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The History Of Cheese

Most authorities consider that cheese was first made in the Middle East. The earliest type was a form of sour milk which came into being when it was discovered that domesticated animals could be milked. A legendary story has it that cheese was 'discovered' by an unknown Arab nomad. He is said to have filled a saddlebag with milk to sustain him on a journey across the desert by horse. After several hours riding he stopped to quench his thirst, only to find that the milk had separated into a pale watery liquid and solid white lumps. Because the saddlebag, which was made from the stomach of a young animal, contained a coagulating enzyme known as rennin, the milk had been effectively separated into curds and whey by the combination of the rennin, the hot sun and the galloping motions of the horse. The nomad, unconcerned with technical details, found the whey drinkable and the curds edible.

Cheese was known to the ancient Sumerians four thousand years before the birth of Christ. The ancient Greeks credited Aristaeus, a son of Apollo and Cyrene, with its discovery; it is mentioned in the Old Testament.

In the Roman era cheese really came into its own. Cheesemaking was done with skill and knowledge and reached a high standard. By this time the ripening process had been developed and it was known that various treatments and conditions under storage resulted in different flavours and characteristics.

The larger Roman houses had a separate cheese kitchen, the caseale, and also special areas where cheese could be matured. In large towns home-made cheese could be taken to a special centre to be smoked. Cheese was served on the tables of the nobility and travelled to the far corners of the Roman Empire as a regular part of the rations of the legions.

During the Middle Ages, monks became innovators and developers and it is to them we owe many of the classic varieties of cheese marketed today. During the Renaissance period cheese suffered a drop in popularity, being considered unhealthy, but it regained favour by the nineteenth century, the period that saw the start of the move from farm to factory production.

A term used to describe a cheese with a lightly sourish flavour.

When certain cheeses are past their prime and overripe they will smell and often taste of ammonia. This particularly applies to soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert. For those unfamiliar with this smell, it can possibly best be described by imagining a cheese that has been sprayed by a particularly vm catQa thing to be avoided at all costs!

A colouring agent used to colour a great variety of cheeses ranging from English Cheddar to the French Maroilles. Annatto is a dye obtained from a South American plant.

A cheese's smell or odour which can vary from lightly aromatic to ferociously overpowering. Note that while most strong smelling cheese will also be strong tasting, this does not apply to all. Limburger is a case in point. The American cheeses Brick and Liederkranz both have distinctive aromas but are not overly strong tasting cheeses unless well aged.

A descriptive term often used to describe a cheese's aroma and sometimes its taste as well. Many people find goat's milk cheeses barnyardy, particularly aged ones.

French name for blue veined cheeses.

Bloomy rind
Cheeses that develop a light white down on their surfaces are known as bloomy or flowery rind cheeses. Such a rind develops as a result of the cheese's surface being sprayed with the Penicillium candidate spore. The best known cheeses of this type are Camembert and Brie.

Certain types of natural rind cheeses, cooked and uncooked varieties, have their rinds brushed during the period they spend ripening. This brushing, done by hand or machine, helps the interior of the cheese to keep moist during the ripening period; it also has an effect on the final flavour of the cheese.

the element of milk which solidifies when coagulation takes place.

The room, usually underground, where cheeses are left to ripen. Some cheeses, Roquefort is the most famous, are ripened in caves.

A cheese that is 'cheddared' has its curd cut into blocks which are turned and stacked at the bottom of the cheese vat at intervals of ten to fifteen minutes for about one-and-a-half hours.

Used to describe a cheese's texture. A close textured cheese is one which is smooth, unblemished and devoid of holes or cracks.

A step in the cheesemaking process when the cheese curd is heated, sometimes in the surplus whey. Cooked cheeses are all hard cheeses such as Emmentaler and other Swiss types.

The fatty element of milk.

Used to describe both the taste and sometimes the texture of certain cheeses.

An early stage in cheesemaking when milk coagulates due to the introduction of rennet.

