What is cheese?
In simple terms, cheese is a concentrated form of milk. It's made by treating the milk so that it coagulates into curd (a thick, custard-like solid) and, at the same time, releases a thin, watery liquid called "whey." The curd is then prepared and ripened, becoming the basis for the cheese.
What happens to the whey after the cheese is made? Is it just thrown out?
Even though the whey represents the water that's a large part of milk, it is still highly nutritious and is used in making many other food products, even other cheeses, such as Italian Ricotta. Whey is also used in many baked products, in medicines, in whey protein powders used by athletes and even in some skin care preparations. However, most whey is used to feed farm animals or to fertilize farmland.
How many varieties of cheese are there?
No one knows for certain, but it's estimated that there are more than 1,000 natural cheeses and about as many processed ones.
What is processed cheese? Is it real cheese or an imitation?
Pasteurized process cheese is real cheese. It's a good example of "cheese made from cheese". For the most part, it consists of a blend of natural cheeses that have been treated with heat to stabilize their development and produce a uniform flavor and texture. Often other ingredients are added, such as emulsifiers, spices, herbs and other flavoring accents.
Pasteurized cheese foods and cheese spreads are simply variations of processed cheese that generally contain less fat and more moisture.
What are cold pack cheeses?
They're a variety of natural cheese that is ground without the use of heat to be spreadable. They may be blended for taste and texture with other cheeses or ingredients.
How are different varieties of cheeses made?
The type of cheese made depends on a wide variety of factors: the animal from which the milk comes; the soil, grasses, water and climate of the region in which the animal grazes; and the cheesemaking process used, to name just a few.
Does cheese have the same food value as milk?
Cheese is basically a concentrate of milk, with highly concentrated forms of the same nutrients—protein, calcium, vitamins and butterfat.
How much fat is in cheese?
It depends on the type of cheese you're eating. (For specific details, reference the nutritional information printed on the packaging.) Many cheeses have 8 grams of fat per ounce (1 oz. = 28 g). Low fat and reduced fat cheeses have between 3 and 6 grams per ounce. There is little that will be saved in the way of fat and calories by eating a low-fat cheese and much to lose in flavor, texture, and quality. Flavor in cheese is greatly due to its fat content. It’s also important to remember that whether you’re using it in recipes or as a snack, cheese is an excellent source of calcium and protein.
What does the term "butterfat content" mean?
Cheese is essentially made up of water, fat and protein. "Butterfat content" is the ratio of protein and fat that remains in a cheese after all the water is removed.
Butterfat percentage is very different from the percentage of fat in a cheese. A 50% butterfat means that half of the dry matter is fat, and the other half is protein and minerals.
Most of the world's best known and most widely-used cheeses fall into the category that's referred to as full fat cheese—cheeses such as Cheddar, Swiss and Provolone that have from 45% to 55% butterfat in their dry matter. For some cheese, extra cream is added to the milk to increase the butterfat content. For example, this is done with some bries and they're referred to as double crème cheeses. This means that the butterfat content has been increased to about 60%. Triple crème cheeses have an even greater butterfat content—as much as 70% to 75%.
Partial fat cheese is usually made from milk which has been skimmed or decreamed—and butterfat in such cheeses can range anywhere from 15% to 45%. Italian Parmesan is an example, usually containing about 35% butterfat in the dry matter. Low fat cheese contains 15% or less butterfat in the dry matter.
What does "chèvre" mean?
"Chèvre" is the French word for goat—as well as for the various types of cheeses made from goat's milk. They come in any number of shapes and sizes and in various degrees of freshness and ripeness.
What is the rind on cheese?
Basically, the rind is a coating that protects the interior of the cheese as it ripens. The rind may develop naturally, as with genuine Swiss for example, or it may be an artificial rind—like the inedible wax you see on Gouda.
Does the rind have anything to do with the flavor of the cheese?
Yes. Washed rind cheeses like Liederkranz tend to be very aromatic. Surfaced ripened cheeses like brie take on the added flavor and interest of their white mold rinds.
Is mold on cheese harmful?
Mold is actually a form of microscopic organism—otherwise known as microbes—that feeds on cheese. It may be there either intentionally or unintentionally.
In Danish Blue, for example, a form of penicillium bacteria—also used to make penicillin—is intentionally used to develop a harmless, edible and really delicious blue mold. The downy white rind we see on a cheese like brie is another form of penicillium—one that instead of being blue, develops an edible white mold on the surface of soft-ripened cheeses.
Sometimes mold can develop as a result of improper storage and handling; this is what we call unintentional mold. In many cases, unintentional mold can be scraped or cut away and the remaining cheese can still be enjoyed. Always remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the foods you consume. If you have any doubts, it’s best to throw the cheese away.
How can "unintentional" mold be avoided?
Mold spores are very light and travel easily through the air, affecting other cheeses. Because of this, cheeses should be carefully handled and should be kept tightly wrapped and refrigerated. Another good suggestion is to keep cheeses that should have mold away from those that shouldn't.
My cheese has visible mold. Do I need to throw it away or can it be saved?
