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Cheese is a generic term for a diverse group of milk-based food products. Cheese is produced throughout the world in wide-ranging flavours, textures and forms.
Cheese consists of proteins and fat from milk, usually the milk of cows, buffalo, goats or sheep. It is produced by coagulation of the milk protein casein. Generally, the milk is acidified and addition of the enzyme rennet causes coagulation. The solids are separated and pressed into final form. Some cheeses have moulds on the rind or all the way through. Most cheeses melt at cooking temperature.
Hundreds of types of cheese are produced. Their styles, textures and flavours depend on the origin of the milk (including the animal's diet), whether or not they have been pasteurized, the butterfat content, the bacteria and mould, the processing and aging. Herbs, spices or wood smoke might be used as flavouring agents. The yellow to red colour of many cheeses is from adding annatto.
For a few cheeses, the milk is curdled by adding acids for example vinegar or lemon juice. Most cheeses are acidified to a lesser degree by bacteria, which turn milk sugars into lactic acid, and then the addition of rennet completes the curdling. Vegetarian alternatives to rennet are available; most are produced by fermentation of the fungus mucor miehei, but others have been extracted from various species of the Cynara thistle family.
Cheese is valued because of its portability, long life and high content of fat, protein, calcium and phosphorus. Cheese is more compact and has a longer shelf life than milk. Cheese makers near a dairy region may have the benefit of fresher, lower-priced milk and lower shipping costs. The long storage life of some cheese, especially if it is enclosed in a protective rind, allows selling when markets are favourable.
There is some debate as to the best way to store cheese, but some experts, say that wrapping it in cheese paper provides optimal results. Cheese paper is coated in a porous plastic on the inside, and the outside has a layer of wax. This specific combination of plastic on the inside and wax on the outside protects the cheese by allowing condensation on the cheese to be wicked away while preventing moisture from within the cheese escaping.
A specialist seller of cheese is sometimes known as a cheesemonger. Becoming an expert in this field requires some formal education and years of tasting and hands-on experience, much like becoming an expert in wine or cuisine. The cheesemonger is responsible for all aspects of the cheese inventory: selecting the cheese menu, purchasing, receiving, storage, and ripening.
There are many types of cheese, the varieties may be grouped or classified into types according to criteria such as length of ageing, texture, methods of making, fat content, animal milk, country or region of origin, etc. with these criteria either being used singly or in combination, but with no single method being universally used. The method most commonly and traditionally used is based on moisture content, which is then further discriminated by fat content and curing or ripening methods.
Moisture content (soft to hard)
Categorizing cheeses by firmness is a common but inexact practice. The lines between "soft", "semi-soft", "semi-hard" and "hard" are arbitrary, and many types of cheese are made in softer or firmer variations. The main factor that controls cheese hardness is moisture content, which depends largely on the pressure with which it is packed into moulds and on aging time.
Fresh, whey and stretched curd cheeses
The main factor in the categorization of these cheeses is their age. Fresh cheeses without additional preservatives can spoil in a matter of days.
Content (double cream, goat, ewe and water buffalo)
Emmental - Some cheeses are categorized by the source of the milk used to produce them or by the added fat content of the milk from which they are produced. While most of the world's commercially available cheese is made from cows milk, many parts of the world also produce cheese from goats and sheep. Double cream cheeses are soft cheeses of cows milk enriched with cream so that their fat content is 60% or, in the case of triple creams, 75%. The use of the terms "double" or "triple" is not meant to give a quantitative reference to the change in fat content, since the fat content of whole cows milk is 3%-4%.
Soft-ripened and blue-vein - There are at least three main categories of cheese in which the presence of mould is a significant feature: soft ripened cheeses, washed rind cheeses and blue cheeses.
Processed cheeses - Processed cheese is made from traditional cheese and emulsifying salts, often with the addition of milk, more salt, preservatives, and food colouring. It is inexpensive, consistent, and melts smoothly. It is sold packaged and either pre-sliced or unsliced, in a number of varieties. It is also available in aerosol cans in some countries.