Say Cheese!

Cheese board

Cheese board

Cheese – let’s see if I can come up with one thousand words on cheese. OK, that start is a bit of a cheat, so let’s get into it.

When humans started domesticating animals, my guess is that they would have started small, with goats or sheep. We can’t know why the first cave man or woman first milked one of them. Maybe it was a cave woman who could not feed her growing kids on her own milk and decided to steal some from the goat or sheep. Of course, if the child was too small it would not have worked because the milk would not be suitable for babies. It’s not the best thing for older children too, but it’s better than nothing.

Of course, there would inevitably have been milk left over after feeding the kids, and this would have “gone off”. It’s possible that cottage style cheeses were made from “gone off” milk, though the present day process for making cheese is more complex than simply allowing it to clot. Milk that is clotted is closer to yoghurt than cheese.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese

The cave man or woman who first tried eating the curds from clotted milk would have to have had a strong stomach. After all, most clotted milk smells terrible. As I understand it, it depends on the type of bacillus that gets into the milk and causes it to clot.

Proper cheese needs rennet to cause it to coagulate, and according to Wikipedia’s page on the history cheese, it was probably discovered by carrying milk in bladders made of ruminants’ stomachs due to their inherent supply of rennet. It would still have required some person who was desperate or brave to have tried it first.

Cheese curds floating

Cheese curds floating

Once the liquid is removed from the coagulated milk, the solids are processed into the myriad of types of cheese we have today. There was once a shop near us which sold the unmatured and unprocessed cheese as milk curds. They formed quite a nice snack.

There are thousands of types of cheese. France is known for her cheese and former President Charles De Gaulle once commented “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” In fact he was probably underestimating by quite a wide margin. There are apparently over seven hundred named British cheeses.

Tentation du Vercors

Tentation du Vercors

I presume that this doesn’t include those cheeses which are merely a named type of cheese with added herbs and spices. I’ve seen cheese with added nettles, of all things. If you are interested, it tasty OK. I think that this trend may have sprung from the small, often called boutique, cheese producers. If you are a small company, you will not have the facilities to produce more than one or two types of cheese, and an easy way to provide variety in your range is to create herb infused varieties.

Cheese types presumably fall into various broader types of cheese. There are the soft cheeses, some of which are almost spreadable, such as Brie. Others are denser and more solid, such as the various Cheddar cheese types, some are really hard, such as the Parmesan that is shaved and used as a condiment.

Mottin Charentais

Mottin Charentais

Some cheeses crumble easily and others are more easily sliced. Some supermarket cheese is so processed that it is almost plastic! In fact supermarket cheeses could be considered to be a separate type of cheese. It is almost always highly processed and formed into blocks, slices and spreadable wedges. Even the more conventional cheeses, such as Cheddar cheese, is sold in supermarkets as a block, which seem to me to be a long, long way from the original Cheddar cheese which came in the form of a wheel.

Sometime during the evolution of cheese some cheeses became infected with a penicillin mold and developed blue markings or veins. Once again, some brave person tasted it and liked it, and so blue cheese was born. Blue cheeses are among the tastier of cheeses, and to me, beat all other cheeses that I have tasted hands down.

Shropshire Blue Cheese

Shropshire Blue Cheese

Cheese is used in many recipes, one of which is Welsh rarebit. There are many variations of this recipe, which basically involves melting cheese with several optional ingredients on toast. I particularly like the one which involves soaking the toast in red wine before the cheese is added, although I’ve never tried it.

Cheese scones are another favourite. I always add more cheese than the recipe calls for, as I don’t think the standard recipes call for enough cheese. Cheddar cheese, grated, is the best cheese to use, I find. One thing is important, though. If you like cheese scones hot, it is best to eat them almost direct from the oven. At a pinch they can be reheated in an oven, but heating them in a microwave cooker turns them into something leathery and, to my mind, not particularly nice.

Cheese scones, mmmmmmm!

Cheese scones, mmmmmmm!

Macaroni cheese is a familiar dish from most peoples’ childhood, and even adults find it a tasty meal. It is essentially cooked macaroni, covered in a cheese sauce, covered in breadcrumbs and reheated. Some people put ham in it, some add  herbs, and there are many, many other variations.

Speaking of cheese sauce, cheese and pasta go together. Pasta without cheese sauce is a bare gluggy mess. Pasta with a cheese sauce, with maybe some ham or sausage or even seafood can be heavenly. Some tomatoes or tomato paste make it even nicer.

Farfalloni

Farfalloni

Cheese also goes with pizza. What would pizza be without the stringy mozzarella cheese? Cheese producers around the world have spent large amounts of money, I’d guess in the millions, developing cheese which melts properly and has the requisite stringiness when it cools slightly, so that you can do that twirly thing with your finger to wind up the stings of delicious cheese.

One particularly tasty, but probably not good for you, use of cheese is in cheese straws. These are basically strips of slightly puffed pastry infused with cheese. the strips are twisted to make a spiral shape. The bit is crunchy, the biscuit a little flaky and delicious.

Just one more. Oh no, they’ve all gone!

Cheese straws

Cheese straws

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