

Goat Cheese
Goat cheese is a generic term for a fresh white cheese made from the milk of goats. American goat cheese tends to be made up into logs about 1-1/2 inches diameter and can be quite soft while Greek goat cheese is often firmer and made up into blocks or packed in plastic tubs. Goat cheese becomes very soft when heated but does not become runny.

How Cheese is Made

The full process listed here would be for an aged and ripened cheese. The process is varied for different types of cheeses and some cheeses don't go through all the steps, particularly fresh cheeses will not be aged and loose cheeses will not be pressed.

  1. First you milk your beast - cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, camel or whatever. The milk may be used as is, or it may be skimmed, or enhanced with extra cream, or you may pasteurize it, even homogenize it, depending on the cheese you are making. Some, like Swiss, can't be made from pasteurized milk and some soft cheeses just don't taste the same if not made from raw milk.
  2. You warm the milk and add a starter bacteria culture to increase the acidity of the milk so it will curdle properly.
  3. At a particular point you add a curdling agent. For simple farmhouse cheeses like Paneer or some recipes for Farmer Cheese, lemon juice is both acidifier and does the curdling, no starter being used. More elaborate cheeses will use rennet (extracted from the fourth stomach of a suckling calf (some disassembly required)) or now more commonly produced by genetically engineered bacteria (vegetable - microbial rennet) in large factory vats. Other curdling agents are also used.
  4. You cut the congealed mass with a long knife to allow the whey (watery part) to drain off the curds (gel part).
  5. The curds are gently cooked to further coagulate them and make them more firm. Most cheeses are cooked in the whey, but for "washed curd" cheeses like colby the whey is replaced with water to produce a milder cheese.
  6. The curds are then "cheddared" for a few minutes to a couple of hours by piling them up in a mass. The weight produces a fibrous texture. Some milder cheeses like Colby are not cheddared.
  7. You then "mill" the cheese which may be stretching and kneading to enhance the fibrousness (Mozzarella), or grind it up to make it smooth (Cheddar).
  8. The cheese is then salted and pressed to remove the last of the whey and slow further fermentation.
  9. You can now age the cheese and further develop it with special molds (blue cheeses) or bacteria. "Fresh" cheeses are not aged and some are pickled in brine (Feta, Nabulsi).
Major Cheese Making Regions

Anatolia & Caucasus

  • Armenia doesn't need to export a lot of cheese to the U.S. because tons of Armenian cheeses are made every day here in California. Georgian cheeses are also made here.
  • Turkey is a major cheese producer and exporter, particularly of white goat and sheep cheeses preserved with salt or brine. Semi-hard cheeses are also made and some foreign style cheeses for export. Many other types are made all over Turkey, but these are the major varieties.

North America

  • California is the second largest cheese producer in North America but is first in producing many ethnic cheeses to satisfy our diverse population. California is also a hotbed of artisanal cheese makers producing very high quality products - and has plenty of yuppies to buy them.
  • Mexico / California . Mexican cooking uses a lot of cheese, and Mexican cheeses are unique, so California churns out Mexican cheeses in vast tonnage to satisfy our large Mexican population.
  • Wisconsin is the largest cheese producer in North America, and guilty of many tons of "industrial" cheeses. Lacking the ethnic diversity of California, they produce fewer types of cheese, but do make some very fine cheddar and hard Italian style cheeses. Some Near Eastern cheeses are also made there.

Europe

  • Scandinavia - famous for Danish Blue cheese and for a feta which can't be called feta anymore due to a lawsuit by Greece. Many other cheeses are made here.
  • France - the Mecca of cheese - France produces a bewildering array of cheese types, and many of the highest quality cheeses found anywhere in the world.
  • Greece, Balkans, Southeast Europe This is the region where cheese was probably invented. It is much known for goat and sheep cheeses.
  • Holland became famous hundreds of years ago for excellent cheeses that stood up well to shipment by sailing ships. These cheeses are still popular.
  • Italy makes almost as many different cheeses as France and has a similar attitude regarding quality. Unlike French cheeses, the Italian cheeses are used much more in cooking than on cheese plates.
  • Switzerland is well known for the bubble riddled "Swiss Cheese" (Emmentaler) that is imitated worldwide with various degrees of success, but the country makes a number of other aged cheeses, mostly hard but some soft.

India has a long dairy tradition in the north, but also has customs forbidding food to be held overnight and strictures on using animal rennet for coagulation. For these reason the only cheese much used there is Paneer, an acid coagulated cheese that can be used the day it is made. Paneer is not much used in southern India because the population there is largely lactose intolerant.

Near & Middle East:   While not widely known as a cheese producing region, the Near and Middle East (and we'll toss in North Africa, including Egypt here too) do make some unique cheeses.

Health & Nutrition

Cheese is very high in protein, and often turned to by Ovo-Lacto vegetarians to help them get adequate protein. This is also complete protein which needs no supplementation. Cheese, however, is also high in fats, so must be used with discretion.

Lactose Intolerance:   All cheeses contain some lactose, a milk sugar, but the amount varies greatly. Lactose intolerant people can often eat cheeses that are aged more than three months because the lactose is turned into easily digestible lactic acid by bacteria.

Process cheeses like Velveeta have the most lactose, as much as fresh milk, followed by Mexican Queso Fresco and other fresh, unaged cheeses. A lactose intolerant person can often build up a tolerance by starting with aged cheeses and gradually moving to the less aged.

Protein Intolerance:   The main protein milk contributes to cheese is casein, which is precipitated out in the curdling process. This leaves several other proteins still dissolved in the whey. These can be used to make some other cheeses, like Ricotta. Some people can be allergic to casein, or whey proteins, or both. This is called "Dairy Allergies", which is entirely different from Lactose Intolerance.

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©Andrew Grygus - agryg@clovegaden.com - Photos on this page not otherwise credited are © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted