Is cheese a preserved food?
The first cheese probably came about by accident
Almost everywhere in the world where there are dairy animals, cheese is made today, and every cheese maker uses his own personal recipe for making and maturing.
But nobody knows when and where the first cheese was made. It was certainly long before the birth of Christ, probably in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean, and chance had a hand in it. There are some legends about the popular food, which in the core certainly meet some facts about the making of cheese:
"Cheese is a gift from the gods!" One could at least say so, because: Today it is assumed that fresh milk was offered to the gods during sacrificial ceremonies in ancient Mesopotamia (in the 3rd to 1st millennium BC).
Naturally, the priests left the sacrificial drink for a while, and with the help of lactic acid bacteria, the first sour milk cheese was made from the milk after a few days. At some point one of the priests - probably sinfully - must have tasted the gifts of the gods and thus determined the taste.
"Cheese from the calf's stomach!" There is also a lot of truth in this statement, which is strange at first glance. It is likely that Stone Age hunters discovered a strange white mass in the stomach of a calf that had just been shot, which was extremely tasty. The animal must have drunk breast milk shortly before its death, and a special fermentation enzyme in the stomach of young animals - the rennet - ensured that the milk turned into the white mass.
Another legend says that shepherds kept their milk in dried sheep's stomachs and that is how the milk came into contact with the rennet.
In any case, people in the ancient civilizations already ate cheese: In his "Odyssey", the ancient poet Homer describes the magical powers of cheese. Hippocrates, the most famous doctor of antiquity, prescribed cheese as a remedy and goat cheese was an important commodity of the Greeks.
Even in ancient Rome, cheese was an indispensable part of the menu. In addition, an important property of the hard cheese helped the Romans on their Europe-wide campaigns. Hard cheese is very good and has a long shelf life, which made it an excellent food for the legionnaires.
Monasteries and science
In the Middle Ages, the monasteries were mainly engaged in the production of cheese. They collected the farmers' recipes and wrote them down. This is how the craft of the cheese maker (dairy farmer) slowly emerged.
As the cities grew in the late Middle Ages, so did the cheese trade. The cheese was easy to transport from the country to the city because it did not spoil as quickly even on longer journeys.
In the 19th century, scientists like Louis Pasteur or Justus Liebig discovered during their research with rennet which role the microorganisms play in cheese ripening. This basic research led to the mechanization of the cheese trade and subsequently - also through the breeding of cows for ever higher milk yields - to the industrialization of the dairy industry.
All cheese is based on milk, regardless of whether it is from a cow, goat, sheep or yak. This milk - as long as it is processed untreated, it is called raw milk - is now heated: with raw milk cheese not above the body temperature of the milk-donating animals, with industrial cheese up to 75 degrees Celsius (pasteurization).
The advantage of this extreme heat treatment is obvious: the milk is almost completely sterilized and therefore harmless to health. This advantage is at the same time the biggest disadvantage: all taste-forming enzymes disappear from the milk. For a long time the cheese will not taste as good as a conventional raw milk cheese.
Now the milk is thickened. Depending on the agent used, you will later get either sour milk cheese or rennet or sweet milk cheese. The sour milk cheese is made by adding lactic acid bacteria. The milk sugar is converted into lactic acid and the acid coagulates the milk protein. The cheese is ready. The main representatives of this type of cheese are quark and cream cheese.
The far greater part of the cheese is obtained by adding rennet. This enzyme, which used to be obtained from calf stomachs and is now often obtained by genetic engineering, allows the milk protein to coagulate. The thickly thickened milk is then crushed with a cheese harp. The cheese-maker calls the solid components "curd" and the liquid "whey".
The more the cheese maker crushes the curd with the cheese harp, the more whey is squeezed out and the later the cheese will be correspondingly firmer. The cheesemaker checks the size of the curd again and again until experience tells him that the curd is optimal for the desired type of cheese.
Now the cheese is brought into the mold. For large cheeses, such as Emmental, the curd is lifted out of the kettle with a large sheet. That finally separates him from the whey. The mass is then placed in the mold.
