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Cheese is a food derived from milk that is produced in a wide range of flavours, textures, and forms by coagulation of the milk protein casein. It comprises proteins and fat from milk, usually the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep. During production, the milk is usually acidified, and adding the enzyme rennet causes coagulation. The solids are separated and pressed into final form. Some cheeses have moulds on the rind or throughout. Most cheeses melt at cooking temperature.
Hundreds of types of cheese from various countries are produced. Their styles, textures and flavours depend on the origin of the milk (including the animal's diet), whether they have been pasteurized, the butterfat content, the bacteria and mould, the processing, and aging. Herbs, spices, or wood smoke may be used as flavouring agents. The yellow to red colour of many cheeses, such as Red Leicester, is produced by adding annatto. Other ingredients may be added to some cheeses, such as black peppers, garlic, chives or cranberries.
For a few cheeses, the milk is curdled by adding acids such as vinegar or lemon juice. Most cheeses are acidified to a lesser degree by bacteria, which turn milk sugars into lactic acid, then the addition of rennet completes the curdling. Vegetarian alternatives to rennet are available; most are produced by fermentation of the fungus Mucor miehei, but others have been extracted from various species of the Cynara thistle family.
Cheese is valued for its portability, long life, and high content of fat, protein, calcium, and phosphorus. Cheese is more compact and has a longer shelf life than milk, although how long a cheese will keep may depend on the type of cheese; labels on packets of cheese often claim that a cheese should be consumed within three to five days of opening. Generally speaking, hard cheeses last longer than soft cheeses, such as Brie or goat's milk cheese. Cheesemakers near a dairy region may benefit from fresher, lower-priced milk, and lower shipping costs. The long storage life of some cheese, especially if it is encased in a protective rind, allows selling when markets are favourable.
A specialist seller of cheese is sometimes known as a cheesemonger. Becoming an expert in this field requires some formal education and years of tasting and hands-on experience, much like becoming an expert in wine or cuisine. The cheesemonger is responsible for all aspects of the cheese inventory: selecting the cheese menu, purchasing, receiving, storage, and ripening.
There is some debate as to the best way to store cheese, but some experts say that wrapping it in cheese paper provides optimal results. Cheese paper is coated in a porous plastic on the inside, and the outside has a layer of wax. This specific combination of plastic on the inside and wax on the outside protects the cheese by allowing condensation on the cheese to be wicked away while preventing moisture from within the cheese escaping.
The word cheese comes from Latin caseus, from which the modern word casein is also derived. The earliest source is from the proto-Indo-European root *kwat-, which means "to ferment, become sour".
More recently, cheese comes from chese (in Middle English) and cīese or cēse (in Old English). Similar words are shared by other West Germanic languages—West Frisian tsiis, Dutch kaas, German Käse, Old High German chāsi—all from the reconstructed West-Germanic form *kāsī, which in turn is an early borrowing from Latin.
When the Romans began to make hard cheeses for their legionaries' supplies, a new word started to be used: formaticum, from caseus formatus, or "moulded cheese" (as in "formed", not "mouldy"). It is from this word that the French fromage, Italian formaggio, Catalan formatge, Breton fourmaj, and Provençal furmo are derived. The word cheese itself is occasionally employed in a sense that means "moulded" or "formed". Head cheese uses the word in this sense.
Cheese is an ancient food whose origins predate recorded history. There is no conclusive evidence indicating where cheesemaking originated, either in Europe, Central Asia or the Middle East, but the practice had spread within Europe prior to Roman times and, according to Pliny the Elder, had become a sophisticated enterprise by the time the Roman Empire came into being.
The earliest evidence of cheese-making in the archaeological record dates back to 5,500 BCE, in what is now Kujawy, Poland, where strainers with milk fats molecules have been found. Earliest proposed dates for the origin of cheesemaking range from around 8000 BCE, when sheep were first domesticated. Since animal skins and inflated internal organs have, since ancient times, provided storage vessels for a range of foodstuffs, it is probable that the process of cheese making was discovered accidentally by storing milk in a container made from the stomach of an animal, resulting in the milk being turned to curd and whey by the rennet from the stomach. There is a legend – with variations – about the discovery of cheese by an Arab trader who used this method of storing milk.
Cheesemaking may have begun independently of this by the pressing and salting of curdled milk to preserve it. Observation that the effect of making cheese in an animal stomach gave more solid and better-textured curds may have led to the deliberate addition of rennet.
Early archeological evidence of Egyptian cheese has been found in Egyptian tomb murals, dating to about 2000 BCE. The earliest cheeses were likely to have been quite sour and salty, similar in texture to rustic cottage cheese or feta, a crumbly, flavourful Greek cheese.
Cheese produced in Europe, where climates are cooler than the Middle East, required less salt for preservation. With less salt and acidity, the cheese became a suitable environment for useful microbes and moulds, giving aged cheeses their respective flavours.
