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The Secret To Making Good Cheese

Updated on July 9, 2011

History Of Cheese

The history of cheese making goes back thousands of years and there are no conclusive facts about where cheese making began. Its’ origins predate recorded history. The earliest evidence has been found in Egyptian tomb paintings dating from about 2000 BC. Cheese is a fermented food product made from the milk of various mammals such as cows, sheep, goats, horses, camels, water buffalo, and reindeer.

Many types of cheese are used in the culinary arts. There are mild and sharp cheeses, smooth, creamy varieties and even obnoxious smelling moldy kinds. Every variety is carefully created utilizing various milks with different fat contents and adding herbs or other spices. However, all cheeses are made fundamentally the same way.

Curds And Whey

Civilizations began domesticating milk-producing animals when they discovered they could separate milk into curds and whey…the first step in cheese production. As milk sours, it separates into curds and whey. Whey is the grey colored fluid containing lactose, minerals, vitamins, and traces of fat. It’s the curds which are used to make cheese. Basically, cheese is made from proteins and milk fat.

The first cheeses were not fermented. They consisted solely of salted white curds similar to today's cottage cheese. However, to be profitable and efficient, a way to accelerate the separation process had to be devised. This was done by adding rennet. Rennet is an enzyme cultivated from the stomachs of young ruminants. A ruminant is an animal possessing a digestive system with three or four stomach chambers, such as a cow.

"Starting" Cheese

Rennet remains the most popular way of "starting" cheese although some cheese makers use lactic acid or plant extracts, such as wild artichokes, fig leaves, safflower and others. Some are made from unpasteurized milk so the addition of rennet becomes unnecessary.

The United States is the biggest producer of cheese. However, they export little and most is sold on their domestic market. So, cheese is a major food source in many parts of the world…but not all. Did you know lactose intolerance is common in many East Asian Countries? That’s why you rarely see oriental dishes with cheese added.

Hundreds of various Cheeses are made around the world in many flavors, textures, and forms. Their type and flavor depend on the origin of the milk, the animal’s diet, whether the product has been pasteurized and many other variants. Cheeses may also contain various ingredients added to enhance flavor and color. Some cheeses acquire their flavor from specific bacterial molds, such as “Bleu Cheese or “Roquefort”. Mold is also added to prolong its’ shelf life. Various molds produce different textures and tastes and some contain more than one type. Some cheeses are aged anywhere from a month up to several years. The process sharpens the flavor of a cheese.

For example, cheddar aged over two years would be classified as “extra sharp”. Generally speaking, the longer a cheese ages, the richer and deeper the flavor. Aged cheeses are usually more expensive and known as fine cheeses to connoisseurs. Herbs and spices may be combined as well to give it a more distinctive flavor.

Producing quality cheese has always been a risky business and setting standards for cheese is difficult because every variety has its own characteristics.

One ongoing debate argues about whether or not it’s necessary to use pasteurized milk. The hullabaloo was started by cheese connoisseurs claiming pasteurization destroyed natural bacteria necessary for quality cheese. Pasteurization was prompted because of the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis,a disease causing bacteria found in milk products. In the United States, some cheeses aged more than two months are permitted to be made with unpasteurized milk. However, most do use the pasteurization process.

Homemade Cheese

Many folks make their own homemade cheese with ingredients found in almost any kitchen. And there are hundreds of recipes to be found online. Here is what you will need: A pot to heat the milk in, kitchen thermometer, cheesecloth, colander and a bowl. The thermometer must be one that can distinguish between individual degrees in the 155-190 range. A candy or digital thermometer is recommended.

There are 3 fundamental steps in making homemade cheese and the process is basically the same no matter what recipe you use. The first step is to heat the milk. Next add an acid like vinegar. That’s when you will see curds beginning to form. Then simply drain the whey from the curds through a cheese cloth. A white men’s handkerchief usually works better than commercially sold cheesecloth. Cooking and cooling times are usually included in recipes. 

Now, what do you do with the whey? You can use it to make other cheeses, bake bread with it or give it to your pets as a treat.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Hey, sign this waiver of liability first!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 7 years ago from South Africa

      I'm going to try this. Thanks!