Small cheeses, such as Camembert, are skimmed off by hand and placed in special, perforated molds, from which the remaining liquid can drain off. Finally, the break can also be pressed out and shaped under pressure. The latter method predominates in the industrial production of cheese.
After a while, the cheese will be salted. Most of the time, the cheese is placed in a salt bath or smeared with salt by hand, sometimes, as in the case of English cheddar, the curd is already salted. The salt gives the cheese flavor, removes more whey from the loaf, preserves it and promotes the rind formation.
Finally, the cheese is matured: First of all, it is left alone. Depending on the variety, this can take years. A soft cheese, on the other hand, is ready for sale after just one week.
The special atmosphere in the maturing cellar is decisive for the development of the taste. Everything has to be right here: temperature, humidity and air exchange. The affineur, i.e. the cheese ripening, ensures the right conditions. He also takes care of the further surface treatment, because the cheese has to be regularly turned, brushed and smeared with brine.
Only this work, which must be carried out with great patience and expertise, gives the cheese its typical character and special features such as appearance, taste, aroma and digestibility.
The eight cheese families
Cheese refiners (affineurs) differentiate between eight different "cheese families":
1. Cream cheese: Refreshing and mild at the same time - this is how this type of cheese tastes. Well-known representatives are quark, ricotta and mozzarella.
2. Soft cheese with external mold: Good varieties are hand-scooped, which gives them a delicate, creamy consistency. For example: Camembert, Brie de Meaux and Formagella.
3. Cheese with pressed dough: The consistency of these cheeses ranges from semi-firm to firm. The cheesemaker reaches them with the help of mechanical pressing immediately after molding. Gouda, Appenzeller and Téte de Moine are especially famous for their taste.
4. Cheese with reheated and pressed dough: These stinkers mature for up to two years. During this time they develop a distinct taste of herbs or nuts. Well-known varieties are, for example, Parmigiano Reggiano, Gruyère and Emmentaler.
5. Goat cheese: For good goat cheese, the animals should be given natural feed. The producer should process the milk immediately after milking the goats. This creates a mild, hazelnut-like taste. Important members of the family are the Tomme de Chèvre from France and the Ibores from Spain.
6. Sheep's milk cheese: Good sheep's cheese should taste pure and aromatic. He comes mainly from the countries on the Mediterranean. Prominent representatives are the Pecorino from Italy, Manchego from Spain and the Corsican Le Fiumorbo. But there are also varieties that come from Germany, such as the Isartaler sheep cheese from Upper Bavaria.
7. Soft cheese with washed rind: The cheese refiner, the affineur, washes cheeses of this type regularly with salted water. He also adds beer, wine or cider. Most famous are Munster, Vacherin and Reblochon.
8. Cheese with mold inside: Here the intense taste is created by a noble mold that has to mature for several months. This variety includes Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Stilton, among others.
Raw milk cheese - health hazard or pleasure?
Again and again press reports appear, in which the danger of a listeria infection by raw milk cheese is mentioned. Listeria are a type of bacteria. Is artisanal raw milk cheese really more dangerous than cheese made from pasteurized milk?
The question cannot be answered with a clear yes or no: On the one hand, it must be stated that there is always a risk of Listeria infestation with raw milk cheese. On the other hand, this risk can be largely minimized if the hygienic framework conditions are observed during cheese production.
It should also be noted that cheeses made from pasteurized milk can also be infected with listeria. In fact, studies by the renowned Weihenstephan Science Center at the Technical University of Munich have shown that, in 140 samples, twice as many lysteria occurred on cheese made from pasteurized milk as on raw milk cheese. Here, too, the strict hygiene regulations must be observed.
Generally speaking, cheeses infested with Listeria are harmless. However, dangers can occur in pregnant women and those with immunodeficiency. These risk groups should avoid cheese. But if you don't want to do without cheese at all, then please only use hard cheeses and cut off the rind. Because on (hard) cheeses, 90 percent of Listeria only occur in the rind.
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