Science in Cheese
Cheeses produce aromas, flavors, and textures that are unlike any other food. Within the grand world of cheese, there are over 1,000 named varieties. This complex food is also nutritious—it is filled with vitamins, minerals, and protein.
While most foods are rather stable biologically and physically, cheeses are biologically and biochemically dynamic leaving them unstable. This instability is in a sense life-giving to the cheese—cheese is a bacterial ecosystem that is in constant transformation as it matures through the numerous biochemical transformations during its life span. From only four simple ingredients: milk, salt, rennet, and starter cultures, thousands of unique cheeses are birthed.
Biochemistry, microbiology, enzymology, molecular genetics, and flavor chemistry are all involved in the modern cheese making process. The modern cheese industry relies heavily on the application of scientific processes to establish consistency and quality in each product.
Fermentation within the cheese making process is one of the most complex—more so than even the pharmaceutical industry. Much like wine and beer, processing greatly increases the value of cheese. Each cheese is a reflection of the local climate and terrain in which it is produced.
Ever wonder why cheddar and other cheeses come in a variety of colors? Milk is traditionally white— whether from a cow, sheep, or goat. So why are there so many colors of cheese? Because the beta carotene in the goat’s diet is broken down into Vitamin A before it enters the animal’s milk, goat, sheep, and water buffalo cheese is always white; however, both cows and sheep retain the beta carotene in their milk, which gives their cheeses a yellow color. Cheese color also varies based on the diet of the animal. A diet of flowers and fresh grass will give a cow’s milk higher levels of beta carotene than a diet of hay. A third factor in cheese color is the addition of the natural coloring, annatto. This helps create a more consistent and darker colored cheese.
To obtain white and lighter colored cheeses, titanium dioxide — a mineral commonly added to toothpaste — is added. Other times hydrogen peroxide or benzoyl peroxide are added.
Though you probably believed from a young age that the holes in Swiss cheese were made by tiny mice nibbling away at a chunk of Swiss, this is far from how it all happens. The holes are actually due to the metabolization of lactic and propionic acid.
Lactic acid molecules form acetic acid molecules, propionic acid molecules, carbon dioxide molecule, and water molecules. These carbon dioxide molecules accumulate at the frail spots in the cheese, forming the bubbles called “eyes”. During the ripening of a 175-pound wheel of Swiss cheese, 32 gallons of CO₂ are generated but the majority of the of the gas escapes or dissolves.
Besides tradition, the location phenomenon in cheese naming has to do with the economics of the land. The vegetation, climate, animals, season, altitude, and soil all are influential in the flavor of the cheese.
Here is a list of cheeses are named for their originating regions:
The original parmesan Cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, comes from Parma or Reggio, two cities in north central Italy.
Asiago comes from the Asiago plateau in Northern Italy
Gorgonzola is named after an Italian town near Naples
Gruyère is named after a town in Switzerland
Cheddar was first produced in Cheddar, Somerset County
Havarti is named after a farm north of Copenhagen
Brie was birthed in the Brie region east of Paris
Munster is named after a village in Alsace, France
Swiss cheese originated in Switzerland’s Emmen valley
Unlike most cheeses on this list, Cheddar is not covered by a Protected Designation of Origin, which means no matter where it is produced it can still legally be called Cheddar cheese.
Ever wondered why fresh cheese curds squeak? Unpressed and un-aged cheese curds will often squeak when you bite into them — especially if they are really fresh. Because the casein network in fresh curd has not been knitted into a compact structure, it remains porous with much air trapped inside. The wet, elastic curd therefore vibrates as we bit into it, emitting a high pitched dainty squeak! Like I mentioned, this only happens with super fresh cheeses so you can’t find squeaky cheese just anywhere, but it is typically available at ethnic grocery stores, especially those with a Hispanic flair.
There is something special about cheese. The possibilities and options seem endless that there is sure to be a flavor that can match any person’s palate. Cheese is more versatile than chicken- from melting, shredding, cubing to serving whole, cheese can be served in numerous manners. Here are a few cosmetic uses for cheese that may be a little outside of the box:
Topical treatment: Doctors recommend a concoction of pineapple and cottage cheese for relief of symptoms of the skin condition rosacea.
Facial mask : A number of beauty experts claim that applying a mask of cottage cheese to the skin under the eyes will help vanish those unwanted dark circles. Other food bloggers also tested cream cheese as a dry skin cure, and found it to be very effective.
Exfoliating scrub: Mix honey, sugar and cream cheese for an all-natural, gentle, moisturizing and exfoliating facial scrub that is sure to afford a lovely complexion.