With so many cheeses available around the world it is not surprising thatthere is sure to be a type of cheese you will enjoy. There is a hugenumber of types and flavors that are available. Most cheese lovers havefavorites as well as favorite ways to eat them but not many know the history orhow many different varieties there really are. The sheer volume of cheeseconsumed each year is what makes it such a global phenomenon.
Depending on how it’s made, cheese can take on a variety of flavors. Thereare some cheeses that are flavored with dried fruit or even honey. Cheeseartisans create different combinations of flavors to tease and titillate thepalate. In Wisconsin, they mixed sweet, tart cranberries with smoky chipotle tocreate a cheese that tastes a little like barbecue sauce. There is even an agedgoat cheese rubbed with cocoa powder. For libation lovers, cheese is paired withwine, liquor or even beer. One cheese maker creates a cider soaked cheese withreddish-brown veins.This hunt for flavor goes back all the way to olden days when cheese wassmoked with fruits such as apples to give it some added dimension. Whatever themethod, cheese inspired creativity, which led to thousands of distinctions andmillions of cheese lovers. Over the course of history, Europeans have refinedthe art of cheese making and even cheese consumption. Cheese is eaten with mostmeals if not all meals. It can be the center of a dish, served as dessert whencombined with certain fruits, or a quick snack on the go. It really is one ofthe most versatile foods in the world.
15) Casu Marzu Cheese
When it comes to cheese, most people are aware that it is the fermented form ofmilk. However, there is one cheese that takes the process one step further tothe decomposition stage and that’s Casu Marzu cheese. This sheep’s milk cheeseis considered to be an aphrodisiac and is native to Sardinia, an island off thecoast of Italy between Corsica and Sicily.Casu Marzu is made when pecorino cheese is left out with a piece of the rindmissing. This encourages Piophila casei, the cheese fly, to lay its eggs in thecheese. These eggs hatch and the larvae eat their way through the cheese. Theirdigestive acids break down the fats of the cheese making it soft and spreadable.In Sardinia, it’s eaten with a piece of moistened flatbread. The cheese fly laysthousands of eggs so by the time Casu Marzu is ready to be eaten by humans,there are thousands of maggots in the cheese.
The funny thing about Casu Marzu is that it is considered safe to eat onlywhen the maggots are alive and active within the cheese. Placing the cheese inthe fridge kills the maggots in the cheese and renders Casu Marzu unsafe forconsumption. The translucent white larvae are one third of an inch long and canjump up to 6 inches. It’s not unusual for them to jump off the bread as itsbeing spread. Those who want to eat the cheese and not the maggots can put thecheese in a sealed bag. The act of depriving the maggots of air agitates themand makes them jump off the cheese into the bag. The process is similar topopping corn so when the popping sound lessens or stops, most if not all of themaggots have jumped out of the cheese.For many years it was considered illegal in Europe and was only available onthe black market, sometimes for double the price of pecorino. It wasn’t untilthe 80’s and 90’s that it was declared a traditional food and not subject to theregular hygienic standards of other cheeses. Researchers found a safe method tocreate the maggoty cheese while keeping it traditional and it began sellinglegally in Europe in 2005.
14) Cheese Has Eyes
Swiss cheese is the generic, commercial name given to cheeses produced aroundEmmental, Switzerland. The holes in this cheese are called eyes. To make these,cheese makers use three types of bacteria each from the species ofStreptococcus, Lactobacillus, and Propionibacterium. The propionic bacteria eatthe lactic acid that is produced during the process and it produces carbondioxide. This forms the eyes of Swiss cheese. Acetate and propionic acid arealso produced during this process and they are responsible for Swiss cheese’snutty, sweet flavoring.
When it was first created, the holes were considered imperfections and thecheese makers tried to avoid them. Now the eyes are considered trademarks ofSwiss cheese. Swiss that has fermented for a long time has larger eyes. Whilethe flavor is more pronounced it becomes a problem for the industry becauselarge eyes don’t slice well. In 2002, USDA regulators limited the size of theeye to a maximum of 11/16 of an inch so that the cheese can be sliced properly.Cheese makers adjusted the temperature and curing time to comply with the newstandard.