The earliest ever discovered preserved cheese was found in the Taklamakan Desert in Northwestern China and it dates back as early as 1615 BCE.
Ancient Greece and Rome
Ancient Greek mythology credited Aristaeus with the discovery of cheese. Homer's Odyssey (8th century BCE) describes the Cyclops making and storing sheep's and goats' milk cheese. From Samuel Butler's translation:
We soon reached his cave, but he was out shepherding, so we went inside and took stock of all that we could see. His cheese-racks were loaded with cheeses, and he had more lambs and kids than his pens could hold...
When he had so done he sat down and milked his ewes and goats, all in due course, and then let each of them have her own young. He curdled half the milk and set it aside in wicker strainers.
By Roman times, cheese was an everyday food and cheesemaking a mature art. Columella's De Re Rustica (circa 65 CE) details a cheesemaking process involving rennet coagulation, pressing of the curd, salting, and aging. Pliny's Natural History (77 CE) devotes a chapter (XI, 97) to describing the diversity of cheeses enjoyed by Romans of the early Empire. He stated that the best cheeses came from the villages near Nîmes, but did not keep long and had to be eaten fresh. Cheeses of the Alps and Apennines were as remarkable for their variety then as now. A Ligurian cheese was noted for being made mostly from sheep's milk, and some cheeses produced nearby were stated to weigh as much as a thousand pounds each. Goats' milk cheese was a recent taste in Rome, improved over the "medicinal taste" of Gaul's similar cheeses by smoking. Of cheeses from overseas, Pliny preferred those of Bithynia in Asia Minor.
The British Cheese Board claims that Britain has approximately 700 distinct local cheeses; France and Italy have perhaps 400 each. (A French proverb holds there is a different French cheese for every day of the year, and Charles de Gaulle once asked "how can you govern a country in which there are 246 kinds of cheese?") Still, the advancement of the cheese art in Europe was slow during the centuries after Rome's fall. Many cheeses today were first recorded in the late Middle Ages or after—cheeses like Cheddar around 1500, Parmesan in 1597, Gouda in 1697, and Camembert in 1791.
In 1546 The Proverbs of John Heywood claimed "the moon is made of a greene cheese." (Greene may refer here not to the colour, as many now think, but to being new or unaged.) Variations on this sentiment were long repeated and NASA exploited this myth for an April Fools' Day spoof announcement in 2006.
Until its modern spread along with European culture, cheese was nearly unheard of in east Asian cultures, in the pre-Columbian Americas, and only had limited use in sub-Mediterranean Africa, mainly being widespread and popular only in Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and areas influenced by those cultures. But with the spread, first of European imperialism, and later of Euro-American culture and food, cheese has gradually become known and increasingly popular worldwide, though still rarely considered a part of local ethnic cuisines outside Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and the Americas.
The first factory for the industrial production of cheese opened in Switzerland in 1815, but large-scale production first found real success in the United States. Credit usually goes to Jesse Williams, a dairy farmer from Rome, New York, who in 1851 started making cheese in an assembly-line fashion using the milk from neighbouring farms. Within decades, hundreds of such dairy associations existed.
The 1860s saw the beginnings of mass-produced rennet, and by the turn of the century scientists were producing pure microbial cultures. Before then, bacteria in cheesemaking had come from the environment or from recycling an earlier batch's whey; the pure cultures meant a more standardized cheese could be produced.
Factory-made cheese overtook traditional cheesemaking in the World War II era, and factories have been the source of most cheese in America and Europe ever since.
A required step in cheesemaking is separating the milk into solid curds and liquid whey. Usually this is done by acidifying (souring) the milk and adding rennet. The acidification can be accomplished directly by the addition of an acid, such as vinegar, in a few cases (paneer, queso fresco). More commonly starter bacteria are employed instead which convert milk sugars into lactic acid. The same bacteria (and the enzymes they produce) also play a large role in the eventual flavour of aged cheeses. Most cheeses are made with starter bacteria from the Lactococcus, Lactobacillus, or Streptococcus families. Swiss starter cultures also include Propionibacter shermani, which produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles during aging, giving Swiss cheese or Emmental its holes (called "eyes").
Some fresh cheeses are curdled only by acidity, but most cheeses also use rennet. Rennet sets the cheese into a strong and rubbery gel compared to the fragile curds produced by acidic coagulation alone. It also allows curdling at a lower acidity—important because flavour-making bacteria are inhibited in high-acidity environments. In general, softer, smaller, fresher cheeses are curdled with a greater proportion of acid to rennet than harder, larger, longer-aged varieties.
