From WikiMD's Food, Medicine & Wellness Encyclopedia

A platter with cheese and garnishes
A variety of cheeses for sale in Amsterdam.

Cheese is a food that has been cherished for centuries. Derived from milk, it presents in a myriad of flavors, textures, and forms. The diversity in its character comes from the coagulation of the milk protein casein.

Basic components[edit | edit source]

The heart and soul of cheese lies in its primary ingredient, milk. Breaking down milk, we find it consists of several essential components:

  • Moisture - The water content in milk.
  • Lactose - The natural sugar found in milk.
  • Proteins - Vital components, among which casein is significant for cheese production.
  • Milk fat - This gives richness to the cheese.

During the cheese-making procedure, several proteins undergo coagulation. These, combined with milk fat, get concentrated, forming a curd mass. The remaining moisture, leftover lactose after culturing, and some proteins are expelled in the form of whey. To enhance flavor and preservation, sodium chloride or salt is introduced to the curd. Subsequent steps further refine this curd, ultimately producing the cheese we cherish.

Types of Cheese[edit | edit source]

The fascinating world of cheese presents a spectrum of types, each with its unique texture, flavor, and history. Many cheeses harbor a wealth of beneficial bacteria, thus, they are frequently referred to as living foods. The types and quantity of these bacteria can evolve as the cheese undergoes processing or ripening.

Each cheese variety possesses distinct characteristics, largely influenced by the type of milk used. Furthermore, the processing and ripening techniques further accentuate the uniqueness of each cheese. Notably, some cheeses are so distinct that places like Wisconsin have statutes defining them, such as: Brick, Muenster, Cheddar, Colby, Granular, Monterey, Swiss, and Washed Curd. Expanding this list, federal standards recognize 72 standardized cheese types, spanning from Asiago to Swiss.

Broad Categories[edit | edit source]

Diving deeper into the ocean of cheeses, we can categorize them into:

  • Natural Cheese: These do not have added ingredients post the curd-salting phase. Notable examples include "Cheddar cheese," "Swiss cheese," and "Blue cheese."
  • Processed Cheese Varieties: Encompassing process cheese, pasteurized process cheese, cheese food, and cheese spreads. These are concoctions of different cheeses and emulsifying agents, melted for amalgamation and longevity. Federal standards dictate the ingredients, fat and moisture content, and pasteurization guidelines for these.

Labelling[edit | edit source]

Transparency is crucial when it comes to food. Each cheese type has specific labeling prerequisites to ensure consumers know what they're indulging in. For instance, the label on pasteurized process cheese will elucidate the varieties of cheese used, like "pasteurized process American cheese." For any processed cheese variant, the label meticulously lists all ingredients, the types of cheese employed, and potentially the milk fat and moisture content.

Spotlight: Cheddar Cheese[edit | edit source]

Among the illustrious family of cheeses, Cheddar cheese holds a special place. It is sculpted either by the cheddaring process or another method that guarantees the final product mirrors the physical and chemical attributes achieved by the cheddaring technique. Primarily crafted from cow's milk, Cheddar might have added coloring agents. Its composition includes a moisture content not exceeding 39%, and in its dry form, it boasts of a milkfat content of no less than 50%.

Cheese Resources
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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD