views updated May 23 2018



NAICS: 31-1513 Cheese Manufacturing

SIC: 2022 Natural, Processed, and Imitation Cheese

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 31-15131, 31-15134, 31-15137, and 31-15137


Cheese manufacturing is the second largest industry based on milk. The production of cottage cheese is reported by the Census Bureau as part of the fluid milk industry, the largest of the five. The other three are ice cream, butter, and dry, condensed, and evaporated products.

Most of cow's milk by weight is water (88%) followed by lactose (4.7%), fat (3.4%), protein (3.2%), and minerals (0.7%). The protein in milk is further subdivided into casein (about 80% of the protein) and the solids in whey (20%). The basic raw material of cheese is the casein in milk. The word is derived from the Latin for cheese (caseus). When young sucklings of any mammal species drink milk, enzymes in their stomachs cause casein to curdle into digestible solid clumps. Professor David Frankhauser of the University of Cincinnati, in a paper titled "Rennet for Making Cheese," provides a plausible scenario of how humanity must have discovered cheese making.

Presumably [he writes] the first cheese was produced by accident when the ancients stored milk in a bag made from the stomach of a young goat, sheep or cow. They found that the day-old milk would curdle in the bag (stomach), yielding solid chunks (curds) and liquid (whey). Once they discovered that the curd-chunks could be separated out and dried, they had discovered a means by which milk, an extremely perishable food, could be preserved for later use. The addition of salt was found to preserve these dried curds for long periods of time.

The enzymes causing the curdling are called rennet, rennin, or chymosin. Initially rennet was obtained by slicing up stomach tissues and inserting them into containers of milk. In modern practice chymosin is produced by recombinant DNA techniques in cultured bacteria.

Natural Cheese Production

Natural cheese is produced by preparing the milk, coagulating it to produce curds, treating the curds, draining off the whey, knitting the curds, salting them, pressing them, and ripening the cheese mixture. Cheese may also be dried, grated, or shredded.

In the preparation stage raw milk is first adjusted to a predetermined fat content by skimming off cream or by using a centrifuging process to accomplish the same end. Once the desired fat content is reached, the milk is pasteurized, that is to say it is heated, but not boiled, and held hot long enough to kill off all pathogens harmful to humans. Most cheeses are coagulated using rennet, but certain kinds of cheeses (Ricotta and cottage cheese being examples) are coagulated using acid. With many types of cheeses a two-stage coagulation is common in which bacteria are used as starters and, after the curdling process begins, typically because lactose-consuming bacteria gen-erate lactic acid, rennet is added for the full digestion of the casein. The process requires between 20 and 35 minutes depending on the cheese being made, longer if acid alone is used. Curd treatment consists of making the curds larger or smaller by cutting them apart or pressing them together. Cutting curds reduces the moisture content; creating larger formations causes these to retain their moisture. As part of treatment most cheeses undergo a heating process; the curds are scalded, cooked, or simply heated to influence their moisture content and texture.

In the draining process whey is removed from the cheese using a heat process, mechanical treatment like cutting, stirring, oscillating or pressing the mixture, or some combination of the two. Spores of penicillium molds are injected into interiorly mold-ripened cheeses like Roquefort, blue cheese, and the French Bleu d'Avergne during the draining process. There are numerous varieties of penicillium molds—not to be confused with penicillin, the drug, derived from species of mold other than those used in making cheese.

Throughout the cheese-making process producers aim at bringing about desirable chemical transformation known to take place if the environment is managed appropriately. After the whey has been drained, curd knitting takes place. Producers use mechanical devices to pull, knead, press, draw, and shape the cheese. Their motivation for going to these lengths is knowledge that lactic acids forming in the cheese must be evenly distributed in order to achieve desired cheese textures. The maker controls the curd's acidity in this process and, for certain cheeses, may also introduce additives. Salting of cheese is an important step. Producers apply salt to the outside of shaped blocks or dip blocks into salt-brine briefly. Salt draws residual whey components to the surface of the clump, slows down the chemical processes inside the cheese, acts as a preservative, and plays a role in crust formation. Finally, with the exception of cottage or cream cheese, most varieties of cheese undergo a period of ripening. Ripening may take a few weeks up to a year or longer. Cheese continues to form as it ripens, bacteria and enzymes continuing to work. They slowly transform the texture, taste, and chemistry of cheese. Cheese producers maintain temperatures and humidity ideal for each variety as it ripens.

Processed Cheese

The first step in making processed cheese is to make natural cheese in the laborious way described above. Processed cheese manufacturing is thus a form of secondary processing of natural cheese in an effort to transform it into a uniform, industrial product. The method originated in Switzerland but was adapted so widely in the United States that processed cheese is also called American cheese. American cheese is usually made of Cheddar or Colby. The producer begins with blocks of finished cheese. Rinds are cut off and the cheese is ground. Sampling determines its fat and moisture content. The ground cheese is melted until the fat and the protein portions (the serum) separate. Emulsifiers are mixed in, their quantities based on the earlier sampling. Emulsification causes uniform dispersion of fats throughout the mass and their suspension in the serum (the liquefied protein). This produces a high level of homogeneity absent from the original Cheddar or Colby. The molten cheese is rapidly cooled, shaped, and packaged in oxygen-free environments; in the absence of oxygen molds cannot survive. Processing takes place in a nitrogen gas atmosphere.

Cheese Classification

The most common classification of cheese is by its degree of hardness or consistency. Those inclined to make finer distinctions classify cheeses as soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard. The semi-soft category is often reserved for processed cheeses. Others are content with three categories: soft, semi-hard, and hard. Using this last classification, examples are the following:

  • Soft Cheese: Brie, Camembert, Feta, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Mozzarella, Muenster.
  • Semi-Hard Cheese: Brick, Gouda, Monterrey Jack, Provolone, Stilton.
  • Hard Cheese: Asiago, Cheddar, Colby, Emmental, Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Parmesan, Romano.

There are hundreds of varieties of cheese, of course, and people have strong loyalties to the cheeses that they favor. With this in mind any listing of examples will invariable leave out someone's best-liked variety. To see a list of 103 varieties, the reader is referred to CheeseNet on the Internet (see references). Even that list, of course, will leave some seekers dissatisfied. The total count of varieties is said to exceed 2,000 the world over.

We can also classify cheese by the mammals from which the milk is obtained. Most common animals are cows, goats, ewes, camels, and buffalo. Cheeses are also classified as having smooth, holey, and veined surfaces. Cheese with holes (like Emmental and the American Swiss cheese) are made by introducing gas-producing bacteria in the cheese; veined cheeses are produced by introducing molds. Consumers also sometimes classify cheeses by their countries of origin. Wherever milk-producing mammals are raised, fine cheeses are also produced. Some of the best of these are eaten all around the world. In the United States cheese varieties from European countries are consumed in large quantities and are widely known. Brick cheese (originally from Wisconsin and so named because actual bricks were used to press the cheese), Colby, Monterey Jack, and Swiss—America's compliment to Emmental produced in Switzerland—are distinctly American cheese varieties as is, of course, processed cheese in a great variety of forms.


Cheese-making in the United States accounts for much of the demand for cow's milk. Annual production consumes around 38 percent of all milk produced. In 2005 cheese shipments by U.S. producers were a $27.1 billion industry. Cheese production has been growing at a rate of 3 percent per year in the period from 1992 to 2005, but this period had one major hiccup. Between 1992 and 1998, the industry advanced at a rate of 3.5 percent a year but then declined sharply for two years between 1998 and 2000. Growth picked up again in 2001 and has been growing at 6.5 percent per year to 2005, the last year for which data were available at the time of writing.

Industry growth generally has been supported by growing consumption of cheese, but market fluctuations have been due to price issues in the dairy industry as a whole—most particularly wide swings in milk pricing beginning in the mid-1990s. Demand for cheese has been increasing steadily as shown by per capita consumption figures maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Cheese consumption per person stood at 25.9 pounds in 1992. By 2005 consumption had increased by nearly 6 pounds to 31.7 pounds per capita. Natural cheese consumption grew more energetically whereas processed cheese showed signs of weakness, particularly late in this period. Per capita consumption actually dipped between 2004 and 2005. In 1992 natural cheese accounted for 56 percent of consumption, in 2005 for 59 percent.

Average milk price in the period 1981 through 1995 was between $12 and $14 per hundredweight (cwt—equivalent to approximately 11.6 gallons of milk). In the 1996–2005 period, prices began to fluctuate more wildly, the average price falling into the $12 to $16 per hundredweight range. Average price changes year to year (and much more pronounced changes month-to-month) tell the story of increasing fluctuation: from 1992 to 1993 the change in average price was 29 cents per cwt, from 1993 to 1994 it was 17 cents, and from 1994 to 1995 it was 23 cents per cwt. But the next four years set the pattern for the future: 1995 to 1996 showed a $2.14 swing in average price upward, 1996 to 1997 a $1.54 shift downward, 1997 to 1998 a $2.16 swing upward—and so on throughout the period to 2005. This was a period of decreasing dairy cow population and sharply increasing output of milk per cow. The price volatility, however, is more directly traceable to the 1996 Farm Act. It called for elimination of milk subsidies by 1999, later reversed; it also reorganized the subsidy schedules. The 2002 Farm Act ensured continued milk subsidies but subsidy schedules, simplified by the 1996 act, continued in place—as did swings in average milk pricing.

Production of cheese by variety is available from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), an ele-ment of the USDA, based on weight of production. Total production of cheese in the United States in 2005 was 9,127 million pounds. NASS data indicate that Cheddar is the largest variety produced in the United States (33.4% of total) closely followed by Mozzarella (33.1%). Third place was held by other types of Italian cheeses (8.6%). Other American cheeses, including Colby and Monterey (8.3%) held the fourth place; cream cheese and Neufchatel (7.6%) came in fifth place. Processed cheeses were made from Cheddar and the "other American" categories.

Varieties with the largest increase in production from 2004 were Hispanic cheeses (up 17.5% from 2004), Brick (up 9.8%), and Muenster (up 7%). Losing production tonnage were Limburger (down 10.1%), and cream cheese and Neufchatel (down 1%).

Connoisseurs of cheese may buy all kinds of imported cheeses, but imports represent a relatively small fraction of total U.S. cheese consumption—around 5 percent. In 2005 consumption was 9,409 million pounds and imports represented 461 million pounds of that total. Imports have been growing at an annual rate of 3.8 percent, but U.S. exports, while smaller in total tonnage than imports (128 million pounds in 2005) have been growing at a rate of 11 percent per year in the 1992 to 2005 period—suggesting that America makes high quality cheeses. Net imports, consequently, have been growing at a rate of 2.2 percent per year. Thus, in 1992, 4.3 percent of consumption was satisfied with imports contrasted with 5 percent thirteen years later.

Trends Supporting Cheese Consumption

People are cutting back on dairy foods if consumption is measured by weight of product on a per person basis. People are drinking less milk, eating less ice cream, consuming less cottage cheese, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, dried milk, evaporated milk, and also less whipping cream. Declining per capita consumption does not mean that the public is spending less. On the contrary. Expenditures are rising, but actual consumption of product is down. People are paying more for less quantity of dairy products. This trend had held for twenty years by the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Only two categories defied the trend—butter and cheese. Why are these two products hold-outs? The USDA attempted an explanation in its 2001–2002 Agricultural Fact Book. After noting per capita consumption trends, the Fact Book authors come to the following conclusions regarding cheese:

Lifestyles that emphasize convenience foods were probably major forces behind the higher consumption [of cheese]. In fact, more than half of our cheese now comes in commercially manufactured and prepared foods (including food service), such as pizza, tacos, nachos, salad bars, fast-food sandwiches, bagel spreads, sauces for baked potatoes and other vegetables, and packaged snack foods. Advertising and new products—such as reduced-fat cheeses and resealable bags of shredded cheeses, including cheese blends tailored for use in Italian and Mexican recipes—also boosted consumption.

Production figures for 1997 and 2002 underline the USDA's findings. These production figures distinguish between shipments purchased for consumption by consumers (packaged cheese shipments) and shipments purchased by the food industry for use in other food products (bulk cheese shipments). In both years, bulk shipments of natural cheese, the larger component of the market, accounted for 65 percent of shipments, the cheese thus reached industrial and institutional buyers. Nearly 40 percent of processed cheese also moved in bulk. Butter, similarly, is a product diet-conscious individuals avoid, but producers of ready-to-eat meals and snacks incorporate into the product because it delivers a taste very difficult to achieve using substitutes. More than half of all butter shipments were also bulk shipments.


The leading producer of cheese in the United States is Kraft Foods. James L. Kraft began the company in 1903 as a cheese wholesaler in Chicago, Illinois. In 1914 the company began making its own cheese and supplied canned cheese to the military during World War I. Kraft pioneered processed cheese production in the United States and received many patents for its process, the first one in 1916. Kraft was also a pioneer in specialty cheese products, introducing Velveeta in 1928 and Kraft's Macaroni & Cheese dinners in 1937, a ground-breaking entry into the prepared food market. The company remained independent until 1988 when it was acquired by Philip Morris, the tobacco company. Philip Morris had already purchased General Foods (in 1981). In 1989 the company formed Kraft General Foods from the two acquisitions and, in 1995, renamed this element Kraft Foods. Philip Morris, renamed Altria, spun off Kraft Foods in early 2007. Kraft had revenues of $34.4 billion in 2006 of which cheese and dairy products represented $6.4 billion. The company's overall share of the cheese market in the late first decade of the twenty-first century stood at around 25 percent, lower in natural cheese and higher in the processed cheese categories.

The largest cheese market segment, representing nearly 40 percent of all cheese made, is the chunk or loaf market. Leaders in this segments, after Kraft Food, are Tillamook County Creamery, Lactalis USA, Land O'Lakes Inc., Cabot Creamery Inc., Cacique Creamery Inc., H.P. Hood LLC, and Saputo Cheese USA. Dairy cooperatives play an important role in the dairy industry as a whole—and cheese is no exception. Tillamook, Land O'Lakes, and Cabot are all cooperatives. Tillamook began in 1909 in the county of that name in Oregon and has been operating since that time as a farmers' co-op, currently representing 150 dairy families but distributing cheese products across the nation and other dairy products regionally. Land O'Lakes is the nation's third-largest dairy cooperative and fourth largest producer of natural chunk cheese. The cooperative is based in St. Paul, Minnesota, and has 1,200 members. It was founded in 1921 and is the largest producer of butter in the United States. Cabot is the nation's fifth largest chunk cheese producer, a dairy cooperative based in Montpelier, Vermont, first organized in 1919. It is a producer and distributor for 1,500 farms, operating four plants.

The other leading participants in this segment of cheese manufacturing, in addition to Kraft Foods, are corporations. Lactalis USA is the representative in the United States of Groupe Lactalis, a very large multinational dairy company based in France. Groupe Lactalis is Europe's largest cheese producer with top market share rank in France as well as Italy. It holds third place in chunk natural cheese (fifth place in natural shredded cheese) in the United States. Lactalis built plants in Belmont, Wisconsin and Turlock, California and owns two other acquired operations. Cacique is a relatively recent corporate entry into cheese making in the United States. Established by a Mexican family in 1973 in California, Cacique began making just 100 pounds of cheese per day in a tiny facility, producing unique Hispanic cheese products. The company has achieved fifth-place ranking in chunk natural cheese and is the leader in the rapidly growing Hispanic cheese varieties. Cacique continues to be family-owned and operated. H.P. Hood, with sixth-place rank, participates in the category through Heluva Good Cheese Inc., a company it acquired in 2004 as part of its acquisition of Crown Foods. Heluva was established in 1925. It began and is still operating in Sodus, New York (near Rochester). Since then the company has expanded and operates facilities in the states of New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Tennessee. Saputo Cheese USA is the U.S. element of Saputo, Inc., a major Canadian multinational cheese company. Saputo had revenues of $4 billion (Canadian) in 2006. It has operations in Canada, the United States, Argentina, and Germany. Saputo USA has 13 cheese-making plants in the United States. In 2007 the company was negotiating with Land O'Lakes to acquire the cooperative's West Coast industrial cheese manufacturing business.

The leader in the second largest cheese segment, shredded natural cheese (about 35 percent of total production) is also Kraft Foods with an estimated share of 32 percent in 2004. The second largest producer in that year was Sargento Foods Inc. with a 12 percent share. Sargento was founded by the Gentine family in Plymouth, Wisconsin, a family that still owns the company. Leonard Gentine and Joseph Sartori founded the company by joining forces and their names, but the Gentines bought out the Sartori interest in 1965. Sargento was the first company ever to market shredded cheese and remains a strong presence in that market. The third ranked producer in the market is American Dairy Brands, an element of Dairy Farmers of America, the nation's largest dairy cooperative based in Kansas City, Missouri, but operating nation-wide. Lactalis, Saputo, and Tillamook come in fourth, fifth, and sixth place.

The seventh-place participant in shredded natural cheese, Schreiber Foods Inc., deserves special mention. The company is the second largest manufacturer of cheese in the United States overall but is rarely mentioned because it is predominantly a supplier of the fast food industry and the leading private label cheese producer. In virtually every market share compilation, the "private label" category has the largest share of sales; and the largest share of the private label market belongs to Schreiber. The company was founded in 1945 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It is a privately held company with sales in excess of $3 billion. As a privately held company, it does not interest those in the media who track the performance of publicly traded entities. Schreiber claims to be the largest privately held cheese company in the world. Schreiber operates globally (in the United States, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia). Schreiber also sells its own pro-prietary line of cheese processing equipment.

Although the eleven organizations mentioned above represent a substantial segment of total production (approximately 65%), cheese manufacturing was carried out by 366 companies in 2002, using Census Bureau data, suggesting that the market concentration is relatively low. The 366 companies operated 501 plants in that year; of those, 278 had twenty employees or more and were thus substantial. Company and establishment counts have been declining over time. In 1992, 418 companies operated 576 establishments, 314 of those being large (20 employees or more). Consolidation is thus taking place gradually; in the process, establishments are being closed. Small establishments with fewer than twenty employees have been declining more rapidly than the larger ones. The presence of many small companies, however, implies the presence of a significant wholesale distribution system.


Milk is the only bulk ingredient required for cheese manufacturing. Milk production, however, is concentrated in 23 states; they produce 89 percent of all milk. California, Wisconsin, and New York account for 40 percent of all milk production. Not surprisingly, cheese production is heavily concentrated in Wisconsin, on the West Coast, and in the North East. A gallon of milk weighing 8.6 pounds produces about one pound of cheese. Logistics alone dictate that cheese is most economically produced near the occurrence of milk. The transportation costs of one pound of finished product to a distant consumption market is much less than moving the milk.

In the production of processed cheese, the major raw material is natural cheese itself—which is then ground, melted, emulsified, and shaped. Processed cheese operations thus can be located more distantly from milk-producing regions. Processed cheese, requiring controlled atmospheres for optimal production, require the availability of nitrogen gas. Location of such facilities is somewhat influenced by the gas liquefaction plants where, typically, in the production of oxygen from air, nitrogen is also produced for industrial purposes. Oxygen production is normally closely located to centers of steel production, thus in heavy industrial corridors.


