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Cooking With Cheese
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.