Cheese | Food | Cheese is a generic term for a diverse group of milk-based food products. Cheese is produced throughout the world in wide-ranging flavors, textures, and forms. Cheese consists of proteins and fat from milk, usually the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep. It is produced by coagulation of the milk protein casein. Typically, the milk is acidified and addition of the enzyme rennet causes coagulation. The solids are separated and pressed into final form. Some cheeses have molds on the rind or throughout. Most cheeses melt at cooking temperature. Cheese is a product obtained from coagulating and draining milk, cream or a mixture of the two. The quality, nutritional value and characteristics of cheese vary according to the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep, buffalo), the method of production and local preferences.

How to make Cheese:

1) Coagulation ("curdling") is the curd-forming stage, when the casein (the protein contained in the milk) coagulates in response to bacteria or rennet.

2) Drainage consists of removing the water (the whey or lactoserum) from the curd and making it firmer. The amount of whey retained in the curd after draining will determine the firmness and texture of the cheese. It is during the draining stage that the curd is shaped in a mold. 

3) Salting acts as an antiseptic, slows down the development of microorganisms, improves the storage life of the cheese and speeds up the drying process and the formation of a rind. Cheeses can be salted from the outside (dry salting) or in a brine bath. Some cheeses are fermented with molds to obtain a "bloomy" rind (the "croûte fleurie" of Brie and Camembert) or the veins of blue cheeses (Roquefort, Gorgonzola). 

4) Ripening (or maturing) is the period during which the inside of the cheese is transformed through the biochemical action of the bacterial flora contained in the cheese. This is the crucial stage in which the consistency, aroma, flavor and, if desired, the rind of the cheese develop (fresh curd cheeses and process cheeses are not ripened). Ripening takes place under temperature and humidity conditions that vary according to the type of cheese. The longer the ripening process, the less moisture the cheese retains, and the firmer and stronger-tasting the cheese will be.

Cheeses are generally classified according to their firmness.

1) Fresh cheeses (unripened) are coagulated through the action of lactic acid bacteria. They are simply drained (cottage, ricotta, mascarpone, cream cheese, Petit Suisse, quark). They are not aged and should be eaten quickly. They are generally low-fat (0.1%-13% fat) and low-energy foods. They become high in fat and energy when they are made with cream (up to 30% fat, in the case of cream cheese). 
Several contain additives, thickeners and preservatives. Fresh cheeses are smooth, creamy or granular, with a mild or slightly acidic flavor. They are used mainly in pastries and desserts. They are available plain or flavored with vegetables, fruits or spices.

Fresh Cheese

2) Unripened stretched curd cheeses are obtained by kneading and stretching the undrained curd until it acquires the desired consistency. This process gives them a supple texture. This category includes mozzarella, scarmoza, provolone, bocconcini and caciotta. Mozzarella is especially popular as a topping on pizza and pasta.

Unripened Stretched Curd Cheese

3) Soft cheeses are ripened for a relatively short period, drained and molded. Fats make up 20%-26% of the weight of the cheese. They acquire a velvet-like rind. The fermentation process begins on the surface of the cheese and moves toward the center. They are not used very much in cooking, because they lose a great deal of flavor when heated.

Soft Cheese

Soft cheeses are divided into two categories.

  • Bloomy-rind cheeses are covered with a thin layer of white down or mold, with a velvety appearance (Camembert, Brie, Brillat-Savarin, Coulommiers); this rind is edible, but should be removed if its taste is too strong.

  • Washed-rind cheeses are cheeses that undergo light brine washes (Munster, Pont-l'Évêque, Livarot, Bel Paese, Époisses). They have a delicate flavor and intense aroma. The ripening of some of these cheeses is finished by dipping them in alcohol, such as wine or beer. 

4) Semi-firm cheeses are pressed, uncooked cheeses that undergo quite a long ripening period. These cheeses (Cheddar, Cantal, Reblochon, Gouda, Edam, Fontina, Saint-Nectaire, Morbier, Tomme, Tilsiter, Monterey Jack) have a dense consistency and a pale yellow interior.

Semi-firm Cheese

5) Firm cheeses (or hard cheeses) are cheeses that are pressed and cooked. These cheeses (Gruyère, Emmental, Jarlsberg, Comté, raclette, Beaufort, Parmesan, Romano) may or may not possess a hard rind. The texture of the interior is generally firm, but can sometimes be very grainy, as in the case of Parmesan and Romano.

Firm or Hard Cheese

6) Blue-veined cheeses (or "blue cheeses") are cheeses whose curd is first broken into pieces, molded, drained, salted, then fermented with molds. Fermentation begins on the inside and moves toward the outside. A whole network of blue-green veins forms through the action of the molds, and becomes more dense over time. These cheeses (Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Bleu de Bresse, Danish Blue, Stilton) have a peppery, strong, sharp taste and usually a crumbly texture.