In 2005 some 2,400 dairy product wholesalers distributed dairy products valued at $39 billion. Some portion of that total was cheese, but Census Bureau data, at the wholesale merchant level, are not broken out by kind of product distributed so that precision is not possible—especially in the dairy category where many different types of distribution exist side by side. Two-tier distribution is common in situations where a large producer sells directly to a large grocery chain and the chain, in turn, sells directly to the consumer. The chain may perform a middleman function by buying for regional markets, holding the product in its own warehouses, and distributing the product to stores. A similar process is in place where chains buy private label merchandise; the manufacturer puts the product into packaging designed by the buyer and delivers directly to the chain. Two-tier distribution is also common for cheese products aimed at the fast food industry. The products—cheese slices for cheeseburgers, for instance—are produced under contract for the franchises and delivered directly by the producer. Variations on these patterns are common, and distributors are used, where producer-controlled deliveries are not justified by volume.

Major cooperatives play a large role in the distribution of products. The top dairy cooperatives—Dairy Farmers of America, Land O'Lakes, and Dairylea Cooperative Inc.—are major distributors as well as producers. A number of smaller cooperatives are also active in distribution, an example being Associated Milk Producers Inc. selling products produced by its members in the Upper Midwest. Commercial distributors will frequently have a history of production or be engaged in manufacturing although their principal activity is the distribution of goods on behalf of smaller dairies. Examples are Crystal Farms and Shamrock Foods. Crystal Farms has its own processing facility in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. The Arizona-based Shamrock Foods is a major dairy food distributor but also owns and operates Shamrock Farms.


Virtually everyone eats cheese. Cheese contains very little milk sugar (lactose) and is therefore better tolerated even by the lactose-intolerant. Although some cheeses have a very sharp taste and a distinct odor, others are very mild and almost sweet. Connoisseurs of cheese may appreciate the sharp tones of strong Cheddar or the pungent aroma of Limburger. On the other end of the spectrum are the mild, soft cheeses offered to children by way of increasing their intake of calcium and protein. Among the most popular of these mild cheeses, marketed around the world and with a particular focus on children, are the Baby Bel and Mini Baby Bel cheeses, one of the La Vache Qui Rit (Laughing Cow) brand of cheeses produced by Fromageries Bel, S.A. Within this vast range of cheeses there is almost certainly one to match every taste.


Cheese is a source of protein in food. There are no direct substitutes for cheese, thus adjacent markets must be considered those that provide products high in protein content. Major sources of protein are animals or animal products, thus eggs, red meat, poultry, and fish—and certain categories of vegetables, principally legumes (peas, beans, and lentils).

In the past the public has consumed expensive foods when it could afford it—and animal proteins have always been more expensive than proteins harvested as plants. Early in the twentieth century, for instance, red meat consumption was limited by income. Late in the twentieth century it was limited by fashions. In the early decades of the century beef consumption was under 60 pounds per capita. Between 1964 and 1987, consumption increased sharply to more than 100 pounds per person—and then dropped again, and has continued to drop, reaching 93 pounds in 2005. In the early 1900s people could not afford to eat expensive meat. In the early years of the twenty-first century they chose not to, in order to avoid fats.

In more recent times, for instance, veal consumption dropped from 2.2 to 0.6 pounds per person between 1985 and 2005, pork consumption (despite the lean-pork movement) dropped in the same period from 66 to 64 pounds, lamb consumption from 1.6 to 1.2 pounds per capita, egg consumption from 216 eggs per person to 175. At the same time chicken consumption grew from 56 to 104 pounds per person, and turkey consumption increased from 12 to nearly 17 pounds per capita, and fish consumption from 9.7 to 11.5 pounds. Poultry and fish have been promoted as healthier sources of protein by health and dietary authorities. So have legumes. Legumes, however, have declined in the 1985 to 2005 period from 7 pounds to 6 pounds per person in consumption. The public appears to prefer meat to vegetables.

These data illustrate that in modern industrial markets, with extensive public communications and high levels of income, food products compete with one another based on rationales in which cost plays a relatively minor role. Cheese has done well in this environment and has grown in consumption.


A significant waste product of cheese manufacturing is whey. It occurs as a thin liquid carrying whey proteins and residual amounts of lactose, casein, and butter fat. Whey proteins have come under intense study in the twenty-first century as the industry has been looking for ways to utilize whey. Considerable research is under way to identify precisely the function of whey proteins and to explore their potential in food and in pharmaceutical products. Alongside such rather basic R&D, producers in the industry—very much in parallel with producers in other branches of the dairy industry—have been very active in product development. Efforts are directed toward creating unique new snack products to exploit changes in lifestyle that favor casual eating.


As the first decade of the twenty-first century is drawing to a close, the major trend in the cheese industry could be characterized as "steady on." This is a way of saying that the industry is on a path of steady growth established already in the closing decade of the twentieth century. The major, and continuing, uncertainties in the industry relate to milk pricing as the dairy industry continues to adjust to legislative manipulations of the national milk subsidy program initiated in 1996. Consumption of cheese across the board is growing; the public preference for natural (as contrasted to processed) cheese has been in place for more than a decade. The notable increase in share of Hispanic varieties of cheese is directly attributable to changes in the composition of the population—the Hispanic component having shown the most rapid growth between 1990 and 2005 (up 60 percent). Cheese was and continues to be an important ingredient in fast food; nothing indicates a cooling of the public's romance with pizza, burgers, nachos, and tacos. In the food industry generally, efforts continue to increase the share of food purchased in ready-to-eat or ready-to-microwave meals delivered in frozen or refrigerated form. Snacking continues to be a growing market. Cheese plays a role in all of these trends. At the institutional level, slow consolidation of the industry, already visible in the early 1990s, is still taking place, resulting in the elimination of very small producers. But this consolidation is influenced by the continuing dominance and effectiveness of large dairy cooperatives.

Another trend that first emerged midway through the twentieth century still continues strong. It is the production of dairy products aimed at the health-conscious. In the first decade of the 2000s a new aspect of this trend includes policies to avoid milk from herds treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), a man-made growth hormone used to increase the milk production of herds. This growth hormone, produced by recombinant DNA techniques, came into use in 1994. The product, named POSILAC, is banned outside the United States for use in cattle, but milk obtained from cows injected with rBST has been found to pose no risk for people; foreign countries buy the milk but will not permit their own cows to be injected with the hormone.

Controversy continues to surround use of this productivity enhancer in the twenty-first century. Cheese makers are sensitive to this issue as they are to all dairy industry trends. The rise in popularity of foods labeled organic is part of the movement to use fewer chemicals in the production of our food, be those hormones used on livestock or industrially produced fertilizers used on crops.


Cheese producers serve well-defined market segments. The two largest segments are institutional and consumer markets. The food industry itself represents the first major segment. These cheese buyers are companies that use cheese as an ingredient in the preparation of snacks, sauces, and ready-to-eat meals and companies that sell fast food.

The consumer market has different segments represented by three forms of cheese. Pre-sliced products intended for sandwich-making are predominantly processed cheese (Cheddar and Colby). Sliced natural cheeses have made their appearance as well and appear to be growing. The third form of consumer cheese itself includes three types of cheese. The block cheeses are intended to be sliced by the consumer; cream cheeses are intended to be spread by the consumer; and grated and shredded cheeses intended for use in cooking.

Although a major portion of all cheese consumed in the United States falls into two varieties, Cheddar and Mozzarella, cheese by its very nature is targeted at human taste buds so that every conceivable variety has its own segment of customers. In the wake of World War II, faced with the disorders left over from the global conflict, Charles de Gaulle once famously said: "Only peril can bring the French together. One can't impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 different kinds of cheese." The same may be said of the world as a whole—with 2,000 varieties. But Charles de Gaulle—had he been thinking more about cheese than unity—might well have added to his comment another famous French phrase. He might have said: "But, as for cheese, vive la difference."


American Dairy Association & Dairy Council, Inc.,

American Dairy Goat Association,

American Dairy Products Institute,

California Cheese & Butter Association,

International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA),

New York State Cheese Manufacturers' Association,

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association,


Agriculture Fact Book 2001–2002. U.S. Department of Agriculture. March 2003.

Dairy Products: 2005 Summary. U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. April 2006.

Darnay, Arsen J. and Joyce P. Simkin. Manufacturing & Distribution USA 4th ed. Thomson Gale, 2006, Volume 1, 927-929.

Frankhauser, David B. "Rennet for Making Cheese." University of Cincinnati Clermont College. 14 February 2005. Available from: 〈〉.

"The Internet's Cheese Information Resource." CheeseNet. Available from 〈〉.

Lazich, Robert S. Market Share Reporter 2007. Thomson Gale, 2007.

"Natural and Processed Cheese." AP-42. Compilation of Air Pollution Emission Factors. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. January 1995.

Wattiaux, Michel A. "Milk Composition and Nutritional Value." Babcock Institute for International Dairy University of Wisconsin-Madison, Research and Development. Available from: 〈〉.

see also Milk & Butter


views updated May 11 2018


CHEESE. Cheese, which has been described as "milk's leap toward immortality," can be more dispassionately defined as a product of milk fermentation. Yet part of our fascination with cheese may come from the sheer number and diversity of cheeses worldwide. They number into the thousands, although an exact count is difficult, as cheeses are notoriously difficult to classify. A classification of cheese only in terms of bacteriological processes neglects the symbolism of ancient mythologies, regional pride, and artistic ingenuity that are embedded in this, one of the simplest and most complicated of foods. The mythology of cheese is shared by disparate groups: the Greeks gods and mortals, the conquerors and conquered of the Roman Empire, a delighted Napoleon and the waitress who first served him Camembert. The legends are compelling, but not as much as the product itself.


The beginnings of cheesemaking are unknown, but it has been generally reasoned that the knowledge of how to turn milk into cheese closely followed upon the domestication of lactating animals. Some of the earliest archaeological evidence of cheesemaking comes from the Fertile Crescent, where animals were domesticated around 8000 B.C.E. A Sumerian relief (c. 35002800 B.C.E.) portrays cattle and dairying practice. Pots that had likely contained cheese were discovered in the tomb of Horus-aha, the second king of the Egyptian First Dynasty (c. 30002800 B.C.E.). And perforated bowls (c. 30001000 B.C.E.) made from pottery or rushes have been found in more than one European location. These bowls were designed to drain the liquid whey from the solid curds.

Cheesemaking was an efficient means of preserving an extremely perishable food (milk) from the spoiling effects of the Near East climate. The art and science of cheesemaking spread into Europe, and quickly became a regular part of the diet and a symbol of strength in ancient Greece, where Olympians trained on diets of cheese. Polyphemus, the brutal Cyclops of Homer's Odyssey, milks his animals amid the racks of cheese in his cave, while Odysseus watches quietly nearby. According to Greek mythology, the knowledge of cheesemaking was a gift to mortals by the gods of Mount Olympus. Roman soldiers carried cheese rations with them as the Roman Empire grew, though cheesemaking was highly developed in the Celtic parts of Europe. The Feast of Imbolc (2 February) was a celebration of the approach of spring: the new lambs and the milk of the ewes represented the changing seasons and were honored as a first sign of spring.

Artisanal cheesemaking might have been lost after the fall of the Roman Empire if not for the Christian monasteries. The monks not only preserved cultural traditions during the Dark Ages, but spent much time reworking and improving cheese recipes. Their creations, among them French Munster and Epoisses, are still referred to as "monastery" or "trappist cheeses."

In the following centuries, cheesemaking grew as an art and industry. The first commercial cheese factory in the United States was established in Rome, New York, in 1851. Innovations like the kind of cream cheese popularly known as Philadelphia Cream Cheese and pasteurizing whole cheese (patented in the United States by James Kraft in 1916) followed. Almost a century of pasteurized process cheese sales in the United States and abroad have demonstrated their popularity, but a growing number of cheesemakers and cheese-eaters are committing to the preservation and production of artisanal (made by hand) and farmstead (made from the animals of a farm on that farm) cheeses. Several books about specialty cheeses have been published in the last few years, and wider selections of domestic and imported cheeses are available in supermarket, and restaurants.


When confronted by the vast number of cheeses, the different shapes, colors and aromas at a well-stocked cheese counter, it is astonishing to remember that all these endless varieties come from only one basic ingredient. Although a cheesemaker makes many decisions throughout the cheesemaking process that will affect the finished product, the first step is always to select the raw material, milk.

