Today, cheese is just about everywhere you look. But, have you ever stopped and wondered, who actually discovered cheese?
The History of Cheese
People have been eating cheese since before recorded history. And no one can say for sure how it was first discovered. But experts do have a good theory. Thousands of years ago, people traveling across the desert, would carry rations of milk in the leakproof stomach of a sheep.
Kind of like an ancient canteen. The thing is, sheep stomachs contain an enzyme called rennet, that helps turn milk into cheese. As they trekked across the hot sand, the milk would slosh around in the stomach and slowly churn the milk into cheese.
When the thirsty travelers stopped for a drink and found their milk was now full of hard lumps, they drank it anyway and ate the curdled, cheesy leftovers.
Ancient cultures like the Sumerians and Egyptians, both made and ate cheese regularly, as much as 6,000 years ago. But it was the Romans who took cheesemaking to the next level.
Rich Romans had a whole separate room in their house, designed just for cheesemaking and storage. They developed new techniques foraging, smoking and flavoring their cheese.
The Roman Empire was vast and stretched all the way from Northern Africa to the British Isles. So local resources in different parts of the Empire made for different types of cheeses. Taste, texture, flavors, and colors, were all affected by local customs and over decades, Romans developed hundreds of different types of cheese.
Basic Process of Turning Milk Into Cheese
Cheesemaking is a process of using microbes, enzymes, and salt to make nutritious but perishable milk last longer. The trick to turning milk into cheese is removing the water while keeping most of that other good stuff since less moisture makes it harder for spoilage microbes to grow.
And adding good bacteria and fungi makes it harder for bad ones to get a leg up. So cheesemakers start by adding those good microbes to the milk. Lactic acid bacteria lower the pH of the milk, which helps it to solidify, and also helps the cheesemaker control what other microbes will grow.
Then the cheesemaker adds rennet. Rennet is an enzyme that traditionally comes
from the stomach of a cow, but vegetarian versions can be made from plants or microbes. Regardless of the source, rennet starts breaking down the milk proteins, which will make it possible to separate them from the water.
The main protein in milk is called casein, and the main target of rennet is a version called kappa casein. Casein exists in these globules with kappa casein on the surface. Kappa casein has these very hydrophilic segments that keep the protein globule suspended in water.
Rennet chops those right off. The casein globules lose their affinity for water and start to stick to each other instead, and the milk proteins start to clump together. Most of the fat, vitamins, and minerals stay
with the protein.
That group of solids forms curds. Most of the sugar drains away with the water, which is called whey. After the rennet does its work, there are a series of steps to getting rid of the whey, bringing the moisture content down from about 85% in milk to between 30-60% in cheese, depending on whether you’re looking at a nice, soft Brie or a really hard Gouda or something.
But plain curds aren’t all that tasty. Aging the cheese is a crucial step to making all the delicious different kinds we know and love. Why?
More microbes. Mostly molds, plus some yeast and bacteria, will grow inside the cheese or on the rind. In regards to desirable bacteria and mold and yeast and stuff like that, cheesemakers add those in a very controlled way in which they know exactly what they’re getting into.
Some are added in the milk during cheesemaking, some are rubbed on the outside of the cheese after it becomes a wheel, some cheeses are washed in a liquid that has bacteria in it or other things. Cheese is all about microorganisms and bacteria and molds and fungus are and all kinds of cool things.
Aging gives those microbes time to grow and develop their funky flavors. And it’s all about creating an environment where the right microbes will thrive and create the perfect cheese.
If Milk Is White, Why Is Cheese Yellow?
Apparently, there are a couple of reasons. So when cows are kept on grass typically, the milk will acquire a more yellow quality because they are unable to digest the beta carotene in the grass. And you wind up with a golden hue. That’s a good thing.
We like cows that the grass because it makes tasty milk, and it makes tasty cheese.” Cheese can take on a natural, buttery yellow hue from beta carotene, an orange pigment and relative of vitamin A. However, all those protein clusters scatter light and make milk look white — the beta carotene is hidden.
Beta carotene is soluble in fat, so during the cheese-making process, it stays with the solids, becoming more concentrated and more visible to the eye. But consumers started associating that color with healthier cows and better milk, so cheese manufacturers started punching it up by adding
a natural coloring agent called annatto.
Annatto is derived from the tropical achiote tree, and can be used as a mild spice — but cheesemakers are more interested in its vivid color. The fluorescent orange color of grocery store cheddar is an artifact of history — not an integral part of the cheese.
Different Types of Cheese Are There In The World
Mozarella and Gorgonzola From Italy
Mozzarella originated in southern Italy, and legend says it was created by mistake when cheese curds accidentally fell into hot water. Mozzarella is commonly used on pizza or in salads, or, as you may know, mozzarella sticks. Although it can be made from any milk,
in Italy, it is traditionally produced from the milk of the Italian water buffalo. It’s spongy, soft, and moist. Caseificio La Fattoria in Battipaglia, in the Campania region of southern Italy, makes over 9 tons of
fresh mozzarella per day. Their staple creation is Zizzona, which is a huge mozzarella ball that can weigh up to 88 pounds.
Another great cheese from Italy is the white and blue marbled gorgonzola. There are only 29 dairies in the world certified to produce this cheese. Close to 5 million wheels are produced each year, and the production takes place in the Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy.
When young, it is soft and creamy, but the texture is much stronger when it’s matured. Gorgonzola is one of the world’s oldest blue-veined cheeses and is made exclusively with cow’s milk. It can be paired with grapes,
honey, and pistachios.
