Let me be clear. When I say “cheese,” I mean real cheese. Like the stuff that’s aged and cared for, not the stuff that comes in bags, wax coatings and plastic wrapping. There was this commercial a while back that used the slogan “Real Cheese Counts.” Now, the commercial was for Cheeze-Its, so I’ll let you make the call as to whether that is really true for that product, but the point is: it’s true in general. Real cheese matters. Velveeta, Kraft Singles – NOT cheese. (Disclaimer here: processed cheeses do include some semblance of cheese. But they’re typically mixed with other random things, hence the fact that Velveeta can be left unrefrigerated with little effects.)
Now don’t get me wrong. I love the occasional Kraft Mac and “Cheese.” Or the grilled cheese with a slice of “American” cheese. But I have a true passion for real cheese. I can’t totally explain why. I love all of the different textures, the backstory of how and where different cheeses are made, how the same cheese can change seasonally, and how it pairs with wine in a way that makes your mouth so, so happy.
So why should you care? Because here at CASA, we believe eating should be a conscious effort to consume the best foods you can. We believe it should be about flavor. And let’s be honest, we want to spend our calories on only the best. There is so much more flavor associated with real cheese. When you cook with it and pair it with wine it becomes an experience. You learn about your tastes, your likes and dislikes, develop your palette and in general you benefit from the care that is put into what you’re eating.
I had NO idea what I was missing prior to being hit with the cheese stick. (Mmm, cheese sticks…) It was glorious and enlightening all at the same time. The sheer amount of care and craftsmanship that goes into a wheel of cheese is amazing and precious. If you are at all interested in how your food is made, you’ll be interested in cheese and its rich history. It is a delicious protein source (I can’t get my husband to believe that’s my primary reason for eating it. He knows my game…) and has all sorts of health benefits associated with it.
So let’s start. What is cheese?
Cheese is, at its base, the solids of milk, wrapped in a little package for you to eat. Years ago, it was also a way for farmers to preserve their milk to feed their families and preserve their milk longer. Not to gross you out, but cheese was discovered by a traveling farmer who put fresh milk in his trusty water bottle made of the stomach of one of his goats or some poor small farm animal. The result was that, come break time, he had a chunky little snack waiting. He drank it (bravely…) and cheese was born.
Cheese is basically the solids of milk, aged and cared for over time. It sounds gross, I know. You’re thinking of the chunks you see when milk spoils, huh? And in reality, that’s where it starts. Once milk spoils, there’s that chunky stuff (milk solids/curds) and the watery stuff (whey). Think: Little Miss Muffet. Remember she was eating curds and whey? Not quite sure why, but regardless….Curds are what cheese is made from. The whey ends up getting thrown out or fed to pigs or appears in my husband’s protein shakes.
Here’s a hugely simplified version of how a cheese is made:
1. Milk is gathered.
This can be sheep, cow, goat or buffalo. I mean, technically you could do camel or something random, but that’s just wrong…
2. Pasteurization. Or not.
Milk can be pasteurized to create a more homogenous effect, kill bacteria, and some say, flatten flavors. Milk that is not pasteurized is called raw.
Agents are added to the milk to help the milk to spoil, forming liquids and solids.
Rennet is an ingredient that is added to milk to make the milk solids clump together (coagulate). In rennetting, it is added to the curds to help them to stick together to create one giant “lump”. Rennet can be veggie, but is most often animal. Veggie comes from things like cardoon thistles, and animal comes from –brace yourself – the fourth stomach of nursing livestock.
5. Cutting the Curds
Who cut the cheese? We did. Haha. Seriously, the curds are cut to expel more whey (liquid) and so that the lumped curds can be scooped into a mold or further manipulated. (See below)
Cheese can be further manipulated to get more whey out. We’ll get into more of what all of the specifics are, but just know they’re ways to affect the amount of liquid in the cheese, and ultimately, what type of cheese will be made.
The cut curds are put into a mold to form. At this point, it is determined whether it will be put into a cheesecloth.
Cheese can be aged from a few days to a few years. During the aging process, cheese is monitored, rotated, brined, washed and generally taken care of.
My favorite part
We’ll be covering in more detail all of the above as the weeks go on. I invite you to explore with me. I’ll be introducing you to: how to taste cheeses, pairings, accompaniments and more. And so the cheesiness begins!!!