13) Cheese Making isover 7,000 Years Old
The art of cheese making dates back to as early as 5500 B.C. This is significantbecause it shows archaeologists that Neolithic farmers were evolving beyond theroles of hunter and hunted as they were becoming less nomadic.There were a few cattle-herding sites found in the region that is now Polandthat indicated that cows were not just slaughtered for meat and milk. Farmersfound means to maximize the use of their herds by creating byproducts such ascheese. Because milk was easily corruptible but an important part of the diet,finding ways to preserve it became an important part of Neolithic development.Early humans were lactose-intolerant and naturally made cheese that had lesslactose making it easier to digest.Over time, farmers found a process to turn milk to an easily digestible formusing certain tools. Specific kinds of milk residue were found in pottery, suchas man-made sieves and strainers indicating that milk was most likely curdled toform cheese. While dairy farming was present in other sites such as Africa andareas near Istanbul between the fifth and seventh millennia BC, those sitesshowed no evidence of cheese-making.
Cheese making eventually made its way to Ancient Egypt. Murals from 2000 BCdemonstrate the making of butter and cheese as well as how they stored milk inskin bags on poles. Through the spread of the Roman Empire came the refined artof cheese making. Some Roman houses even had separate kitchens for making cheesecalled careale.Through certain historical writings and references you can trace the art andinfluence of cheese making throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. During thetwelfth century BC the writer Homer wrote about a cheese called Cynthos that wassold by the Greeks to the Romans.Over a thousand years later during the second century BC, the use of rennetbecame a common ingredient in making cheese and cheese was becoming a serioussource of revenue. By fourth century AD, cheese was regularly exported to theMediterranean and by the collapse of the Roman Empire, cheese making hit thecoasts of the Adriatic and Aegean as well as Southern and Central Europe.
12) Cheese Eaten by the Pounds
A study done in 2003 found that Americans were eating an average of 30 pounds ofcheese per person yearly. That equated to nearly nine billion pounds of cheese.With a population of over 300 million and growing, that could easily pass 10billion in 2013. California alone produces more than 250 types of cheese, butthe American palate has become desirous of more sophisticated varieties ofcheeses. Not only are they munching on local and farmstead cheeses but they arealso into blue cheeses, mozzarella and other aged gourmet varieties.
Thirty pounds per person is a lot of cheese but it’s no surprise that Francebeats the US eating between 20kg and 25kg (45-55 pounds) of cheese, perperson, per year, The history of cheese in France goes all the way back toEuropean monks in the Middle ages. France has over 360 types of cheese made andnamed for different regions and communities in the country. Cheeses in Franceare made by a single farm, a co-op of farmers, or commercially produced. Almostall cheese is regulated by the Appellation d’Origine Protegй (AOP), whomaintains certain standards of cheeses throughout the country.The Greeks squeak by the French by eating more than 27 kg (60 pounds) ofcheese per year. There are 19 types of Greek cheese that were awarded theprotected designation of origin (PDO) by the European Union that protect thequality of certain agricultural products. This was done to protect the originand representation of a country’s national cheeses.
11) Annatto, NaturalCheese Dye
Annatto seed, also known as achiote, comes from a pod that contains multipleseeds. It’s a seed that is used in Latin American and Caribbean dishes. It has asweet, nutty, spicy flavor that imparts a range of color from light yellow todeep orange. Commercially, it’s used to color a variety of foods includingcheese, butter, margarine, smoked fish and others. Traditionally, it’s used inthe Spanish dish arroz con pollo to give rice that yellow color.
It was used in Gloucester cheese starting in the seventeenth century. Duringthe summer, the higher carotene levels in the grass would give the milk apronounced orange hue, which showed up in cheeses. That coloration became a signon top quality cheese and other cheese makers used annatto to replicate thecoloring. The practice spread to cheeses that came from Cheshire, Red Leicesterand even Scotland.Annatto seeds are rich in antioxidants called tocotrienols. This antioxidantis similar to vitamin E and is found in other forms of oil. It’s thesubject of medical research and trials related to cancer prevention. It’s alsoused as a treatment for common infections and is considered safe for consumptionby most people.
