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The Science of Cheese Is Weirder Than You Think WIRED Image: See-ming Lee/ Cheese is not just food, it's a variety show. The multitude of aromas, flavors, and textures found in cheeses throughout the world is more than we encounter with anyother food. It comes in hundreds of varieties; even within a variety, differences are noticeable. And it's a food that provides nutrition in the form of vitamins, minerals,and a high-quality source of protein that can be kept for months.
The science behind the transformation from plants to milk to cheese is amazing. In fact, cheese has much in common with wine and beer: They result fromby microorganisms; they are "value-added" products where processing greatly increases the value; and they reflect local climate and terrain. Cheese hasfascinated humanity for a long time, inspiring people to refer to it as everything from "the wine of foods" (Vivenne Marquis and Patricia Haskell) to "milk's leaptoward immortality" (Clifton Fadiman)… The strangest question I have ever been asked is whether you can make cheese from breast milk. And it's been asked several times.
Why is cheese yellow?
Studies have shown that color — more so than labeling and even actual taste — affects our expectations and perceptions of food flavor, and cheese is no exception.
Even though the fat contents and flavors in orange and yellow cheddar are identical, some people perceive the former to be richer than the latter.
Annatto is what gives cheese an orange or more pronounced yellow color. It comes from the achiote (Bixa orellana) tree found in Mexico, the Caribbean, and thewestern portion of South America. Annatto's major component bixin and much of its molecular structure is similar to that of β-carotene, the compound that givescarrots their orange color. Cows transfer carotenoids (β-carotene and related compounds) from their diet to the milk, where they bind to the fat. This yellow color isnot visible since the fat content of milk is less than 4% and the carotenoid concentration less than 0.1%, and the fat globules are surrounded by casein. But most of thewhey is lost during cheesemaking, causing the fat and carotenoid contents to increase, and the casein network to loosen up — revealing the fat so the resulting cheesetakes on a yellow color.
Goats, sheep, and water buffalo do not pass carotenoids to milk (converting it to vitamin A instead), so their cheese is white. The additive for white cheese such asmozzarella is titanium dioxide — a mineral commonly added to toothpaste — which masks color. Other cheese additives that bleach color are hydrogen peroxide andbenzoyl peroxide.
Can you make cheese from human breast milk?
That is the strangest question I have ever been asked about cheese — and it's been asked several times. Breast-feeding mothers often have milk left over, and peoplesometimes wonder what can be done with it. Perhaps make some sort of cheese from it? But the answer is no, because the milk won't coagulate properly. Breast milk alone can't be made into cheese because it contains too little protein (only 1%), and onlysome of the protein is casein. In early lactation, 90% of the proteins are whey proteins, decreasing to 50% in late lactation. Research in our laboratory some years agodemonstrated that human milk will not form a curd.
A French web site, Le Petit Singly, advertises that they have made cheese from "breast milk of woman" since 1947. But if you try to order some online, you'll be sentto a page asking if you are crazy. That's when they admit it's a hoax (though some news outlets reported on the "company" without discovering it's a joke). And if youdo have surplus breast milk, best to donate it to a breast milk bank, where it will be used to feed infants in neonatal intensive care units.
Why are some people told to avoid raw-milk cheese?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that children under five,pregnant women, and people with immunodeficiency problems or chronic disease should not consume raw milk products. Yet manycheese connoisseurs — who often refer to pasteurized milk cheeses as "dead cheese" — believe pasteurization not only kills offpathogens, but also the naturally occurring bacteria that contribute to flavor and might convey health benefits.