While rennet was traditionally produced via extraction from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber of slaughtered young, unweaned calves, most rennet used today in cheesemaking is produced recombinantly. The majority of the applied chymosin is retained in the whey and, at most, may be present in cheese in trace quantities. In ripe cheese, the type and provenance of chymosin used in production cannot be determined.
Some hard cheeses are then heated to temperatures in the range of 35–55 °C (95–131 °F). This forces more whey from the cut curd. It also changes the taste of the finished cheese, affecting both the bacterial culture and the milk chemistry. Cheeses that are heated to the higher temperatures are usually made with thermophilic starter bacteria that survive this step—either Lactobacilli or Streptococci.
Salt has roles in cheese besides adding a salty flavour. It preserves cheese from spoiling, draws moisture from the curd, and firms cheese’s texture in an interaction with its proteins. Some cheeses are salted from the outside with dry salt or brine washes. Most cheeses have the salt mixed directly into the curds.
Other techniques influence a cheese's texture and flavour. Some examples are :
Most cheeses achieve their final shape when the curds are pressed into a mould or form. The harder the cheese, the more pressure is applied. The pressure drives out moisture—the moulds are designed to allow water to escape—and unifies the curds into a single solid body.
Some cheeses have additional bacteria or moulds intentionally introduced before or during aging. In traditional cheesemaking, these microbes might be already present in the aging room; they are simply allowed to settle and grow on the stored cheeses. More often today, prepared cultures are used, giving more consistent results and putting fewer constraints on the environment where the cheese ages. These cheeses include soft ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, blue cheeses such as Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, and rind-washed cheeses such as Limburger.
There are many types of cheese, with around 500 different varieties recognized by the International Dairy Federation, more than 400 identified by Walter and Hargrove, more than 500 by Burkhalter, and more than 1,000 by Sandine and Elliker. The varieties may be grouped or classified into types according to criteria such as length of ageing, texture, methods of making, fat content, animal milk, country or region of origin, etc.—with these criteria either being used singly or in combination, but with no single method being universally used. The method most commonly and traditionally used is based on moisture content, which is then further discriminated by fat content and curing or ripening methods. Some attempts have been made to rationalise the classification of cheese—a scheme was proposed by Pieter Walstra which uses the primary and secondary starter combined with moisture content, and Walter and Hargrove suggested classifying by production methods which produces 18 types, which are then further grouped by moisture content.
Moisture content (soft to hard)
Fresh, whey and stretched curd cheeses
Content (double cream, goat, ewe and water buffalo)
Soft-ripened and blue-vein
EATING AND COOKING
At refrigerator temperatures, the fat in a piece of cheese is as hard as unsoftened butter, and its protein structure is stiff as well. Flavour and odour compounds are less easily liberated when cold. For improvements in flavour and texture, it is widely advised that cheeses be allowed to warm up to room temperature before eating. If the cheese is further warmed, to 26–32 °C (79–90 °F), the fats will begin to "sweat out" as they go beyond soft to fully liquid.
Above room temperatures, most hard cheeses melt. Rennet-curdled cheeses have a gel-like protein matrix that is broken down by heat. When enough protein bonds are broken, the cheese itself turns from a solid to a viscous liquid. Soft, high-moisture cheeses will melt at around 55 °C (131 °F), while hard, low-moisture cheeses such as Parmesan remain solid until they reach about 82 °C (180 °F). Acid-set cheeses, including halloumi, paneer, some whey cheeses and many varieties of fresh goat cheese, have a protein structure that remains intact at high temperatures. When cooked, these cheeses just get firmer as water evaporates.
Some cheeses, like raclette, melt smoothly; many tend to become stringy or suffer from a separation of their fats. Many of these can be coaxed into melting smoothly in the presence of acids or starch. Fondue, with wine providing the acidity, is a good example of a smoothly melted cheese dish. Elastic stringiness is a quality that is sometimes enjoyed, in dishes including pizza and Welsh rarebit. Even a melted cheese eventually turns solid again, after enough moisture is cooked off. The saying "you can't melt cheese twice" (meaning "some things can only be done once") refers to the fact that oils leach out during the first melting and are gone, leaving the non-meltable solids behind.
As its temperature continues to rise, cheese will brown and eventually burn. Browned, partially burned cheese has a particular distinct flavour of its own and is frequently used in cooking (e.g., sprinkling atop items before baking them).
HEALTH AND NUTRITION
The nutritional value of cheese varies widely. Cottage cheese may consist of 4% fat and 11% protein; some whey cheeses 15% fat and 11% protein, and some triple-crème cheeses 36% fat and 7% protein. In general, cheese supplies a great deal of calcium, protein, phosphorus and fat. A 30-gram (1.1 oz) serving of Cheddar cheese contains about 7 grams (0.25 oz) of protein and 200 milligrams of calcium. Nutritionally, cheese is essentially concentrated milk: it takes about 200 grams (7.1 oz) of milk to provide that much protein, and 150 grams (5.3 oz) to equal the calcium.
A review of the medical literature published in 2012 noted that: "Cheese consumption is the leading contributor of SF (saturated fat) in the U.S. diet, and therefore would be predicted to increase LDL-C (LDL cholesterol) and consequently increase the risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease)." It found that: "Based on results from numerous prospective observational studies and meta-analyses, most, but not all, have shown no association and in some cases an inverse relationship between the intake of milk fat containing dairy products and the risk of CVD, CHD (coronary heart disease), and stroke. A limited number of prospective cohort studies found no significant association between the intake of total full-fat dairy products and the risk of CHD or stroke....Most clinical studies showed that full-fat natural cheese, a highly fermented product, significantly lowers LDL-C compared with butter intake of equal total fat and saturated fat content."
Effect on sleep
A number of food safety agencies around the world have warned of the risks of raw-milk cheeses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that soft raw-milk cheeses can cause "serious infectious diseases including listeriosis, brucellosis, salmonellosis and tuberculosis". It is U.S. law since 1944 that all raw-milk cheeses (including imports since 1951) must be aged at least 60 days. Australia has a wide ban on raw-milk cheeses as well, though in recent years exceptions have been made for Swiss Gruyère, Emmental and Sbrinz, and for French Roquefort. There is a trend for cheeses to be pasteurized even when not required by law.
Compulsory pasteurization is controversial. Pasteurization does change the flavour of cheeses, and unpasteurized cheeses are often considered to have better flavour, so there are reasons not to pasteurize all cheeses. Some say that health concerns are overstated, or that milk pasteurization does not ensure cheese safety.
Pregnant women may face an additional risk from cheese; the U.S. Centres for Disease Control has warned pregnant women against eating soft-ripened cheeses and blue-veined cheeses, due to the listeria risk, which can cause miscarriage or harm to the foetus during birth.
WORLD PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION
Emmental (used mainly as a cooking ingredient) and Camembert are the most common cheeses in France. In Iceland, skyr is the most common cheese. In Greece, feta accounts for three-quarters of this consumption. In the U.S., the consumption of cheese is quickly increasing and has nearly tripled between 1970 and 2003. The consumption per person has reached, in 2003, 14.8 kg (33 lb). Mozzarella is United State's favourite cheese and accounts for nearly a third of its consumption, mainly because it is one of the main ingredients of pizza.
Although cheese is a vital source of nutrition in many regions of the world and is extensively consumed in others, its use is not universal.
Cheese is rarely found in East Asian cuisines, presumably for historical reasons. However, East Asian sentiment against cheese is not universal. In Nepal the Dairy Development Corporation commercially manufactures cheese made from yak milk and is very popular with the country's population and the visiting tourists, also a very hard cheese made from either cow or yak milk knows as chhurpi is equally popular among the population. The national dish of Bhutan, ema datsi, is made from homemade yak or mare milk cheese and hot peppers. In Yunnan, China, several ethnic minority groups produce Rushan and Rubing from cow's milk. Cheese consumption is increasing in China, with annual sales more than doubling from 1996 to 2003 (to a still small 30 million U.S. dollars a year). Certain kinds of Chinese preserved bean curd are sometimes misleadingly referred to in English as "Chinese cheese", because of their texture and strong flavour.
Strict followers of the dietary laws of Islam and Judaism must avoid cheeses made with rennet from animals not slaughtered in a manner adhering to halal or kosher laws. Both faiths allow cheese made with vegetable-based rennet or with rennet made from animals that were processed in a halaal or kosher manner. Many less orthodox Jews also believe that rennet undergoes enough processing to change its nature entirely and do not consider it to ever violate kosher law. As cheese is a dairy food, under kosher rules it cannot be eaten in the same meal with any meat.
Rennet derived from animal slaughter, and thus cheese made with animal-derived rennet, is not vegetarian. Most widely available vegetarian cheeses are made using rennet produced by fermentation of the fungus Mucor miehei. Vegans and other dairy-avoiding vegetarians do not eat real cheese at all, but some vegetable-based cheese substitutes (usually soy-and almond-based) are available.
Even in cultures with long cheese traditions, it is not unusual to find people who perceive cheese—especially pungent-smelling or mould-bearing varieties such as Limburger or Roquefort—as unpalatable. Food-science writer Harold McGee proposes that cheese is such an acquired taste because it is produced through a process of controlled spoilage and many of the odour and flavour molecules in an aged cheese are the same found in rotten foods. He notes, "An aversion to the odour of decay has the obvious biological value of steering us away from possible food poisoning, so it is no wonder that an animal food that gives off whiffs of shoes and soil and the stable takes some getting used to."
"The moon is made of a green cheese."
Collecting cheese labels is called "tyrosemiophilia".
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