10) The Most Expensive Cheese is Not French
In 2004, it was discovered that the most expensive cheese is not made in Franceor even Italy but in Sweden. In a town called Bjursholm, Christer and UllaJohannson made cheese from their three moose cows, Gullan, Haelga, and Juna,Between May and September, the cows produce one gallon of milk a day whichyields between 650 to 660 pounds of moose cheese per year.
Milking a moose can take up to two hours because when moose are disturbed,the milk dries up. That’s why moose need to be milked in complete silence. Milkis curdled just three times a year and with the intensive process of collectingit as well as the limited supply, the price of moose cheese is about $500 perpound or $1,000 per kilo.
9) Camel Milk Cheese
In general, a camel can yield between five and twenty liters of milk per dayeven without drinking water for nearly three weeks. The problem is that camelmilk doesn’t coagulate easily and bovine rennet proved ineffective in theprocess. Thanks to technological advances, scientists are able to use vegetablerennet and camel rennet to curdle the milk and create camel cheese. Currently,the cheese is only produced and sold in Mauritania. There are restrictionspreventing it from being sold in Europe while supply difficulties make it hardto manufacture and sell in the U.S.
8) The Story of Blue Cheese
Blue cheese is a generic term used to describe certain cheeses that havecolorful, distinctive veins of blue or green. These cheeses are inoculated withvarieties of Penicillium and then aged for at least three to five months. Thestory behind Blue Cheese involves a young man forgetting his cheese in a cave.Months later he returns to find the cheese veined and that’s how blue cheese wasdiscovered. These cheeses have no rind and have a distinctively biting flavor.Roquefort is a type of blue cheese with green veining that was mentioned inwritings as early as 79 AD. It is France’s second most popular cheese. Gorgonzola is a blue veined Italian cheese that’s been produced in Gorgonzola,Milan since the ninth century. Bleu d’Auvergne is a less salty, creamier bluecheese that’s used in salad dressings. Stilton is an English blue cheese that isused to flavor soups and is eaten with crackers and pears.
7) Cheese Protects Teeth
Cheese is a great source of calcium but the benefits go far beyond that. Cheeseactually protects your teeth from tooth decay also known as caries. Teeth gothrough a natural cycle where the minerals of the enamel are lost and regained.This demineralization/re-mineralization process replaces lost calcium with thehelp of the saliva. Cheese stimulates saliva production and also clears foodparticles from your teeth. After eating most foods, the mouth becomes moreacidic. Teeth are vulnerable to acidity because it erodes enamel so the balanceneeds to be restored. Eating cheese counteracts this acidity and balances the pHof the mouth, preserving your enamel. Phosphorus is the second most abundantmineral in the body, behind calcium. Both work to build strong teeth as well asbones. Cheese contains both calcium and phosphorus which protects the enamel andprevents plaque build-up. Aged Cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, and Blue are some of thecheeses that reduce tooth decay.
6) The Proper Wayto Eat and Store Cheese
Many people buy cheese, put it in the fridge, and cut it without much thought.To get the full flavor of cheeses, there are some rules. Slicing cheese is anecessity but when buying unpasteurized cheese, it shouldn’t be pre-sliced or itwill lose a lot of the flavor and aroma. Semi-hard, semi-soft and hard cheeseshould be kept between 46-56 degrees and should be taken out anywhere between 30minutes to two hours before serving so that the flavors develop.
When refrigerating cheese, it shouldn’t be wrapped tightly or locked in afreezer bag. Cheese needs to breath. The best way to help this is to wraploosely in wax paper, not clingy plastic wrap. Place it in a loose fitting bagthat will allow humid air to circulate. One of the best places to put cheese isin the crisper so that it doesn’t dry out and become hard. The only exception tothe tight wrapping rule is moldy cheese. They need to be wrapped completelybecause their mold spores migrate to anything near it including other food.Cheese needs to be protected from other strong smelling foods because it willtake on the aroma and may spoil quicker.