Paneer From India
Paneer is the common cheese used throughout the Indian subcontinent. Like cottage cheese, paneer is not aged and is made with milk curds. It is prepared by adding food acids such as lemon juice, yogurt, or vinegar to hot milk.
The curds are separated from the whey and drained in a muslin or cheesecloth so that excess water can be pressed out and paneer can be produced. Paneer is used in many Indian cuisines, like paneer tikka masala.
Cheddar cheese dates back to the late 12th century in the caves found at the edge of the village in the Cheddar Gorge. According to a myth, a milkmaid forgot a pail of milk in one of the caves, and when she returned, the milk had turned hard.
Cheddar Cheese From England
Cheddar cheese then became so loved by English monarchs that records show King Henry II purchasing 10,240 pounds of cheddar in 1170.
Ayibe from Ethiopia
This crumbly cheese is called ayibe. The mild Ethiopian cheese is traditionally served with spicy dishes to help ease the heat.
Halloumi From Cyprus
Halloumi cheese originated on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Traditionally, it was made from sheep and goat milk, but cow’s milk is now used as well. Halloumi is white and has a salty flavor and is often served grilled or fried because of its high melting point. Oli Baba’s in London’s Camden Market sells deep-fried halloumi cheese fries covered in different sauces and spices. From the region of Samegrelo,
Sulguni Cheese from Georgia
Georgia’s sulguni cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s, goat’s, and water buffalo’s milk. The brined cheese is often served in wedges. It’s also used in one of Georgia’s staple dishes, khachapuri.
Gruyere from Swiss
Gruyère cheese is named after its birthplace, the town of Gruyères in Switzerland. It’s a type of Swiss cheese
made from cow’s milk. Gruyère is a hard cheese that melts well and is often used for fondue.
Feta from Greece
Greece’s favorite cheese is called feta. According to Greek mythology, the Cyclops Polyphemus was the first to prepare cheese. He transported milk that he collected from his sheep in bags made of animal stomachs.
It wasn’t long until he realized the milk had curdled and had taken on a solid form. The white, curdled, crumbly cheese known as feta is made from sheep and goat’s milk or a mix of both. It’s commonly used in salads, pastries, and served alone on platters.
Havarti from Denmark
Havarti was created in the mid-1800s by a Danish woman named Hanne Nielsen. She washed curds in fresh spring water, then pressed them into cheese molds and drained them, which created a soft, creamy cheese.
She named it after her farm, Havarthigaard. Cotija is named after the town Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The hard, crumbly cheese is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. It’s salty and is commonly
grated over salads, tacos, tostadas, and their traditional Mexican corn dish, elote. Oaxaca cheese, more
commonly known as quesillo, is a white, semihard, stretchy cheese. It’s named after its birthplace, Oaxaca, a state in Mexico. During production, it is stretched into long ribbons and rolled into a ball. It’s commonly used in quesadillas and empanadas.
Paški sir from Croatian
Paški sir is a hard, aged cheese from the Croatian island of Pag. It’s produced from Paška ovca, a unique breed of small sheep. These sheep produce very salty milk, and not much of it at all. For this reason, at least 16 sheep are needed to produce just one wheel of cheese. Paški sir is best served with wildflower honey or fresh fruits.
Leipäjuusto from Findland
Leipäjuusto, also known as juustoleipä, is a Finnish cheese. In English, it’s also known
as Finnish squeaky cheese. It’s made with cows, goats, or reindeer’s milk. This bread cheese can be
grilled and served hot or cold. Some even have it soaked in their coffee. In the province of North Holland is the town called Edam, where this cheese was born. Edam is a semihard cheese traditionally sold in spheres.
Manchego From Spain
Manchego is produced in the La Mancha region of Spain and made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk. Fresh manchego can be aged for a minimum of only two weeks, whereas some manchego mature for more than one year. The rind usually has a basket-weave pattern pressed onto it.
Jarlsberg from Norway
Jarlsberg cheese originated in Norway. Buttery cheese is based on a secret Norwegian recipe from 1956. It resembles a Swiss Emmental with distinctive holes and has a nutty flavor. It’s a versatile cheese that
can be eaten on sandwiches or even melted for fondue.
Nabulsi from Palestine
Nabulsi is a salty white cheese with tiny black nigella seeds. It has a slightly spicy taste. Nabulsi originated from the town of Nablus in Palestine, but it is now made throughout the Middle East. It’s usually eaten fresh as a table cheese or it can be fried in oil.
Ezine from Turkey
Ezine is a staple in Turkey. It’s made from pasteurized goat, sheep, and cow’s milk and aged anywhere between three and six months. This factory in the town of Ezine pasteurizes 60 tons of milk per day. Ezine cheese can be eaten with a traditional Turkish breakfast.
Queso Blanco from Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico, you can find queso del país, sometimes referred to as queso blanco. The Indulac factory in San Juan produces as many as 10,000 blocks of queso del país per week. The cheese can be found on store shelves throughout the island.
Muenster cheese from United States
Although Muenster cheese is American-made, it’s an imitation of France’s Munster cheese. The smooth, yellow cheese has an orange rind and is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. Its texture makes it good for melting, and it’s used on sandwiches, burgers, and macaroni and cheese.
Roquefort from France
France’s Roquefort cheese is known to be one of the world’s best blue cheeses. It’s made from sheep milk
and ages up to five months. It’s moist and breaks into little pieces easily and is commonly used in
salads and dressings.