Cheese is Cheese?

Have you ever considered why cheese appear so different; look different, smell and taste different, even when the type of milk is the same? There is a huge difference between a Gruyère and a Munster. They are both washed rind cheeses. Both from raw cow’s milk and still so different.

What influences the cheese

This is a far from scientific 101 introduction to what makes different cheeses, yeah, different.

Let’s start with the animals. Different animals give milk with different characteristics. Cow’s milk is more neutral than milk from ewe and goat. Cow’s milk appears richer. Goat’s milk more aromatic while ewe’s milk is sharper, has more fat and proteins than the two others.
Within the animal species there are various races and many cheeses are made of milk from very specific animal races. Roquefort for instance, is is a ewe milk cheese from the race Lacaune, and only that. Comté uses milk from the Montbéliarde cow. There are many other examples. Even within one race there may be differences between milk from young and old beasts.
Then there is the feed. What kind of pastures are the animals grazing at. Is it grass or herbs? Spring or the nutricious and lush second growth in late summer? Hay, silage and concentrates? Lowland or highland pastures? Inland or coast? The French Salers Traditionel is a cheese only made during the season where the cattle graze outside in the Auvergne mountains.

Seasons

It’s mentioned above, but season and pastures are closely connected. Chèvre is best in spring and early summer days. Salers is also mentioned as a “summer” cheese. Rest of the year the milk becomes Cantal. Mont d’Or is a winter cheese, in the summer they make Comté (in France at least)..

Cheese making

The cheese making process is important of course. There are a lot of factors that may influence the final result. Fat content of the milk. Parmigiano Reggiano is made from partly skimmed milk. The cheese Explorateur has cream added. Maturing time means a lot. Most cheeses are ready after a few weeks of maturing, while others, the harder they get the longer, are matured for months and years.
Applying various bacteria, moulds and yeasts will influence the cheese, giving completely different cheeses even though they startet out with the same milk. Milk from same herd made in the same way will give different cheese from two neighbouring dairies.

Raw milk or pasteurized? I only write about raw milk cheeses, but the majority of cheese made in this world is pasteurized. It is commonly argued that cheese from raw milk is more tasteful and has more character than cheese from pasteurized milk.

Different affineurs may age similar cheeses differently and therefore come out with different cheeses that would have been identical, to the extent that is possible, if matured by the same affineur.

These are some of the reasons why similar milk become different cheeses. If you want to dig deeper into this topic, buy yourself a copy of the book Reinventing the Wheel by Bronwen and Francis Percival.

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