Cheese can be made from any animal that produces milk: cow, sheep, goat, camel, mare, buffalo, or yak. With the exception of Italy's mozzarella di bufala, made from the milk of herds of water-buffalo, cheeses in the Western world are typically made from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep. Of the three animals, sheep produce the lowest volume of milk, but because it is so much higher in fat and protein content than either goat's or cow's milk, less of it is needed to make cheese. On average, ten pounds of cow's or goat's milk or about half that amount of sheep's milk is required to make one pound of cheese. In contrast to the rich, concentrated flavor of sheep's milk, goat's milk is slightly sweet and fresh-tasting; cow's milk is the lightest of the three. The milk of individual breeds of the same species also has a unique flavor profile. Consequently, the laws governing many name-controlled cheeses specify the breed of animal from which the milk is to come. Cheese-makers have the further choice of how to use the milk they collect: full fat, partly skimmed, or with extra cream added.

Free-grazing animals feast on a bounty of wild grasses, flowers, and other vegetation during the warmer months. This gives their milk a complexity of flavor that is easily distinguishable from the milk of grain-fed animals in winter. Some cheesemakers insist that they can perceive slight flavor adjustments dailyas the animals move from one pasture to another.


Milk used for cheese may or may not be pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process of heating milk that destroys most of the naturally present bacteria (see Cheese Safety below). Current U.S. law requires that cheeses be pasteurized or, if made from unpasteurized milk, aged for at least sixty days at 35°F before sale for consumption. Milk may be pasteurized in one of two ways: by heating it to 161°F for fifteen seconds, or by heating it to 145°F for thirty minutes (the latter method is sometimes called "heat treatment"). These laws apply to both domestically produced and imported cheeses. When cheese is made from unpasteurized milk, it is frequently referred to as "raw milk" cheese, connoting that the milk has not been "cooked." Most cheesemakers believe that the brilliant nuances of flavor found in raw milk, with its naturally present "good" bacteria, simply cannot be duplicated in a pasteurized milk cheese, though some well-respected cheeses, including British Stilton, are made only from pasteurized milk.

The Principles of Cheesemaking

An oft-repeated legend has it that the first cheesemaker fell into the role by accident. A nomadic tribesman prepared for a long desert journey, he carried a bag made from the dried stomach of a young sheep and filled with milk. As he walked steadily under the relentless sun, the milk began to curdle. Noting that this "fresh cheese" had a pleasant taste and did not spoil as easily as milk, the nomad later drained off the whey and salted the curds to enhance these qualities. The cheesemaking tradition had begun.

While modern cheesemaking techniques are more refined and recipes have become standardized, the basic principles remain the same now as when the (possibly apocryphal) nomad of cheese legend opened his sheep's stomach bag (which supplied the coagulating rennet), warmed by the sun and agitated by his rhythmic trek.

The Steps of Cheesemaking

There are as many recipes for cheese as there are cheeses, but all of them follow some combination of these steps.

Acidification: souring the milk. The milk is gently warmed to encourage the growth of lactic acid bacteria, Streptococci and Lactobacilli. These bacteria feed on the milk sugar lactose, changing it to lactic acid. As the acidity rises, the solids in the milk (casein protein, fat, some vitamins and minerals) clump together, forming curds in the watery whey (milk is approximately 85 percent water). This is the first step for making all cheeses; in ancient times, cheeses were most likely the result of leaving pots of milk to sour naturally in the sun, affected by bacteria in the air. Some cheesemakers still wait for these process to begin with free, airborne lactic acid bacteria, but most use a starter culture. Starters are widely available commercially, but cheesemakers can also use a bit of the previous day's milk (unless it is pasteurized)the same principle as with a sourdough bread starter.

Renneting: coagulating the curd. Cheesemaking has been referred to as "controlled spoiling" because of the need to efficiently form curds before undesirable bacteria cause the milk to become rancid. The enzyme rennin, traditionally removed from the stomach lining of a young animal (usually the same species of animal that supplied the milk), hastens and completes the curdling process. The renneting property of some plants has been recognized nearly since the dawn of cheesemaking; these vegetable rennets are the traditional agents in several cheeses. Other vegetarian rennets, made from a yeast or fungus, are also used today.

The curd is left to "set," forming a network of protein that traps the other milk solids inside. As the solids bind more tightly together, they begin to push out the liquid whey, a process the cheesemaker may continue by cutting, cooking, and pressing. The whey is sometimes used to make cheese as well (Italian ricotta and Cypriot hallumi are two examples), but usually it is discarded.

Treating the curds. After renneting, cheese recipes diverge. Some soft cheeses, like fresh goat's milk cheese, are gently transferred to molds. The curd's own weight will continue to press out whey. These cheeses might be labeled "hand ladled" to indicate that they were created using this time-consuming method. The Greeks called the molds that held the curds formos, which became the root for cheese in Italy (formaggio ) and France (fromage ). Our English word "cheese" has its root in the Latin caseus, which became Käse in German and queso in Spanish.

In contrast to the light touch required for soft cheeses, which derive their creamy texture from a higher water content, the curds for other cheeses are sliced and chopped, by hand or machine, to release more whey. The smaller the curds are cut, the firmer the resulting cheese. Cheddar and some other cheeses undergo a unique process called "cheddaring," which results in its firm, flaky texture. Blocks of curd are stacked, turned, and restacked to press out as much whey as possible. Then the dry curds are milled, ground into tiny pieces, and packed into molds.

Some hard cheeses are "cooked," that is, the curds are reheated during processing. This causes the curds to release even more whey and alters the texture of the cheese. Examples of cooked cheeses include Emmentaler, Appenzeller, and Gruyère.

Preparation for aging: salting, molding, and pressing. Cheeses can be salted in four different ways. For some cheeses, the salt is stirred directly into the curd. A second method involves rubbing or sprinkling dry salt onto the rind of a cheese. This helps to form the rind, protecting the inside of the cheese from ripening too quickly. Some large cheeses are soaked in a pool of brine. The fourth option is to wash the surface of the cheese with a brine solution. In the case of washed-rind cheeses, the salt does not protect the cheese from bacteriait invites them. The cheeses must be regularly rubbed with water, brine, or alcohol to encourage the growth of the bacteria that give them their sticky orange rinds and distinctive aroma.

Cheese is then transferred, if it has not been already, to a mold where the final cheese will take shape. The whey of soft cheeses drips through the holes in their molds, pressed out by the cheese's weight. Other, firmer cheeses are pressed by hand or machine to extract the last bits of whey.

Ripening. During the ripening or aging stage, the cheesemaker cares for the cheese at a precise temperature and humidity level until it is ready to eat; this can range anywhere from a few weeks for a soft-ripened cheese to a few years for a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Depending on the variety, ripening cheeses need to be turned to equally distribute the butterfat and brushed to maintain the rind quality.

