Cheese milk can come from various animal sources, most commonly cows, goats, sheep, and buffalo. The type of animal the milk comes from as well as what the animals eat gives different cheeses their unique flavors and textures.
Origins of Cheese Milk
Cheesemaking has ancient origins, with the earliest proposed dates going back about 8,000 years. It is believed that cheese was discovered accidentally when storing milk in containers made from animal stomachs. The rennet from the stomachs caused the milk to separate into curds and whey.
Over time, cheesemakers learned to perfect this process of curdling milk to produce the different varieties of cheese we have today. Milk started being cultured and treated in various ways to change the texture, flavor, and longevity of the resulting cheese.
Cheese Milk Production
The first step in making cheese is obtaining quality cheese milk. Here is an overview of cheese milk production:
- Cows, goats, sheep, buffalo etc. are milked either by hand or more commonly today, by machines
- Raw milk is collected and transferred to bulk cooling tanks to reduce bacteria growth
- Samples of the milk are tested for:
- Fat and protein content
- Bacteria / somatic cell counts
- Antibiotics or other contaminants
- Flavor and appearance
- Ensures only the highest quality milk is used for cheese production
- Milk is transported from farms to the cheese plants in refrigerated stainless steel trucks
- Kept chilled at all times to maintain freshness
- Once at the plants, the milk fat and protein levels are standardized
- This involves separating milk into skim milk and cream fractions, then recombining them to achieve the desired composition This gives consistent nutrition and yield in the final cheese.
Key Takeaway: Cheese milk goes through multiple steps after milking including testing, chilling, transporting and standardizing to achieve optimum cheesemaking quality.
Making Cheese from Milk
The process of making cheese from milk involves several key steps:
- Starter cultures are added to milk to convert the lactose into lactic acid.
- The increasing acidity causes the proteins in the milk (caseins) to tangle together into solid curds.
- Most cheeses also use rennet, which speeds up curdling and produces stronger curds.
Cutting the Curd
- The curd is cut into smaller pieces to release the whey (liquid portion). Cutting the curd into different sizes impacts moisture content and texture.
Cooking and Pressing
- The curds may be cooked, stirred, pressed or cheddared (stacked on top of each other and re-stacked) depending on the type of cheese. This continues removing whey and firms up the curd.
- Salt is added for flavor as well as preservation and can be incorporated into the curds directly or rubbed on the cheese surface later.
- Cheeses are aged anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. Aging allows complex flavors to develop either from the cheese cultures themselves or introduced mold or bacterial cultures.
The different techniques used throughout the process influences moisture content, texture, taste and nutritional profile of the finished cheese.
Types of Cheese Milk
The type of milk used is one of the major determinants of the final cheese characteristics:
|Highest production volumes, moderately high fat and protein content
|Cheddar, Gouda, Mozzarella
|Distinctive tangy flavor, high digestibility
|Very high fat content, rich flavor
|Roquefort, Pecorino, Feta
|Highest fat and protein content, white appearance
|Mozzarella di Bufala
The diet and breed of the dairy animals also impacts milk composition and cheese qualities, along with the cheesemaking techniques used.
Making Different Cheese Varieties
There are over 1000 identified varieties of cheese. Here are some examples of how cheese milk is processed differently to produce the distinct types:
- Made from cow's milk
- Curds cut into small cubes, "cheddared" by stacking and re-stacking
- Pressed into blocks, aged from 2 months to over 15 years
- Often clothbound or coated in food-grade wax
- Made from cow's milk
- Curd cut very lightly then ladled into molds
- Surface ripening with mold cultures gives the rind its distinctive white, fluffy appearance
- Aged 3-4 weeks to develop soft, creamy interior
- Traditionally made from sheep or goat's milk
- Formed into blocks then cut into cubes
- No pressing, crumbles easily when cut
- Brined to enhance flavor then aged in saline solution
There are endless variations of cheese made through different coagulation methods, curd processing techniques, aging conditions, and milk types. This craftsmanship produces the wide diversity of cheeses enjoyed around the world.
Nutrition Content of Cheese
As concentrated forms of milk, cheese provides high amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B12. However, the exact nutrition content varies widely by the cheese type.
Here is a comparison of key nutrient levels per 100g for different cheeses:
The high concentration of nutrients like calcium, protein and phosphorus is beneficial, but the high saturated fat content of many cheeses should be enjoyed in moderation.
What animals can cheese milk come from?
Cheese milk typically comes from cows, goats, sheep and buffalo. The type of animal determines properties like fat content and flavor that carries through to the final cheese.
Does cheese milk get pasteurized?
Most cheese is now made with pasteurized milk. Pasteurization heats the milk to destroy pathogens for food safety. Certain aged, hard cheeses may still use raw or unpasteurized milk.
What nutrients does cheese provide?
Cheese provides high amounts of protein, calcium, vitamin B12 and phosphorus. Levels are concentrated from milk during processing. The amount of fat and sodium also increases in cheese compared to regular milk.
Why does cheese milk get standardized?
Standardizing the protein and fat content of cheese milk helps achieve consistent cheese yield and nutrition. Excess cream can get removed to target ideal protein and fat ratios.
Cheese milk refers to the dairy milk from cows, goats, sheep and other animals that gets made into cheese.
It goes through multiple steps after milking to ensure it is of the best quality for cheese production.
Starter cultures and enzymes are added to cheese milk to develop acidity and form curds which get processed in various ways. The different techniques impact the diverse textures and flavors of cheese.
Over 1000 varieties exist, with wide ranges in nutritional profiles as well. In moderation, cheese can be part of healthy diet providing high amounts of protein, calcium and phosphorus.