A Quick Introduction to Cheese

Cheese is one of the oldest, most popular, and most versatile foods in the world.

There are endless varieties, each with its own unique flavour and texture. Cheese is a great addition to any meal or can be enjoyed on its own as a snack.

Whether you’re a cheese lover or just getting started, this guide will introduce you to some of the most popular cheeses out there.

You’ll learn about their history, how it’s made, types and more.

So pull up a chair, and let’s get started!

A Brief History of Cheese

Nobody knows, as there is no record for this, and thus there are various origin theories around this – from 12,000 years to 5,000 years ago.

According to some evidence, the discovery of cheese is believed to have happened by accident, some 5000 years ago.

It is thought that milk that was left out and exposed to warm temperatures would have soured, causing the milk solids (curds) and liquid (whey) to coagulate and separate. This would have allowed people to learn that milk could be preserved in this form.

The word "cheese" is thought to be derived from the Latin word "caseus", which means "cheese".

European cheeses owe a great debt to the Greeks, who were the first to develop many of the methods and recipes used in cheese making.

The Romans later spread this knowledge across Europe as their empire expanded, leaving a lasting legacy that can still be seen in the cheese traditions of many European countries.

During the Middle Ages, monastic orders such as the Benedictines and Cistercians became prevalent across Europe and they began to develop their own distinctive cheeses, such as Trappist or monastery cheeses.

Maroilles of Northern France is thought to be one of the earliest examples of this type of cheese.

Since then, European cheese making has continued to evolve and diversify, with each region developing its own unique styles and flavors.

Today, there is an incredible variety of cheeses available from all over Europe, making it one of the most important regions in the world for cheese lovers!

For more details, check our comprehensive list of Popular Cheese across the world.

Here is a great TED-Ex video explaining the history of cheese –

European Cheese Today

Europe’s cheese today is made up of both traditional and artisan cheeses.

Traditional cheeses are typically made in designated areas by various artisan producers. These cheeses can be found around the world due to the high volume that they are produced.

Classic examples of traditional European cheeses include Camembert de Normandie and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

You will be surprised to know that Camembert de Normandie is made by only 10 producers!

In the last 30-40 years, Artisan cheeses have also been developed by individual cheesemakers. These are not as easy to find outside of their region or country of origin.

How Much Cheese is Produced In The World?

Cheese is one of the most popular dairy products in the world, with global production totalling 21.86 million metric tons in 2021.

The European Union is by far the leading producer of cheese, accounting for over 10 million metric tons annually.
In fact, more than 37% of milk produced in EU was used to produce cheese (the second position is butter, at 29%).

Germany and France are leaders in producing cheese in the EU.

However, if we consider individual countries, the United States leads the way, producing over 6.2 million metric tons each year (2021).

Types of Milk Used to Make Cheese

There is a variety of milk that can be used to make cheese, including cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and buffalo milk.

But apart from these popular sources, cheese has been prepared from a variety of other milk sources – from reindeer, yak, horses, camel, ewe, deer to even donkeys.

Each type impacts the flavour and texture of the finished cheese.

  • Cow’s milk is the most commonly used type of milk for making cheese. It is rich in fat and protein, which gives it a creamy texture and a mild flavour.
  • Goat’s milk is also high in fat and protein, but it has a more pronounced flavour than cow’s milk.
  • Sheep’s milk is even higher in fat than goat’s milk, making it ideal for making rich, flavorful cheeses.
  • Buffalo milk is the richest of all milk, with exceptionally high-fat content. This makes it perfect for making very creamy cheeses with a strong flavour.

What Gives Cheese Its Identity?

We are not talking about the mass-produced factory cheese here, but the cheese which is known for its uniqueness.

There are three main factors which provide identity or what you can call “personality” to cheese.

Their unique combination gives cheeses a distinctive identity that sets them apart from cheeses produced elsewhere.

This is what makes artisanal cheeses so special – each one is truly unique,

These are –

  • The climate of the place
  • Type of animal and its grazing habits
  • The microclimate of the Cheese room

Know more about these factors here>

How is Cheese Prepared?

The traditional cheese-making process has the following steps –

  1. Collection of milk
  2. Coagulation or curdling
  3. Separation of curds and whey
  4. Shaping and salting
  5. Ageing and the affineur

Here is a quick explanation of the above steps –

Collection of milk: The first step in making cheese is collecting the milk. This can be done from cows, goats, sheep, or buffalo. The milk is tested and stored in large vats.

Coagulation or curdling: In order to make cheese, the milk must first be coagulated or curdled. This is done by adding rennet, which is a natural enzyme that causes the milk to thicken and form clumps. The rennet also helps to separate the solid curds from the liquid whey.

Separation of curds and whey: Once the curds have formed, they are then separated from the whey using a process called ladling. The whey is then drained off, and the curds are placed in molds where they will drain and form into blocks.

Shaping and salting: After the curds have been drained and formed into blocks, they are then shaped, and salt is added. The salt helps to preserve the cheese and gives it flavour.

Ageing and the affineur: The final step in making cheese is ageing it. This is done by storing the cheese in caves or cellars where it will age for several months to years. During this time, an affineur (a specialist in ageing cheese) will monitor the cheese and determine when it is ready to be sold.

Here is an elaborate post explaining each of these steps in detail.

Check out this amazing video on How Traditional Stilton Cheese Is Made in a 100-year-old dairy!

Classification of Cheese

While cheese making has been around for thousands of years, you will be surprised to know that there is no “formal” system to classify cheese!

Various experts classify it based on their own understanding. The main types of cheese are classified according to their texture and taste.

The most common types are fresh cheese, aged cheese, soft white cheese, hard cheese, blue cheese, and flavoured cheese.

Fresh Cheese: A type of cheese that has a short shelf life and is typically not aged. Examples include ricotta, cottage cheese, and cream cheese.

Aged Cheese: A type of cheese that has been aged for a period of time, typically several months to years. This results in a more intense flavour and firmer texture. Examples include cheddar, Parmesan, and Swiss.

Soft White Cheese: A type of cheese with a soft texture and mild flavour. These cheeses are typically made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. Examples include Brie and Camembert.

Hard Cheese: A type of cheese that has a hard texture and strong flavour. These cheeses are typically made from cow’s milk and are aged for longer periods of time than other types of cheese. Examples include Swiss, Parmesan, and cheddar.

Blue Cheese: A type of cheese that has blue or green veins running through it. This is caused by the presence of mold spores in the cheese. Blue cheeses have a strong flavour and can be made from any type of milk. Examples include Gorgonzola and Roquefort.

Flavoured Cheeses: A type of cheese that has been flavoured with herbs, spices, or other ingredients. These cheeses can be made from any type of milk and have a wide range of flavours. Examples include herb-flavoured cheeses, garlic-infused cheeses, and smoked cheeses.

In the End

Cheese is a vast subject to cover.

If you’re looking for more information on cheese, keep reading. Are you excited to try making some cheese at home? Let us know in the comments how it turns out!