Blue-veined or Blue Cheese

7) Processed cheeses are cheeses made from one or several cooked or uncooked pressed cheeses that are re-melted, and to which milk, cream or butter is added; they keep for a long time. Depending on the product, stabilizers, emulsifiers, salt, colors, sweeteners and seasonings may be added. This results in a soft, elastic texture and mild flavor. In North America, these cheeses are mostly made using Cheddar cheese, whereas in Europe, Emmental and Gruyère are used most. Processed cheeses have different names depending on the quantity of cheese they contain (processed cheese, processed cheese food, cheese spread).

Processed Cheese

8) Cheese substitutes are imitation cheeses sometimes made from a single milk component, such as casein, to which artificial emulsifiers, flavors and colors are added. Some natural ingredients are also incorporated (soy, corn).

Cheese substitutes

9) Goat cheeses (sometimes called chèvre, the French word for "goat") are cheeses with a soft interior and natural rind and can be made from 100% goat's milk ("pure chèvre") or goat's milk mixed with cow's milk ("mi-chèvre," if it contains at least 25% goat's milk). These cheeses may be fresh, soft with a bloomy rind or sometimes firm. They are more white than cow's milk cheese and have a stronger flavor. Goat cheese is generally moist, smooth and very salty in order to prolong its storage life. Some goat cheeses have evocative names (Chabichou, Crottin de Chavignol, Valencay, Chevrotin). Feta cheese is included in this category, made using sheep's milk, cow's milk or a mixture with goat's milk.

Goat Cheese

How to Buy Cheese:

Soft cheeses

  • Choose: cheeses that are soft inside as well as out, with a creamy, consistent interior that is even in color and completely fills the rind, which should be smooth and not dry or cracked.

  • Avoid: cheeses with a solid, firm, chalky-white center, a sticky rind, a dark color or an ammonia smell. A hard rind and dry interior are signs of a cheese that has not been properly stored.

Semi-firm cheeses

  • Choose: cheeses that are neither dried out nor too crumbly. The interior of the cheese close to the rind should not be darker in color. They should not taste spoiled or sharp.

Firm cheeses

  • Choose: cheeses with an even color and consistency and a firm rind.

  • Avoid: dried out or bulging cheeses that are pasty or too grainy, with a cracked rind. They should not taste too salty or too bitter.

Blue cheeses 

  • Choose: cheeses with a smaller or greater number of veins, depending on the variety, spread evenly throughout the interior of the cheese. This interior, which is usually white, should not be crumbly, too dry or too salty.

  • Check the use-by date on the packaging and avoid cheeses that are left at room temperature.

How to Prepare Cheese:

Only firm cheeses are grated. Cold cheese is easier to grate than cheese left at room temperature.

How to Serve Cheese:

Cheese is used for stuffing, topping meats and vegetables or as the main ingredient of a dessert. It is prepared with savory dishes-salads, sauces, soups, croquettes, pizzas, pasta dishes, crepes, soufflés, fondues, raclette, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, omelettes-and sweet dishes (cakes, pies, donuts). When seasoning a dish, take into account the fact that cheese is generally salty, particularly blue cheeses, whose salty taste is enhanced during cooking. One cheese may be replaced with another of the same kind. Cheese is often served at the end of a meal or as an appetizer accompanied with wine.

How to Store Cheese:

The storage life of cheeses mainly depends on their moisture content.

In the fridge: wrap the cheese well in a sheet of cheese paper or plastic wrap and place in the warmest area of the fridge.

  • Fresh and blue-veined cheeses are placed 7-10 days in an airtight container or 
tightly wrapped.

  • Soft cheeses keep a short time, especially when they have become ripe.

  • Semi-firm cheeses keep for several weeks.

  • Firm cheeses keep for 2 weeks.

  • Grated cheeses keep for 1 week.

Cheeses can also be stored at a temperature of 50°F-55°F (10°C-12°C). Surface-ripened cheeses (bloomy-rind, washed-rind) should not be vacuum-packed or sealed airtight.

For better flavor, remove cheeses from the fridge at least 30 min before eating them. If mold has developed on the surface of a firm cheese, cut off 1/2-¾ in. (1-2 cm) around the mold and cover with another piece of wrapping. Discard fresh and soft cheeses with such mold.

In the freezer: freeze pieces ¾ in. (2 cm) thick that weigh a maximum of 1 lb (500 g) (21/2-3 months). Dry cheeses tolerate freezing better than moist cheeses (fresh cheeses don't freeze). Defrosting reduces the flavor of cheese, making it more crumbly. Defrost cheese in the fridge and use only for cooked dishes.

How to Cook Cheese:

During cooking, cheese melts more easily if shredded, grated or finely chopped. Added to the sauce... cook gently just until melted, do not boil. Hard cheeses withstand higher temperatures, especially when used as a garnish. Remove the heat when cheese is melted.

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