Welcome to Your Encyclopedia of All the Cheeses of the World

What is Cheese?

Cheese is a food product obtained by the maturation of the curd from animal milk after the whey has been removed. The different varieties of cheese depend on the source of the milk used, the methods and procedures followed in its production, and the degree of maturity achieved.

How is Cheese Made?

In the production of different types of cheese, beneficial bacteria that acidify the milk are also of great importance. These play a significant role in defining the texture and flavor of most cheeses. Some cheeses around the world also contain molds, both on the outer surface and inside. These molds in cheese are in no way a health risk to people, as long as there is no food intolerance present.

Cheese can be made from the curdled milk of cows, goats, sheep, buffalo, camels, and generally from the females of ruminant mammals. This means that in almost every country in the world, cheese is a product that has been made since the dawn of humanity, and as a result, today we have countless varieties of cheese that we cheese lovers are delighted to know and eager to try. On this website, our goal is to offer a whole world of cheese just a click away.

The varieties of cheese available around the world number in the hundreds, and it's not surprising, given that there are many factors that influence the final outcome of a cheese, in terms of texture, as well as smell and taste. The use of different strains of bacteria and molds, the varying levels of cream in the milk, the differences in aging time, the various treatments in its process, and the different breeds of cows, goats, or the type of milk used are decisive factors for a cheese to end up being one way or another.

There are also other factors that add subtleties to the flavor and texture of cheeses, such as the livestock's diet and the addition of flavoring agents like herbs, spices, or smoke. Whether the milk is pasteurized or not can also affect the final flavor of the cheese.

The Origins of Cheese

Like all things predating the written word, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date for the inception of cheese. Additionally, since cheese could have originated in various parts of the world in different forms, it is even more challenging to specify an exact time and place as the birthplace and time of this food.

Cheese: A Highly Valued Food

It is known that since ancient civilizations, cheese was particularly valued because it could be stored for times of scarcity. Moreover, cheese was considered an ideal food for travel: it is easy to transport, preserves well, and is rich in fats, proteins, calcium, and phosphorus.

Economically, cheese is also beneficial; it is lighter, more compact, and has a longer shelf life than the milk from which it is derived. Cheese producers can establish themselves near the center of a producing region to benefit from fresher, cheaper milk with lower transportation costs. The good preservation of the product allows producers to sell only when prices are high or when they need cash. Some markets even pay more for aged cheeses, the opposite of what happens with milk production.

Although the origins of cheese seem to be a perpetual subject of discussion, there is a consensus on establishing a timeframe between 8000 B.C., when sheep were domesticated, and 3000 B.C. This period is the time of the Sumerian dairy frieze that details milking and curdling.

A Legend About Cheese

The oldest and most widespread legend about the origin of cheese tells of an Arabian merchant. This merchant, while on a long journey through the desert, placed milk in a container made from a lamb's stomach. When the merchant went to consume the milk, he found it had coagulated and fermented, due to the rennet from the lamb's stomach and the high temperatures of the desert.

Despite the legend, many authors suggest that cheese was already known in prehistory. However, the most documented evidence we have is thanks to a study conducted by scientists from Pennsylvania State University, USA. This study reports the discovery of remains of soft cheese and yogurt on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. These remains are the oldest known evidence of cheese production, dating back 7200 years.

The History of Cheese

Beyond the myths, it is likely that cheese appeared following various attempts to preserve milk. It must have been noted that by applying salt and pressure to milk, and before the use of a ferment for the first time, that cheeses made in animal stomachs had a better and more solid texture. The oldest archaeological evidence of cheese-making has been found in tomb murals from Ancient Egypt, dated around 2300 B.C. These early cheeses probably had a strong flavor and were intensely salty, with a texture similar to feta or cottage cheese.

The first factory for the industrial production of cheese was opened in Switzerland in 1815, but it was in the United States where large-scale production really began to take off. Jesse Williams, the owner of a dairy farm in Rome, New York, is often credited with this achievement. Williams started the assembly-line production of cheese using milk from neighboring farms in 1851.