The CDC and FDA fear raw milk because there's no pasteurization step for killing pathogens that might be present. Bacterial contamination from just one cow can spread through an entire vat of milk and then to a production run of raw milk cheese. Illnessescaused by E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, and Salmonella have been linked to consumption of raw milk and products such as rawmilk cheese. Listeriosis, an uncommon but often fatal illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes, may also be correlated with raw is a research chemist The Science of Cheese Is Weirder Than You Think WIRED milk and cheese made from it.
with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where he is in the Dairy and But much raw milk comes from certified dairies that have to undergo stringent sanitation requirements and testing. In the U.S., Functional Foods Research Unit of the cheese made from raw milk must be held for at least 60 days. Any pathogens in the milk should die out during this time, and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the acidity generated by the cheesemaking process will prevent pathogens from the environment from taking hold. Raw milk cheeses primary research arm of the USDA. ARS from outside the U.S. must also follow this requirement or they cannot be imported.
was responsible for advances such as lactose-reduced milk as well as the Where do the holes in cheese come from?
reduced-fat mozzarella that has been used in the National School Lunch The holes in Swiss-type cheeses are created when Propionibacterium freudenreichii subspecies shermanii metabolizes lactic and Program since 1995. Tunick is also propionic acid.
active in the American Chemistry Society and its Division of Agricultural The initial reaction goes like this: 3 lactic acid molecules form 1 acetic acid molecule, 2 propionic acid molecules, 1 carbon dioxide and Food Chemistry, where he served as molecule, and 1 water molecule. Extra oxygen and hydrogen atoms are also produced, and these go toward an enzyme thattransports energy within the bacterial cells. The cheese is made with a relatively low NaCl level, which allows the bacteria to chair in 2001.
The CO2 gas accumulates at the weaker spots in the cheese matrix, forming the bubbles that we call "holes" or "eyes." Some 120liters (32 gallons) of carbon dioxide are generated during ripening of a 175-pound wheel of Swiss cheese. About a third of the of thegas escapes into the air, half of it stays dissolved in the curd, and the rest forms the eyes.
One northern Italian bank maintains 300,000 wheels of Parmesan, worth $200 million, as collateral for loans.
Can lactose intolerant people eat cheese?
Affecting roughly 65 percent of the world's population, "lactose intolerance" is the inability to break down and therefore digest the lactose molecule (it's differentfrom "milk allergy", an adverse reaction to one or more proteins in milk, that is mediated by the immune system). Lactose cannot be absorbed by the body unless youretain the lactase enzyme β-galactosidase, which splits the lactose molecule into glucose and galactose in the small intestine. If lactase is not present, the lactose movesto the large intestine where bacteria metabolize it, generating uncomfortable gas in the form of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane, as well as drawing water fromthe intestinal wall — causing diarrhea.
The ability to digest lactose appears to involve evolutionary and demographic factors along with genetic, physiological, and social aspects. Lactase persistenceapparently arose as a result of a mutation of a particular gene some 7,000 to 10,000 years ago within dairy farmers in Central Europe. Vitamin D is necessary forabsorption of calcium and phosphate, and milk serves as a good source for both in the higher latitudes of Eurasia where the production of vitamin D in the skin ishampered by lower levels of sunlight.
Almost everyone in northwestern Europe is "lactase persistent", but the number decreases as one goes south and east. Milk fat residues in pots found in Libya indicateprocessing of cow's milk there between 5200 and 3800 BC, supporting a theory that lactase-persistent people and their cattle moved from Europe into Africa duringthat period. As a result, some African and Middle Eastern populations can digest milk. Most Eastern and Southern Africans cannot, and many in Asia and Australia arealso unable to do so. But one way to avoid lactose-related problems is to eat cheese — because nearly all of the lactose in cheese is removed during manufacturing andaging.
What's the difference between making cheese and yogurt?
Like cheese, yogurt ("to thicken" in Turkish) is produced using starter cultures — usually Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus and sometimesincluding bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Unlike cheese, however, milk for yogurt is initially heated to 185 degrees for 30 minutes or 200 degrees for 10 minutes, which kills off any pathogens and causes themilk protein to "denature" or fall apart. By doing this, the milk thickens (yogurt) instead of forming curds (cheese). The starter is added after the milk is homogenizedand cooled to 110 degrees, and the temperature is held there for 2-3 hours. The result is a gel with a pH of 4.5 (remember, 7.0 is neutral). To compare this to cheese:Milk has a pH around 6.6, meaning it is slightly acidic, and once that pH is decreased by around 0.2-0.3 units is when rennet is added to coagulate or set the milk intocurd.
With yogurt, effort isn't made to remove whey — except for in Greek yogurt, which is strained to remove whey and produce a thicker product. A pound of milk isneeded to make a pound of regular yogurt … but four pounds are required to obtain a pound of strained yogurt.
