Everything You Didn’t Know About Cheese Facts

What do you know about cheese facts?

Much like salt or sugar, cheese is one of those things that seems to improve the taste of any kind of food. Unlike salt or sugar, cheese can also be enjoyed on its own (or, of course, with a fine wine or warm slice of bread). A vast array of the world’s favorite dishes—chicken parmesan, pizza, croquettes, tiramisu, Greek salads, omelets, and more—all have a single common denominator: cheese.

It’s hard not to love the stuff, especially since it comes in so many different forms, textures, and flavors. From the smooth, creamy, dessert-worthy mascarpone and brie to the pungent blue gorgonzola and Roquefort that will make your mouth water with the sheer intensity of flavor, there is sure to be a cheese that will satisfy just about anyone’s palate. For those that are lactose intolerant and figure that they have no chance exploring the vast and flavorful world of cheese, there might still be hope depending on the severity of their intolerance.

Unlike other dairy products like milk, yogurt, and ice cream that are loaded with lactose, certain types of cheeses have extremely low amounts of lactose and may not cause any issues for those with lactose intolerance—when consumed in moderation, of course. Cheeses with particularly low levels of lactose include parmesan, Swiss, feta, cheddar, and virtually any other aged hard cheese or any made from goat or sheep’s milk. In contrast, it might be wise to avoid smooth and creamy cheeses like brie which have significantly higher amounts of lactose (Mikstas, 2018).

Cheese Facts

cheese facts

The origins of cheesemaking are quite obscure and wrapped in myth and mystery. According to the mythology of the ancient Greeks, the minor god, Aristaeus, was taught by nymphs how to make cheese and he subsequently shared this knowledge with humanity thousands of years ago (GreekMythology). While this story is almost completely untrue, it does highlight the fact that people thought of cheesemaking as quite a unique art. A more likely story is that cheese was made by accident.

In the ancient world, bags to hold food, drink, and supplies were commonly made of the skin or stomach of domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, and cows. Interestingly, the component which causes milk to separate into coagulated curds and liquid whey is called rennet and is found in the stomach lining of these animals. Someone thousands of years ago might have unsuspectingly stored milk in a pouch of this kind and later discovered the spongey, freshly-made curds inside, initiating a cascade of cheesemaking and obsession that would continue for years to come.

While the early history of cheese remains full of theories and uncertainty, it becomes very clear that during the growth of the Roman Empire, the art of cheesemaking had become a widespread and valuable skill. There are written documents left from the Romans describing the process of creating new cheese varieties, hundreds of types of which were traded throughout the Empire and to the regions beyond (National Historic Cheesemaking Center). While cheese festered with popularity all throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Europe, it remained a rarity in Asia and completely absent from the Americas until it was introduced to the natives by European colonials. This eventually gave rise to an extremely successful era of cheesemaking in America, most notably in the state of Wisconsin.

The Details

Photo by NastyaSensei from Pexels.

The methods of making cheese may have changed quite a bit from ancient to modern times, but the science behind the process remains more or less the same. The protein that allows milk to collect and harden into curds is called casein. As mentioned before, rennet facilitates this but any sort of acidification of the milk will do the same and is usually performed by bacteria. Mesophilic bacteria survive at room temperature and are used to create cheeses such as Colby, cheddar, and gouda, while thermophilic bacteria—as their name suggests—enjoy higher temperatures and cheeses like parmesan and Romano. In contrast, rennet is used for lower-acidity cheeses as its active enzyme, chymosin, interacts with casein and creates curds (Science Learning Hub, 2012).

Once the curds are separated from the whey, they are salted, pressed into a block, and often aged or ripened for varying lengths of time. Ripening cheese allows bacteria to modify the flavor and texture, breaking down its proteins into its amino acid building blocks which are further broken down into flavorful amines which are actually related to ammonia (but don’t worry, there’s no actual ammonia in cheese which is why it’s perfectly safe to eat). The longer cheese is ripened, the more interesting flavors will arise. During ripening, some cheeses are introduced to fungi that break down their molecular components even further, creating soft, smooth cheeses with characteristic blue or green streaks of mold running throughout (Science Learning Hub, 2012). The fungus used for this procedure is called Penicillium which is the source of the antibiotic, penicillin.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.

As for cheese facts, the art of cheesemaking has evolved quite a bit ever since humans discovered it thousands of years ago. From simple, spongy curds and whey we have created a staggering number of different cheeses with unique flavors and textures that come from a variety of animals and regions. We add cheese to savory dinners and sweet desserts or eat it as a snack of its own. Whether a mythological god introduced cheese to the world or some lucky person happened to store milk in a bag made of a ruminant’s stomach and accidentally created curds and whey, cheese remains absurdly popular and it seems like many new kinds of cheese will be made for years to come.

Now, you know all about some basic cheese facts. To get your hands on some great cheese, click here.

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“Aristaeus.” GreekMythology. Retrieved from 
https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/Minor_Gods/Aristaeus/aristaeus.html”>Aristaeus: GreekMythology.com.

“History of Cheese.” National Historic Cheesemaking Center. Retrieved from https://nationalhistoriccheesemakingcenter.org/history-of-cheese/.

(2012). “The Science of Cheese.” Science Learning Hub. Retrieved from https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/827-the-science-of-cheese#targetText=Bacteria%20acidify%20milk,and%20lower%20the%20milk’s%20pH.

Mikstas, Christine. (2018). “Lactose Intolerance: 14 Ways to Still Love Dairy.” WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/ss/slideshow-dairy.

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