In the 1860s, the potential for cheese production was showcased, and by the turn of the century, science began to cultivate pure microbes. Before this, bacteria were obtained from the environment or by recycling those already used. The use of pure microbes meant production became much more standardized. This was the beginning of what we call processed cheese.

Cheese Around the World

Although there are now cheeses originating from all five continents and nearly every country in the world has some typical cheese, it is true that cheese is a food that developed especially in the Mediterranean countries and Europe, where we can find more tradition and culture linked to cheese, and more types of different cheeses. However, this does not mean that cheese does not exist in other countries of the world, simply that it was never such a relevant food. Despite this, the love for cheese is increasingly making its way into those countries without a great tradition or love for cheese.

Cheese is a food that is linked to the modern European and Mediterranean culture. This dairy product was practically unknown in Oriental cultures in modern times. Moreover, cheese, inherently linked to livestock farming, had not been invented in pre-Columbian America. As for sub-Saharan Africa, cheese was used quite limitedly.

We can say that the production and consumption of cheese were developed and widespread only in Europe, the Middle East, and areas heavily influenced by their culture. However, with the expansion of European colonialism and Western culture, cheese has gradually become known and popular all over the world.

Types of Cheese

The vast array of existing cheeses complicates their classification since it can be based on different characteristics. We can categorize cheeses depending on their aging, type of milk used, texture, fat content, among other things. Nevertheless, we dare to describe some characteristics of the different types of cheese that every cheese lover should know.

Designations of Origin

Beyond the country of origin, the vast majority of cheeses are identified with the specific geographic area or region where they are produced. In certain countries, this can be regulated through designations of origin, which aim to protect the varieties that have been produced in a specific area since ancient times, against producers from other areas who would like to take advantage of the good reputation established by the originals.

This geographical indication is regulated for the member countries of the European Union, although there are particularities for each of the member countries. In France, it is called Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). Its origins date back to the 15th century, in the first attempt to protect Roquefort cheese. This cheese was the first to obtain accreditation under modern French law, which now covers more than 40 different cheeses. In Italy, Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) protects cheeses like Parmesan (under the brand Parmigiano-Reggiano), in Greece it's feta cheese, or in the United Kingdom stilton and cheddar. In Spain, there are 28 varieties of protected cheese.

Types of Milk Used

The most commonly used milk in cheese making is whole cow's milk, primarily because it is the most produced. Cheeses made from cow's milk come from fertile areas suitable for bovine cattle, such as the plains of Northern Europe, the Alps, the Pyrenees, or the Cantabrian Mountains. Nowadays, the production of these cheeses has spread throughout the world, using milk from dairy farms.

Whole cow's milk is very rich in fat, so it is common to use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk to reduce the fat content. However, fat is one of the elements that most influences the flavor of the cheese, and generally, using skimmed milk equates to a loss of flavor.

In Mediterranean regions, where cows are less common, it is more usual to use sheep or goat milk, which gives the cheese a tangy edge. Castilian cheese, Manchego, Roquefort, or feta are made from sheep's milk.

Milk from many other mammals is also used, such as buffalo, yak, donkey, zebu, camel, and generally, ruminant mammals, although these latter are not very common.

Maturity Level

Fresh Cheeses

Fresh cheeses are those in which the production consists only of coagulating and dehydrating the milk. These cheeses do not undergo additional preservation techniques, which means they have a much shorter shelf life before spoiling. Their maintenance can be compared to that of yogurts, as it is necessary to keep them in refrigerated places. The lesser processing of the milk means they have milder flavors and less consistent textures.

Aged Cheeses

The aging of cheeses involves the maturation of the product, a process in which they are dried out and additional preservation techniques such as salting or smoking are applied. The time required for a cheese to be considered aged can vary from one to another, but generally, a minimum of a year and a half to two years is needed.