Name-controlled Cheeses

Before the 1951 Stresa Convention in Stresa, Italy, it was impossible for traditional, regional cheesemakers to protect their products from inauthentic forgeries. The delegates to this international conference accomplished two goals: they created a uniform definition of "cheese" to facilitate international trade, and protected by law the names and origins of a select group of treasured traditional cheeses. Protected cheeses fall into two categories. A few cheeses, including France's Roquefort and Switzerland's Sbrinz, are given absolute protectionthe cheese cannot be made outside of its designated region. A second group of cheeses may be produced in nontraditional areas, but must be clearly labeled with its region of origin. Camembert produced in the United States is a good example of this second group.

"Name-controlled" cheeses must meet stringent laws that go beyond the international standards for processing and safety. The departments and associations that supervise these cheeses differ from country to country (and from cheese to cheese), but generally emphasize the unique, regional quality of the cheese. In Switzerland, for example, cheeses must be native to the area in which they are made. France has the most specific cheese production laws of any country. The Appellation d'Origine Contrôllée (AOC) designation indicates that a cheesemaker has complied with regulations that include the type and breed of animal from which the milk comes, location of production of both milk and cheese, production techniques (including pasteurization), the final composition of the cheese (its fat and moisture content, for example), and the physical and sensory attributes of the cheese, which include its shape, size, and of course, flavor. Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Great Britain are also home to name-controlled cheeses.

The effort to control cheese quality through government standards of identity can be related to similar efforts with wine. Purchasing a French cheese with the AOC designation on the label does not necessarily guarantee quality, however. Subtle differences between individual producers, milk quality, or aging time and conditions can make the difference between a great cheese and a not-so-great one.

Classifying Cheese

As Pierre Androuët asserts in his fundamental text Guide du Fromage (Guide to Cheese), a cheese should simply be what it isits appearance, aroma, texture, and flavor should be characteristic of the variety to which it belongs. But how does one determinate a cheese's "type"? There are innumerable cheeses, and no single, standardized method for grouping them; rather, authorities employ different classification systems.

General characteristics, such as the type of milk (or whey) used or the country of origin, provide a starting point for discussing broad topics; for example, the relative unpopularity of sheep's milk cheese in the United States compared to European countries, or the social implications of cheese consumption in England as opposed to France. More specific classificationsthe moisture content of the cheese (hard, semi-hard, soft, or fresh), whether it was made from pasteurized or unpasteurized milk, or the length of agingmay serve scientific inquiries concerned with bacterial development rates in different cheeses.

When cheese is classified by "type," it is grouped by similar characteristics like taste, smell, and appearance. The rind type and the method of production are often used as determining factors. Steven Jenkins describes eight different cheese "families" (including processed cheese) (Cheese Primer, pp. 1113). These very common categories may help when choosing a cheese at the cheese counter, but a particular cheese may fit into more than one category, or not seem to fit in any.

Fresh cheese. After the formation of curds, the cheese (and also, sometimes, the whey) is usually transferred to plastic tubs and covered. The cheeses are eaten fresh, not ripened, and do not have a rind. Cottage cheese, cream cheese, and fetaa pickled cheeseare some common examples of fresh cheeses. Sometimes fresh Mozzarella is also included in this category because it does not form a rind, but this is problematic because Mozzarella curds are heated and stretched.

Bloomy rind cheeses. Also called simply "soft ripened cheese," this category includes cheeses like French Camembert and Brie, which are covered with velvety white molds that ripen the cheese from the outside in.

Washed-rind cheese. These orange, sticky, stinky cheeses are rubbed with a water, brine, or alcohol solution to invite the growth of ripening bacteria and molds on their rinds. Examples include the French Livarot (nicknamed "The Colonel" because it is ringed with raffia stripes) and Alsatian Munster.

Natural rind cheese. These cheeses are self-sufficient, naturally forming their rinds from air contact. Surface-molded goat cheeses and British Stilton are good examples. British farmhouse cheeses are sometimes included in the natural rind category because their permeable cheesecloth wrapping allows them to develop a thick protective rind. Likewise, Parmigiano-Reggiano and other cheeses are helped to form a rind that still develops largely from air contact.

Blue-veined cheese. To allow the growth of their distinctive bluish or greenish interior molds, these cheeses are never pressed. They are typically injected with a mold strain, and then pierced to expose the insides to air. They may be wrapped in foil like Italian Gorgonzola or form natural rinds like British Stilton.

Uncooked, pressed cheese. This is a category defined by processing type. These cheeses are pressed to remove whey, but are not cooked (see Treating the Curds).

Cooked, pressed cheese. Cheeses such as Swiss Emmental (sometimes Emmentaler) and Gruyère are cooked and pressed in the processes described above.

Processed cheese. There is another type of cheese that, because of its overwhelming presence in supermarket refrigerator cases, should not be overlooked. Pasteurized processed cheese is created by heating and mixing a blend of natural cheeses and emulsifiers. These cheesesAmerican cheese certainly being the best-known in the United Statescan retain their flavor and texture qualities in a much broader range of temperature and moisture conditions than can natural cheeses, and for a longer period of time. They are also easy to use in a variety of dishes, and are typically less expensive than natural cheeses. Because the entire product, not just the milk, is pasteurized, and because processed cheeses are often vacuum-packaged, they are uniformly and consistently safe. The nutrient content of processed cheese remains very close to that of natural cheese, although the sodium content may be higher. All of these characteristics make them popular choices not only in the United States but in other countries as well.

Processed cheese food and cheese spread both contain natural cheese and emulsifying agents, but add other ingredients like whey, skim milk, milk powders, or water that raise the moisture content of the product. This causes them to melt or spread more easily. There are also imitation cheese products that contain little or no milk protein. Soy cheese is one example of an imitation cheese product.

Nutritional Value

The fat content of cheese is noted on its package as a certain percent butterfat. This can be misleading, however, because the fat content is evaluated as a percentage of the solids in the cheese (fat-in-dry-matter), not the overall weight of the cheese. Even a very hard, aged cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano contains a significant amount of water, about 30 percent. As a cheese ages, it loses moisture, and the fat percentage relative to weight increases, though the fat-in-dry-matter remains the same. Soft cheeses typically have a high fat-in-dry-matter percentage, but they also contain more water than hard cheeses; their overall fat percentage is much lower, as much as half, the fat-in-dry-matter percentage.

Cheese's greatest nutritional advantage is its high protein content and the digestibility of that protein. In addition, cheese is a valuable source of vitamin A, vitamin B2, and vitamin B12, and the minerals calcium and phosphorus.

