Since 6000 B.C.E. ancient people have had it as a necessity, around 2000 B.C.E the Egyptians stored it with them in their tombs, and Homer, author of the Odyssey and Iliad, even wrote about it. What is this famous material? one might ask. Well it is none other than cheese. Yes, cheese has been recorded dating back to the Ancient Sumerians but the legends speak of it well before then. Throughout history cheese has had even political attention as in the Middle Ages, around the 1500s, cheese was made by priests and friars that would later distribute them as offerings from the church. The cheese industry thrived in Italy during the Middle Ages and Renaissance Eras as it moved to the commercial center of the world, at the time, to Rome. As the saying goes, “The Sumerians discovered it (referring to cheese), but the Italians perfected it”. So many different types of cheeses have been made and there are easily over 2000 types of cheese. Cheese itself is very nutritious. Even though it comes from milk, it contains seven times the amount of protein and five times the calcium in milk. But one must stop and wonder, how is cheese made? The answer is that it depends of what type of cheese one wants to make.
The basic ingredient in any cheese starts with milk. Depending on what texture and flavor you want your cheese to be milk from various animals, such as cow, sheep, goat, buffalo, reindeer, camel, and yak, can be utilized. The next step is to choose a method to how one will make their cheese. One can curd it, spoil milk, cut it, cook it, or form it. The generic way to curd the milk usually starts with an enzyme called rennet, which causes proteins to coagulate and break milk down into two products, curd and whey. Rennet is a natural enzyme made in the fourth stomach of many multi-stomached animals such as cows. Rennet starts separating the whey from the curd by consuming the sugars in the milk and make them into lactic acid and make it more acidic. Whey is used as a vitamin and nutrient additive in many foods and it actually is used to make cheeses like ricotta cheese and cottage cheese. Next one chooses the type of bacteria or mold they would like to use and then letting the material ripen or cure over different temperatures and conditions. This general process should make cheese if done correctly. But what about specific cheeses, why do some take longer than others?
One of the most popular type of cheese is Roquefort. This cheese falls in the family of blue veined cheese because throughout the cheese, there are thin blue lines amidst the cream colored cheese. Originally produced in Southern France, it has moved across the world as a favorite of so many. For this cheese, one can choose between goat, sheep, and cow milk. The sheep the French use to make their cheese are fed grass in which there is a high level of limestone or calcium carbonate. Limestone is very necessary to this type of cheese because the cheese itself reacts with strong acids and can control the amount of acid the milk has. If the milk has too much or too little acid in it, a different cheese may be formed or the milk can spoil at a faster rate and therefore making an unappetizing block of cheese. The limestone helps balance the pH level and acts as a buffer. At time the cheese maker adds rennet, to start the curdling process, and then must wait at least two hours to allow the rennet to form.
People can’t eat Roquefort cheese because of an allergy to penicillin. The penicillium bacteria is added to the cheese to help with the lactic acid fermentation occurs throughout the cheese block. The bacteria is placed on top of the block and the bacteria goes to work breaking down lactose in the acidic curd and releasing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Also, the bacteria break down proteins to form “highly volatile compounds” which add a tangy flavor to the cheese. The bacterium is easily acquired because it is common in many households. As one article states, “The traditional way of getting penicillium is to place loaves of bread in a dark, damp space, and letting them mold. After ten weeks the bread crust is pealed back to reveal the inside of the bread, which is nothing more then a fine green powder, the powder is called penicillium”. After combining the bacterium with the curd, the cheese begins to take shape but, the cheese needs to monitored because many other byproducts must be removed throughout the curdling process.
Some byproducts are: dirt and wax. The dirt and wax come from the sheep’s milk used fro the process as they are used as preservatives. The bacterium-curd complex must be kept at a temperature of 86 degrees F so the enzymes in the bacterium are able to optimally perform to make the curd into cheese. After this a layer of salt is added to the cheese to 1) add more flavor to the cheese and 2) stop the bacteria from “over-producing” curd. The bacterium would normally continue to break down the curd into more whey if left unsalted. Once the salt has settled, the cheese maker must put holes into the cheese to allow the carbon dioxide to release into the air. lastly, the cheese is stored in a dark, 35 degree F room to allow the bacterium to work it’s way to make the cheese. The cheese maker will receive his final product about six months later, as the bacterium is hard at for that long.
Certain other cheeses require various other conditions such as Swiss cheese. Swiss cheese can be made from goat milk or cow milk. To make this cheese, the cheese maker must heat the milk first to about 95 degrees F, while also adding a small amount of milk to yogurt and a Propionibacterium shermanii culture into the heated milk. Different bacteria used in cheese making will affect the way it works. Swiss cheese needs a bacteria that works from the outside in, so the bacteria itself can make the famous holes. However, cheeses like Limburger need a different bacteria because the process forms a new taste, smell, and texture. After about 20 minutes, the mixture is homogeneous and is ready for the rennet to be added. After the rennet is added, the maker must reheat the mixture to 95 degrees F to somewhat start the process and after 30 minutes, heat the mixture to 125 degrees F. the maker must NOT stir the mixture because agitating the mixture will have an adverse affect on the bacteria as the lactic acid it made in the mixture will start to deteriorate.
The curds, when squeezed, should crumble in the makers hands because the bacteria break the curd up into small pieces. The maker will then strain the cheese, put it in a cloth, and tightly tied in the cloth. Swiss cheese would crumble if the cloth didn’t hold it in. The difference between Swiss and Roquefort cheese is that Swiss cheese needs to be kept in a warm place between 70 and 80 degrees F. this is because the bacteria’s optimal temperature is within this range. Also, instead of making holes in the Swiss cheese, the bacteria form colonies and the maker allows the carbon dioxide produced by the bacteria to push the cheese out, making an empty space. If the Swiss cheese isn’t made correctly, the maker is in a deep hole. He must restart because if rennet is added at different times, the flavor in the cheese is lost.
After reviewing the preceding evidence it is clear that cheese is different. From the beginning of civilization cheese has been present. Authors have incorporated it in their stories, civilizations have embraced it as a portable food, and friars have made their own cheese. The process to make cheese is pretty generic for all cheese. Add rennet, an enzyme found in many multi-stomached animals, to milk and wait for curd to form. Add certain bacteria that break down lactose into lactic acid and proteins into various other compounds. Adding certain bacteria to certain curds in a certain way will change the taste and texture of the cheese. Roquefort cheese needs bacteria on it while Swiss cheese needs the bacteria on the inside.
Roquefort needs holes to release the carbon dioxide the bacteria makes while Swiss doesn’t need holes because it makes its own. Roquefort cheese needs a cold dark place for its bacteria to work while Swiss needs a warm temperature for its bacteria to work. Even though these two cheeses are only about .001 percent of all the cheeses in the world, they demonstrate the various differences between each type of cheese. Whether is be blue vein cheese, Acid-Coagulated Fresh Cheese, cream cheese, Rennet-Coagulated Fresh Cheese, Italian cheese, Heat-Acid Precipitated Cheese, ricotta cheese, Soft Ripened Cheese, Camembert cheese, Semi-Hard Washed Cheese, Gouda cheese, Low Temperature Hard Cheese, Cheddar cheese, or High Temperature Hard Cheese, Swiss cheese. Cheese is a very versatile food with many different varieties and maybe this is why the ancient people loved this food. No matter what the type, cheese will continue to grow and become more diverse.