Cow’s milk is an amazing liquid with many compounds that can be processed into endless products such as butter, yogurt, and cheese. But how does milk become cheese? And what are curds, whey, and rennet?
What is processed cheese? And what exactly do we get when we eat the very popular Kraft Singles?
What you need to know:
1. The component of milk involved in cheese production is a soluble protein called casein.
2. The origin of the word cheese is most likely from the Latin caseus (hence casein), which was derived from an earlier word Kwat which means “to ferment, become sour”.
3. To begin the cheese making process, milk needs to be acidified, or in laymen’s terms, go sour. This can be accomplished by adding some starter bacteria such as Lactococci, Lactobacilli, or Streptococci to fresh milk.
4. The next step, called curdling, is aided by enzymes, which can be animal based (rennet) or plant based.
5. Rennet is an enzyme derived from the gut of young calves (yuk?!). It has been used in traditional cheese making for centuries, and is still common in central Europe. The rest of the world has switched to other enzymes.
6. The average American eats about 30 lbs. of cheese annually. France, the world leader, boasts 45 lbs. per person per year.
7. By the time the enzymes (rennet or others) have done their magic, the milk has transformed to creamy lumps called curds, and is dripping off a liquid called whey.
8. Whey contains lactose (milk sugar), vitamins, and minerals and a small amount of fat. Whey protein is derived from liquid whey and is used in many foods and supplements because it is easily absorbed by the human body.
9. Further curd processing and aging follow suit, until the desired cheese has been formed.
10. Fresh cheese, such as cottage, is not aged at all, and will usually spoil within days to a week.
11. Nutritionally, cheese has become an important part of our diet, providing protein and calcium in concentrated doses when compared with milk. Unfortunately, the saturated fat content in most cheese is very high as well.
12. Salt is an important part of cheesemaking, and not just for its flavor. Salt keeps cheese from spoiling, removes moisture from the curd, and firms up the texture. Some cheese is so salty it should be consumed like salt, as a condiment on top of a dish. Parmesan, anyone?