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What is Cheese?

There may be as many as 1000 different names of cheese throughout the world, but many of them vary in name only and they all belong to about 20 groups varying from the very soft, freshly made cheese to the fully matured, strong-flavored hard cheese. The different varieties are due not only to the different type of milk used in their manufacture but also to the skill and technique of the cheesemaker and to ripening. The origin of cheese will never be known with certainty, but we know that it was esteemed by the Greeks and the Romans, is mentioned several times in the Bible, and appears almost without exception in all the world's best known classics of literature.

The process of cheesemaking varies to quite a large extent. However, in all cheese, no matter where it is made and the method of making employed, certain fundamental steps must be followed: (1) fresh milk is placed in vats and the first stage is begun by 'setting' the milk; then (2) cutting the curd, (3) cooking the curd, (4) draining the whey, (5) salting, (6) pressing, and finally (7) maturing.

One of the most important considerations during manufacture is the acidity, and this is tested throughout the operation by an acidimeter. Considerable experience and skill are needed by the cheesemaker to interpret the acidities given, and to allow him to apply the correct degree of emphasis at the subsequent stages. Salt is added to the curd to stop certain bacterial action and to give the cheese more flavor. The period of ripening can vary from one day for fresh cream cheese to several years in the case of the hard Italian parmesan. In the Middle East and Asia the type of cheese made is usually small, round and heavily salted. In Europe there are many types of soft mould ripened and hard cheese but in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and North America, where the factory system prevails, Cheddar type cheese is overwhelmingly popular although there are many other varieties available. Current trends in cheese-making tend to make the industry much more mechanical and it is only a matter of time before the large creameries become fully automated as the new continuous #cheese-making# plants are perfected.

The chief hard cheeses are Cheddar, Emmental and Parmesan; semi-hard, Cheshire, Port Salut, Edam, and Gouda. The best known soft cheeses are: (surface ripened), Brie, Camembert and Limburg, and (mould ripened), blue vein, Stilton, Gorgonzola and Roquefort. Cheese is of world-wide importance and a rich source of protein and calcium. There is hardly any carbohydrate in cheese, this being lost in the whey.

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