Also known as maturing or ageing - the stage in the cheesemaking process when a cheese is left to ripen.

The condition of a cheese that breaks away when cut often applicable to blue veins.

Dry matter
The part of the cheese that remains after all moisture is removed. Soft cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert, will, on average, contain about 50 per cent dry matter and 50 per cent water.

A descriptive term often used to describe the nature of monastery cheeses.

Fat content
The fat content of cheese refers to the fat content in the dry matter of the cheese. It is usually indicated on the cheese's packaging. The average is 45 per cent but it can be as low as 4 per cent and as high as 75 per cent.

Fresh cheese
Cheese that does not undergo a ripening period e.g. Cottage Cheese, Cream Cheese, Ricotta.

Not only the name of one of the best known Swiss cheeses in the world but also a general name for large cheeses made in France e.g. Gruyere de Comte, Beaufort, Emmentaler.

Descriptive term for cooked cheeses.

Also called 'eyes', basically openings in the body of cheeses such as Emmentaler, Gruyere and other Swiss types. Such holes are spherical, equally spaced and about the size of cherry stones. The holes are caused by bacterial activity which generates prioponic acid causing gas to expand within the curd.

Milk aroma, sometimes flavour, of certain cheeses.

Yeasts and ferments present in milk and milk curd.

Certain cheeses are linked historically in that they were originally developed by monks. They are known as monastery cheeses although they range in flavour and aroma considerably.

Moulds can be on the surface of cheese or be developed internally. Surface moulds are the result of cheese being treated with the Penicillium candidate spore; internal moulds are created by the introduction of Penicillium glaucum or Penicillium roqueforti spores both to create blue veined cheeses. Certain French goat milk cheeses develop a natural bluish surface mould and some of the newer double creme cheeses have both a surface mould and an internal mould e.g. Blue Castello, Bavarian Blue, Duet.

Flavour and aroma description of certain soft and semi-soft cheeses, particularly members of the Brie/ Camembert family.

A flavour description of certain cheeses, often refers to a hazelnut flavour.

Texture description referring to a cheese which contains openings and holes in its body. The opposite of close.

Many cheeses are coated with a paraffin wax, particularly those destined for export markets. Edam is probably the best known. The wax protects the cheese.

The treatment given to partially sterilised milk.

The interior of a cheese.

Descriptive term for a cheese's aroma or flavour.

Moulds that are developed on the surface of bloomy rind cheeses (Camembert, Brie) and internally in blue veins (see moulds).

A French term for a blue vein cheese used in reference to Roquefort because it is the only bleu from sheep's milk.

Descriptive term for a sharp tasting cheese.

A substance obtained from the stomach linings of young calves which contains a coagulating enzyme.

The protective external surface of a cheese. Rinds can be natural or artificially created, thick or thin, hard or soft, washed, oiled, brushed or paraffined. Their prime role is to protect the cheese's interior and allow it to ripen and develop harmoniously. Their presence affects the final flavour of the interior of the cheese.

Skimmed milk
When part or all of the cream has been removed from milk, the milk is referred to as skimmed. Cheeses made from such milk generally have a lower fat content than average; some (but not all) are quite pronounced in taste.

A bacterial culture which produces lactic acid.

Descriptive term used to describe a cheese's texture - firm but not hard, pliable and resilient.

Descriptive term used to denote a cheese's flavour usually meaning sharp, distinctive, flavoursome.

A cheese's texture can be soft, firm, supple, waxy, open, close and so on. Texture is largely dependent on its moisture content - the softer the cheese the higher its moisture content.

Washed rind cheeses
The rinds of certain cheeses are regularly washed while they are being ripened. The purpose of this is to keep the cheese moist, supple and to ensure it does not dry out. Such washings can be done with elements as varied as salt water or brandy - thus the washing plays a part in the cheese's final flavour. Some of the strongest smelling and tasting cheeses in the world are washed rind varieties.

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