Understand Cheese With Ease
What is Cheese?
Cheese is a food derived from milk that is produced in a wide range of flavors, 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. Most cheeses melt at cooking temperatures.
Raw Milk is milk (a lacteal secretion) that comes straight out of a cow, goat, sheep or any mammal. Raw milk is the first food for all mammals that, by definition, nurse their young. Raw milk is a living whole food that contains: enzymes, a biodiversity of beneficial bacteria, sugars, proteins, fats, minerals, antibodies, and other essential elements needed to nourish a growing baby. Raw milk also contains a complementary immune system that provides an environment that tends to suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria in favor of beneficial lactic acid producing bacteria. Raw milk that is produced for direct human consumption is controlled by regulations established by each individual state. There are no national regulations for human consumption of raw milk.
The Raw Milk Institute has established Common Standards to assist farmers that produce human consumption raw milk and serve customers. Since 1949, the US government has forbidden the sale of cheeses made from unpasteurized milk unless the cheese is aged at least 60 days. The 60-day ban is meant to protect consumers from potentially harmful pathogens. After 60 days, the acids and salts in raw milk cheese natural prevent listeria, salmonella, and E. coli from growing. Some cheesemakers believe that using raw milk creates more flavorful and more healthful cheeses. Many cheesemakers believe there is no reason to be fearful of raw milk and no reason to wait 60 days to eat cheese made from it.
Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time.
First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis. Research shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. Pasteurized milk contains low levels of the type of nonpathogenic bacteria that can cause food spoilage, so storing your pasteurized milk in the refrigerator is still important.
The 7 Classes of Cheese
Fresh Cheese: The term “fresh” is used to describe cheeses that have not been aged, or are very
slightly cured. These cheeses have a high moisture content and are usually mild and have a very creamy taste and soft texture. These may be made from all types of milk in the United States, these cheeses will always be pasteurized. It is always best not to buy fresh cheeses if they are not going to be consumed before the expiration date indicated on the package, as they are highly perishable.
Soft-Ripened Cheese: Cheeses that are ripened from the outside in, very soft and even runny at room temperature. The most common soft-ripened cheeses have a white, bloomy rind that is sometimes flecked with red or brown. The rind is edible and is produced by spraying the surface of the cheese with a special mold, called penicillium candidum, before the brief aging period. In the United States, bloomy/ soft-ripened cheeses are generally produced from pasteurized milk. Cheeses in the soft-ripened category include brie, camembert styles, and triple crèmes.
Semi-Soft Cheese: These cheeses are great for slicing, snacking, or desserts. Semi-soft cheeses are excellent for melting and being used in various recipes. These cheeses typically have a very smooth and creamy interior. Due to their high moisture content, semi-soft cheeses can be difficult to shred at room temperature.
Semi-Hard: As the name of this category of cheeses implies, these are cheeses that tend to be slightly firm and usually good melting/shredding cheeses. Their flavor characteristics vary, but in general, this category of cheeses tend to have the greatest complexity and balance (if made well). These cheeses typically have a nice balance of earthiness, a little sweetness, a good but not overwhelming amount of salt, and sometimes buttery and nutty flavors too.
Hard: Usually, hard cheeses are saltier than their softer counterparts. That said, the longer certain cheeses are aged, the more they develop a sweet or caramel-like notes. This is especially true of gouda. In contrast to caramel, Parmigiano-Reggiano has an unmistakable pineapple-like aroma, especially when a wheel is fresh-cut. Another key characteristic of hard cheeses is that they are crumbly. Also, they might be pungent due to an enzyme that is sometimes added during the cheese making process or because that enzyme develops naturally over time. Lastly, lactose counts are dramatically lower in hard/aged cheeses as with time lactose is eliminated.
Blue: A general classification of cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, or goat’s milk cheeses that have had penicillium cultures added so that the final product is spotted or veined throughout with blue, blue-gray, or blue-green mold, and carries a distinct smell. Some blue cheese are injected with spores before the curds form and others have spores mixed in with the curds after they form. Blue cheese was initially produced in caves. Blue cheeses are typically aged in a temperature-controlled environment such as a cave. The characteristic flavor of blue cheese tends to be sharp and a bit salty. Due to this strong
flavor and smell, blue cheeses are often considered an acquired taste.