It depends on the extent of the mold, really. But if it's just surface mold, most cheese experts would say that you can scrape or cut off the mold and enjoy the cheese anyway.
Sometimes mold indicates that a cheese is spoiled beyond redemption. But how do you know when this happens? To some degree it requires knowing what the cheese looks and smells like when it's good. That way, if something's wrong, you'll recognize it immediately.
My cheese has no visible mold, but it doesn’t look/smell like it should. Do I need to throw it away or can it be saved?
First, make sure the cheese hasn't lost any of its natural moisture, becoming drier or harder than it should. You may want to compare your piece to a fresher piece to see the true difference. If the texture is still worthy of eating, you can consider keeping it. Too dry? Too hard? Toss it!
Second, check the color of the cheese. If the color and appearance is the same as when you bought it, you can most likely keep it. Is it unusually dark? Does it have any unusual spots? Toss it!
Third, closely examine the aroma of the cheese. If it still smells like it did when you bought it, it’s most likely safe for consumption. If it’s developed an odd aroma (keep in mind, some cheeses are naturally stinky), toss it!
Finally, make sure that no surface mold has spread to the interior of the cheese. No questions asked here—toss it!
Always remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the foods you consume. If you have any doubts, it’s best to throw the cheese away.
How long will most cheeses keep?
That depends on two things: the cheese and the packaging. Generally, the more moisture a cheese has, the shorter its shelf life. A high-moisture cheese, like cottage cheese, won't last nearly as long as an aged Parmesan. Shelf life of cheeses will vary. A general rule is the softer the cheese (higher moisture), the shorter the shelf life; the harder the cheese (lower moisture), the longer the shelf life.
- Soft unripened cheeses (ricotta, cottage cheese): shelf life of 2 to 4 weeks
- Soft-ripened cheeses (brie): shelf life of 4 to 8 weeks
- Semi-soft cheeses (muenster, Monterey Jack): shelf life of 2 to 3 months
- Firm cheeses (Swiss, Cheddar): shelf life of 3 to 6 months
- Hard cheeses (Parmesan, Romano): shelf life of 7 to 9 months
- Processed cheeses (American): shelf life of 9 to 12 months
Once a cheese has been opened or removed from its packaging, its shelf life will rapidly accelerate. A good recommendation is to use the cheese quickly after opening it. You’ll also want to wrap the cheese tightly to preserve it as best as possible. The objective is to keep the air out and the fresh moist flavor of the cheese in.
How much cheese should a person buy at a time?
Generally buy only as much cheese as you plan to use in a week or two. The exceptions, of course, are the hard grating cheeses. They last a long time provided they're kept in a cool place and are well wrapped to help retain moisture.
What is the difference between raw milk cheese and pasteurized cheese?
As the names imply, raw milk cheeses are made with raw milk and pasteurized cheeses are made with pasteurized milk.
Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time. Pasteurization aims to slows microbial growth and reduce the number of pathogens found in milk to prevent disease.
Raw milk has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Some people prefer raw milk cheeses because they believe that the pasteurization process not only kills pathogens, it also kills some of the flavor. Raw milk cheeses can only be sold in this country if they’re aged for a minimum of 60 days, the minimum length of time required to eliminate any harmful microorganisms.
Are raw milk cheeses sold in this country?
They are—provided they're aged for a minimum of 60 days. That's sufficient to eliminate any harmful microorganisms.
Does cheese need to be refrigerated?
Refrigeration between 35 to 40° F helps to preserve freshness. It is absolutely necessary for softer cheeses. Leaving cheeses unrefrigerated for long periods of time will dry them out and cause a thin layer of oil to separate from and coat the cheese. It will also rapidly accelerate their shelf life.
Because they have less moisture in them, hard grating cheeses like Parmesan and Romano can go for extended periods without refrigeration.
Can cheese be frozen?
Although freezing won't spoil the cheese, its texture will change and become less smooth so freezing is not recommended. If you must freeze it, know that soft and/or highest fat cheeses freeze better than lower fat cheeses. Frozen cheese is best used in cooking.
How should I store leftover cheese?
A good recommendation is to use the cheese quickly after opening it. You’ll also want to wrap the cheese tightly to preserve it as best as possible. The objective is to keep the air out and the fresh moist flavor of the cheese in.
Store blue-veined and other intentionally moldy cheeses away from other cheeses. Their mold spores travel easily through the air and can contaminate other cheeses. These cheeses are also susceptible to picking up strong odors from other cheeses.
Can I reuse the film used to wrap my cheese?
Do not reuse cheese film. It won't close properly and the cheese may have a thin layer of oil on the wrapper, making it difficult to get an airtight seal. Wrap cheese in new plastic wrap after each time it is opened.
My cheese’s package is puffed out like a balloon. Can I still eat it?
Don't be alarmed by "ballooning" bags or wrappers. This occurs most often with Swiss cheese which, like all cheeses, is alive and never stops ripening. During this process, certain natural gases will collect. While the aroma of this gas is likely to be strong, the cheese is perfectly edible.
When a cheese has an "off-odor," be sure to also taste it. Taste, not smell, is the best indicator of the quality of a cheese.