Cheese and Why We Love It
It’s national cheese lovers’ day! Cheese is one of our favorite things. What can beat the creamy richness of our favorite type of dairy?
Cheese comes in vast array of flavors and textures, from spicy and pungent to smooth and mild, from hard, to chalky, to almost liquid. Many of our top selling destinations, including Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Croatia, the United Kingdom, and the USA, boast not only a large cheese production but unique regional varieties that each province thinks is simply the best cheese there is. Let’s be frank: we love them all, and to our minds there is little better than a cheese board that provides different cheese varieties to savor and compare.
Check out our Living the Real Tuscan Dream culinary vacation for a taste of Tuscan cheese and wine!
How is Cheese Made?
Cheese, despite the many variations it can take, is produced the same way: by coagulating milk fat through the addition of the enzyme rennet. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that: the milk is separated into curds (solids) and whey) through the process of souring the milk (either through bacteria or an added acid like vinegar or lemon) and the addition of rennet. The solids are drained, salted, and in some cases that is it: you have the final, soft, “green” (or unripened) cheese. For other cheeses, the curds are heated, drained more (the more you drain it, the harder the cheese), eventually packed and aged. For still others, such as mozzarella, the curd is stretched and kneaded in hot water.
Experience the best of French cheese at the Robert Ash Cookery School in Burgundy.
“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”
– Charles de Gaulles
We have several cooking vacations that feature cheese-making sessions:
What makes different cheese taste so different? There are a number of factors including:
- the type of milk
- whether the milk is pasteurized
- what the animals’ diet was
- whether and how the cheese is aged
- where the cheese is aged
- whether mold or bacteria has been added or encouraged
- whether herbs, spices, or smoke are added
Type of Milk
Cheese can be made of cow, sheep, or goat’s milk, or any combination thereof. It might be made with “raw” milk or unpasteurized milk. The flavor of the milk will change based on the animals’ diet. So milk from goats left to forage from shrubs in the mountains will have a different flavor than goats who have eaten the grasses and herbs on the plains.
Learn about cheese and wine pairings.
Aging the Cheese
When cheese is aged, it forms a rind, and that rind adds to the flavor of the final product. Often bacteria or mold or added to create a specific type of cheese. Blue cheese is an obvious example, but so are Brie, Camembert, and rind-washed (“stinky”) cheeses like Limberger. The bacteria or mold was traditional cultured naturally from the air in the aging room (often caves or cellars) but are now also added by prepared cultures. It is said that the location of the aging is equally important to the flavor development. A seaside cave will impart a different flavor than a mountain cave, for instance.
“You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.”
– Anthony Bordain
Additions to the Cheese
One obvious way to change the flavor of a cheese is to add things to it. This could be in the form of smoke, which is used during the curing process, or ingredients added to the actual cheese as it is being process. These might be herbs, dried fruits, truffles, mushrooms, spices, or meat.
Of course, the final variation in cheese is how it’s used. It can be served as part of a traditional cheese course or used as an ingredients in many recipes, from savory to sweet.
What is your favorite type of cheese? Have you ever made cheese yourself? What is your favorite way to enjoy it? On a cracker or in a soup? With a bit of fruit or a glass of wine?
By Peg Kern
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