5) There are over 2000 varieties of cheese
While there isn’t an exact number, the number of cheeses in the world is in thethousands and can usually be categorized simply.
4) Rennet is Essential to Cheese Making
Rennet is a group of enzymes that are added to milk to help it to separate intocurds and whey. These are naturally occurring enzymes found in a calf’s stomachand are vital to the cheese making process. The traditional method involveshaving the stomachs of young calves dried, cleaned and then used to create asolution which naturally coagulates milk. The proper concentration of thesolution is added to the milk and the process goes on from there.
The more modern approach follows the same idea. Calf stomachs are frozen,milled and then the enzyme is extracted. Acid is added to activate the enzymesand the rennet is filtered and made ready for use. Since stomach acid isunavailable, some cheese makers use citric acid to create the reaction.Because the original form of rennet is in limited supply, there arealternative forms of rennet made from vegetable and microbial sources.Scientists found a way to make certain fungi, yeasts, and bacteria ferment toproduce the enzyme chymosin. The process called fermentation-produced chymosin,(FPC), is used by 80 to 90 percent of manufacturers during the cheese makingprocess. Because the microorganism is killed during and after fermentations,chymosin does not contain any genetically modified substances. The fungusAspergillus niger and the yeast Kluyveromyces lactis are the most widely usedcommercial sources of chymosin. FPC has the distinction of being the firstartificially produced food substance allowed by the U.S. Food and DrugAdministration. Because it is not animal based, FPC is vegetarian appropriate,certified kosher, and yields cheeses that are less bitter with better texture.
3) The Original Cream Cheese is Not from Philadelphia
Many people associate cream cheese with the brand Philadelphia and assume thatit is just processed cheese. The truth is cream cheese is derived fromNeufchвtel cheese that dates back to the 16th century French regionNeufchвtel-en-Bray. It was made like many other cheeses, using rennet forcoagulation. It’s was then dusted with penicillium candidum, molded, matured,and manually salted. American cream cheese is an attempt to recreate Neufchвtelcheese according to multiple reports. The result was a creamier consistency thatwas more spreadable and was lower in fat. In the late 19th century, dairymanWilliam Lawrence purchased the Neufchвtel factory in New York and started massproducing the cream cheese. It quickly became very popular and in 1880, thecream cheese company was called Philadelphia.
2) Oldest Edible Cheese
A block of 40 year old cheddar cheese was the oldest edible cheese in the worldin 2012. A Wisconsin cheese maker made batches of cheese decades before andstored them in the back of his cooler. He then forget about them until he was inthe process of shutting his store. In addition to that block, he found cheeseblocks that were also 34 and 28-years-old. The youngest block of cheese wastasted and to the surprise of many, it was still creamy. There were these pinkcrystals that provided an intense flavor experience when patrons bit into them.The 40-year-old cheese was a bit more intense. So much so that it was decidedthat in order for it to be palatable, it needed to be eaten in smaller piecesthan normal.
People were surprised by the quality of the cheese after so many decades. Thecheese maker stated that it was due to the freshness of the ingredients. Thecheese was made from the milk on the same day and that was why it was able tohold its flavor after all that time. The lot of cheeses was bought by anotherlocal store owner. He decided to sell one ounce of the 40-year-old cheese forbetween $10 and $12 each. He sold out of it quickly and still had the34-year-old cheese, which became the oldest edible cheese.
1) The Biggest Cheese Producer
Worldwide the cheese market is over $55 billion dollars strong and the U.S. isthe largest cheese producer in the world. Australia and New Zealand used to bestrong contenders but are both experiencing tough times due to high feed costsand adverse climates. While the U.S. is the largest cheese producer, China andIndia cheese consumption is experiencing double digit increase thanks toincreasing wealth and urbanization.
But you can’t talk about cheese production without mentioning Wisconsin. TheBadger State produced 2.8 billion pounds of cheese in 2012. That’s a whopping 25.4 percent of the nation’s cheese production. California was second at 20.7 percent in 2012.