The aging process results in a much harder and drier texture, as well as an increase in the intensity of its flavor, a property highly sought after by cheese enthusiasts. However, many people do not tolerate strong flavors, making it easy to find different aging variants for the same cheese, usually categorized as mild, semi-aged, and aged.

Cheeses by Texture

Creamy Cheeses

Cheese is naturally solid, however, it is possible to achieve a creamier texture by significantly increasing the amount of cream, and therefore fat. These types of cheese are normally eaten with bread, commonly used in toast.

There are also semi-creamy textured cheeses, as they cannot be considered solid nor liquid, like the Torta del Casar from Extremadura in Spain. This cheese should be consumed at room temperature, so its texture is optimal, and it should not be heated. Like Camembert, if the rind is clean and additive-free, it can be consumed by those who enjoy strong flavors.

Blue or Green Cheeses

These cheeses are distinguished by the presence of molds, which give them their green or bluish colors. Perhaps it is the variety that can cause the most rejection at first glance, due to the color and strong odor, which can remind one of decomposition. However, their intense flavor is one of the most appreciated by cheese gourmets.

To encourage the proliferation of the molds, the cheeses need to be stored in places with very high humidity, usually around 90%. Traditionally, caves have been excellent places for this. The molds that grow on cheeses usually belong to the Penicillium genus, in which several species are named after the cheese they are found in, such as Penicillium camemberti (on the rind of Camembert), or Penicillium roqueforti, in Roquefort cheese.

Stretched-Curd Cheeses

Stretched-curd cheeses, with a fibrous and elastic texture, originated in the Middle East; they were technically refined in Italy and gained popularity in the U.S. Mozzarella is the most important exponent of this family and represents the second most important sales segment in the cheese industry, after Cheddar cheese.

In several Latin American countries, there has been a special interest in the manufacture and marketing of stretched-curd cheeses due to their high consumption, especially in the preparation of fast food.

In stretched-curd cheeses, the primary mass produced (curd), once it has reached the necessary acidity, is subjected to a series of processes: heating (with or without water), kneading, salting, and stretching, and then cut, molded, cooled, and finally, packaged and marketed. The method of production varies depending on the region of origin, which allows Latin America to have an interesting variety of stretched-curd cheeses.

Nutritional Properties of Cheese

The nutritional properties of cheese can vary as much as the varieties of cheese available. These properties depend on their fat content. In general, it can be said that cheese is a rich source of calcium, proteins, and phosphorus. Being essentially concentrated milk, it takes 600 g of milk to match this amount of proteins, and 550 g for that of calcium.

But it's not all good news, as cheese also shares milk's nutritional problems, due to the high content of saturated fats, consisting of triglycerides and saturated fatty acid. These types of fats negatively influence cardiovascular diseases. However, moderate consumption is always healthy and advisable.

On the plus side, various studies in the field of dentistry claim that cheese can significantly help in the prevention of cavities and other dental diseases. It is one of the foods with the highest content in calcium and phosphorus, as well as casein and other proteins, which are the main components of tooth enamel, so cheese intake can aid in its remineralization.

Besides, some fatty acids have antimicrobial properties, thus controlling the level of plaque. Many types of cheese also stimulate saliva flow, which helps clean the oral cavity of food residues, also buffering the acidic environment. After meals, the pH of saliva decreases, but the calcium and phosphorus in cheese help prevent this.

People who suffer from lactose intolerance usually avoid it, however, cheeses like cheddar contain only 5% of the lactose found in whole milk, and in aged cheeses, it's practically negligible. There are people who suffer reactions to amines found in cheese, especially histamine and tyramine. In more mature cheeses the amount of these substances becomes more notable and can produce allergic reactions such as the appearance of rashes, headache, or an increase in blood pressure.

A World of Cheese for You

As can be seen, for those who love cheese, with the great variety of cheeses from around the world that we can find, it is easy to find the ideal cheese to suit our needs and tastes. By browsing this website, you'll discover a whole world of cheese waiting to be discovered so that you can unleash your passion for this wonderful and incredible food: cheese.

Cheeses by country of origin