Having worked in the retail cheese business for over 12 years, I have heard many different questions about cheese. How is cheese made? What types of milk can be used to make cheese? How do they get the blue in the cheese? Can you eat the rind? What’s a good cheese for snacking? In the next several blog posts we will cover all of these topics.
First, let’s talk about the history of cheese. The exact date or origin of cheese is not known as it predates recorded history. It is commonly believed that cheese originated when milk from a sheep was stored in the dried stomach of an animal for transport when it reacted with the rennet inside the stomach separating the curds from the whey. Another theory is that the Egyptians would take curdled milk; strain, salt and press the curds resulting in a type of cheese similar to feta or cottage cheese. Regardless of how cheese was invented it was very important in allowing humans to take a highly perishable food and convert it into a product that could be stored for longer periods as well as transported over long distances. Today milk is still separated into curds and whey using rennet from the inner lining of an animal’s stomach, but they also can use microbial rennet and vegetarian rennet.
As cheese and the art of cheesemaking spread across the globe the cheeses began to change based on the climates of the regions. In the cooler climates salt was needed less and less as a preservative providing a more suitable environment for microbes and molds to form which give each cheese its unique flavor and texture.
After the fall of the Roman Empire the amount of communication between cities collapsed and cheeses began to take on a very regional role. With each town having their own recipes and techniques. Many of the cheeses we know today date back to the Middle Ages. Cheddar sometime around 1500, Parmesan in 1597, Gouda in 1697 and Camembert in 1791.
Today the United States leads the world in cheese production followed by Germany, France, Italy and Netherlands. Next week we will cover how cheese is made.