Why are certain varieties of cheese made in specific places?
Here are some examples of cheeses named for their originating regions: …Asiago comes from the Asiago plateau in Northern Italy…Brie was birthed in the Brie region east of Paris…Camembert is named after a village in Normandywas first produced in Cheddar, Somerset County…Gorgonzola is named after an Italian town near Naples…Gruyère is named after a town in Switzerland…Havarti is named after a farm north of Copenhagen…Munster is named after a village in Alsace, France…Roquefort is made by seven companies in and around Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France (if a similar cheese comes from outside that area, it must be calledsomething else, such as "blue cheese")…Swiss cheese originated in Switzerland's Emmen valley, which is why it's called Emmental or Emmentaler Several countries have thought highly enough of cheese to have postage stamps devoted to the varieties they have developed. And one northern Italian bank maintains300,000 wheels of Parmesan, worth $200 million, as collateral for loans.
Besides tradition, another reason for the "location, location, location" phenomenon in cheese has to do with the economics of(from the French for "land"). Theterroir factors affecting cheese flavor include vegetation, climate, animals, season of the year, altitude, soil, and microorganisms. In the U.S., one aspect of theeconomics is the back-to-the-land movement, which provided incentive for dairy farmers to produce artisanal cheeses with a "sense of place." Another economic facet

The Science of Cheese Is Weirder Than You Think WIRED is the ability to sell in a far-off market. Before refrigeration and automobiles, Vermonters came to realize that a sturdy cheddar would survive the trip to the lucrativeNew York market better than a high-moisture cheese that aged quickly; Vermont specializes in cow's milk cheddar to this day.
Why do fresh cheese curds squeak?
Bite-size cheese curds that have not been pressed or aged will emit a squeak when you bite into them — especially if they are less than a day old.
Cheese has been referred to as ‘milk's leap toward immortality'.
The casein network in unpressed fresh curd has not knitted into a compact structure, but rather is porous with plenty of air trapped inside. The wet, elastic curdtherefore vibrates when we put our teeth through it, and this vibration is at a frequency in the audible range.
You can observe a similar effect by pulling your wet hair between your fingers after shampooing it. The detergent in the shampoo removes the oil from our hair, soour fingers don't glide smoothly, but "skip" along wet strands. The outer surface of hair is also protein, primarily keratin — but this time it's our fingers that do thevibrating.
Why is it good to be "the big cheese," but bad to be "cheesy"?
How did cheesy turn into a word meaning cheap or inferior? Urdu, now a national language of Pakistan and an official language in five states of India, has a word chīzthat means "thing." The British picked up on it when they controlled the area starting in the 18th century, and by 1818 incorporated it in a phrase "the real cheese,"meaning "the real thing." Hotten's Dictionary defines cheese and cheesy as "a first-rate or very good article." Cheese also features in the expression "the big cheese,"meaning a boss or very important person. But sarcastic use of the word turned it into a pejorative, with the adjective "cheesy" being recorded in the negative sense in1896.
Speaking of big cheeses (literally), a Cheshire cheese weighing 1,235 pounds and using the milk of 900 cows was once sent by sleigh for 500 miles fromMassachussetts to Washington, D.C., and presented to President Thomas Jefferson on January 1, 1802. Inscribed with "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God," itwas called the Mammoth Cheese due to the discovery of mammoth (now known to be mastodon) bones the year before. Cautious of accepting free gifts, Jefferson paid$200 for it and displayed it in the East Room for a year. Not to be outdone, supporters of President Andrew Jackson made a 1,400-pound cheese for him in 1837.
But the largest cheese prior to the 20th century was a 22,000-pound cheddar made in Perth, Ontario, for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A larger, 34,591-pound cheddar cheese measuring 141.5 feet by 61.5 feet by 51.5 feet was made for the Wisconsin Pavilion at the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York. The currentrecord-holder however is a 56,850-pound Cheddar made in Oregon by the Federation of American Cheese-makers in 1989.
Edited and adapted from by Michael H. Tunick, with permission from Oxford University Press USA. Copyright Oxford University Press,

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