Washed Rind: Used to describe those cheese that are surface-ripened by washing the cheese throughout the ripening/aging process with brine, beer, wine, brandy, or a mixture of ingredients, which encourages the growth of bacteria. The exterior rind of washed ring cheeses may vary from bright orange to brown, with flavor and aroma profiles that are quite pungent, yet the exterior of the cheese is most often semi-soft and, sometimes, very creamy. Washed rind cheeses may be made from both pasteurized and raw milk, depending on the style of the cheese and the cheesemaker.
How Cheese Is Made
The job of the cheesemaker is to control the spoiling of milk into cheese. The milk is traditionally from a cow, goat, sheep, or buffalo, although cow's milk is most commonly used and in theory, cheese could be made from the milk of any mammal. The cheesemaker’s goal is a consistent product with specific characteristics and organoleptic requirements (appearance, aroma, taste, texture).
Some cheeses may be deliberately left to ferment from naturally airborne spores and bacteria; this approach generally leads to a less consistent product but one that is valuable in a niche market.
1. Bring the milk up to temperature and add in the starter culture.
Warming the milk between 77 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit simulates the animal’s body temperature, which activates the
starter culture. The starter culture acidifies the milk, increasing the population of beneficial bacteria. The starter culture works by fermenting the lactose (natural sugar) in the milk and converting it to lactic acid. When the pH is low enough, the milk will be able to coagulate.
2. Add a coagulant, such as rennet.
Rennet is an enzyme that occurs naturally in the stomach lining of young cud-shewing mammals (known as ruminants).
Instead of traditional rennet, many cheesemakers now use non-animal rennet. Fluid milk can also be coagulated through acidification alone, which is how some soft, fresh cheeses are made. Check with your cheesemonger about rennet types if you have a dietary preference.
3. Form and mold the curd, and drain the whey.
After coagulating, the milk sets and is then cut, stirred, and often heated to form the right-size curds. Whey is the liquid (mostly water and protein) that remains after cheese production. Some cheeses, such as ricotta, are traditionally made from whey. How the curd is handled is all-important to the cheese it will become. In general, the smaller the curd is cut, the more whey it expels. And if the curd is stacked (as in the cheddaring process), the pressure of the weight expels more whey. Cooking the curd, too, releases more whey.
4. Salt the cheese.
Salt plays several key roles in cheese production: It slows down enzymatic activity, enhances flavor, keeps unwanted organisms away from the cheese, inhibits bacteria growth, and helps form the rind.
5. Forming the mold.
The curds are then transferred into perforated forms that will determine the final shape of the cheese. The curd and mold are then pressed by machine for up to two days at varying pressures, depending on the cheese variety. The cheese is then removed from the mold and either wrapped in cheese cloth or a breathable wax, rubbed in vegetable fat and left to ripen naturally.
6. Age the cheese.
During the aging process, the rind develops (with the exception of fresh cheeses). Aging needs to occur in a controlled environment, within a specific temperature and humidity range appropriate to that style of cheese.
Cheese Tools 101
Cheese consists of several layers of flavor, and the taste may differ depending on where you cut it. To ensure that you enjoy all aspects of your cheese, you should consider the shape when cutting.
Cut crumbly cheeses with wide, rectangular, open-surface blades. Knives with holes are preferable for Roquefort and other blue cheeses. The small surface area prevents the blue veins from sticking to the knife, which maintains the structural integrity of the slice.
Cut soft-ripened cheese with a hollow-edge blade. The evenly-spaced vertical indentations on this kind of blade will keep creamy Brie, Camembert or Mont d'Or from sticking.
Cut medium-hard to medium-soft cheese with a wire slicer. This thin, stretched wire and sturdy handle will carve thick, even cuts through cheese like Emmental, Raclette and Morbier with ease.
Cut hard cheeses with a tear-shaped knife. Slide the pointed part in first and then push down with force. Harder cheeses like Gruyere, Cantal, or Beaufort will crumble into larger chunks under the pressure.