People who suffer from lactose intolerance often believe that they must forego cheese altogether. In fact, many cheeses (especially aged, hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano) contain very little or no lactose, as the lactose is expelled along with the whey. The small amounts of remaining lactose are mostly converted into lactic acid during the aging process.

Cheese Safety

Cheese has been cited as the vehicle for several bacterial outbreaksdefined as an illness from a common source that affects two or more people. Organisms communicated to humans through cheese have included Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Brucella melitensis, and Escherichia coli (including E. coli O157). Nearly all of these bacteria are destroyed during the pasteurization process. Raw milk cheeses seem to have been the cause of reported outbreaks more often than pasteurized cheeses. In the interest of public safety, the United States requires that milk for cheesemaking be pasteurized or that the cheese be aged for sixty days. However, recent concerns about the effectiveness of pasteurization, coupled with alarm and confusion over animal disease outbreaks like mad cow disease and hoof-and-mouth disease (which do not affect milk safety) have prompted scientists and government officials to reevaluate the current policy.

A close review of the reported outbreaks reveals that current laws are probably adequate to prevent cheese-borne illnesses, provided that they are strictly enforced and the starting quality of the milk is high. Reports and studies of cheese-borne outbreaks often include "unpasteurized" and "improperly pasteurized" cheese in the same category, implying that milk that has not completed the pasteurization process is of the same quality as raw milk. Traditional cheesemakers would argue that this is not the case. When milk is intended for pasteurization, its initial bacterial quality need not be as high as that of raw milk, as all bacteria will be destroyed in the pasteurization process. However, if the pasteurization process were ever to fail, or if, as some researchers have hypothesized, pasteurization is not effective against all bacteria, milk of low initial bacterial quality increases the risk of cheese-borne illness. Cheesemakers who use raw milk, on the other hand, must take special care to keep it free of dangerous bacteria.

Few outbreaks have been caused by unpasteurized dairy products in which there was not at least one flaw in the production process. Curds from unpasteurized milk have been mislabeled as pasteurized, raw milk cheeses have been sold before the minimum required aging time, and fresh, unpasteurized Mexican soft cheese has been illegally imported and sold. All of the above cases involved raw milk cheeses, demonstrating the danger that can be associated with that product. Yet, they also show that the existing standards governing raw milk cheese could have prevented the outbreaks, if they had been carefully followed.

Bacterial levels in raw milk will always be higher than in properly pasteurized milk, even when the greatest of care is taken. Aging a cheese for at least sixty days has long been thought to neutralize harmful bacteria, but this may not be true for all types of cheeses and all types of bacteria. Certain groups of people, those with weakened immune systems or special concerns, should not consume raw milk products, particularly soft and semi-soft cheeses. A consumer choosing a raw milk cheese needs to do so fully aware of the possible risks. New labeling requirements could help make sure that people are informed of the risks and the pleasures when they purchase cheese.

See also Dairy Products ; France; Italy; Wine .


Androuët, Pierre. Guide to Cheeses. With the help of N. Roche and G. Lambert, translated by John Githens, and new cheeses by Anthea Bell. Henley-on-Thames, U.K.: Aidan Ellis, 1993. New and revised edition. Originally published as Guide du fromage (Paris: Stock, 1971).

Fox, Patrick F., ed. Cheese: Chemistry, Physics and Microbiology. 2d ed. 2 vols. London: Chapman & Hall, 1993.

Harbutt, Juliet. Cheese: A Complete Guide to Over 300 Cheeses of Distinction. Minocqua, Wis.: Willow Creek Press, 1999.

Jenkins, Steven. Cheese Primer. New York: Workman, 1996.

Jones, Evan. The World of Cheese. New York: Knopf, 1978.

Kosikowski, Frank V., and Vikram V. Mistry. Cheese and Fermented Milk Foods. 3rd ed. 2 vols. Westport, Conn.: F. V. Kosikowski, 1997.

Masui, Kazuko, and Tomoko Yamada. French Cheeses. New York: DK Publishing, 1996.

McCalman, Max and David Gibbons. The Cheese Plate. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2002.

Nantet, Bernard, et al. Cheeses of the World. Translated by Clio Mitchell, Rob Jamieson, and Daniel Wheeler. New York: Rizzoli, 1993.

Pearl, Anita May, Constance Cuttle, and Barbara B. Deskins. Completely Cheese: The Cheeselover's Companion. Edited by David Kolatch. Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David, 1978.

Rance, Patrick. The French Cheese Book. London: Macmillan, 1989.

Rance, Patrick. The Great British Cheese Book. London: Macmillan, 1982.

Sardo, Piero, Gigi Piumatti, and Roberto Rubino, eds. Italian Cheeses: A Guide to Their Discovery and Appreciation. Translated by Giles Watson, Helen Donald, and Michael Farrell. Bra, Italy: Slow Food Editore, 1999.

Simon, André. Cheeses of the World. 2d ed. London: Faber and Faber, 1960. Reprint, 1965.

Stamm, Eunice R. The History of Cheese Making in New York State: The History of Cheese Making in the Empire State from the Early Dutch Settlers to Modern Times. New York: Lewis Group, 1991.

Tewksbury, Henry. The Cheeses of Vermont. Woodstock, Vt.: Countryman Press, 2002.

Werlin, Linda. The New American Cheese: Profiles of America's Great Cheesemakers and Recipes for Cooking with Cheese. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2000.

Sara Firebaugh


views updated Jun 08 2018



Cheese is a fermented food derived from the milk of various mammals. Since humans began to domesticate milk-producing animals around 10,000 b.c., they have known about the propensity of milk to separate into curds and whey. As milk sours, it breaks down into curds, lumps of phosphoprotein, and whey, a watery, grey fluid that contains lactose, minerals, vitamins, and traces of fat. It is the curds that are used to make cheese, and practically every culture on Earth has developed its own methods, the only major exceptions being China and the ancient Americas.

The first cheeses were "fresh," that is, not fermented. They consisted solely of salted white curds drained of whey, similar to today's cottage cheese. The next step was to develop ways of accelerating the natural separation process. This was achieved by adding rennet to the milk. Rennet is an enzyme from the stomachs of young ruminantsa ruminant is an animal that chews its food very thoroughly and possesses a complex digestive system with three or four stomach chambers; in the United States, cows are the best known creatures of this kind. Rennet remains the most popular way of "starting" cheese, though other starting agents such as lactic acid and various plant extracts are also used.

By a.d. 100 cheese makers in various countries knew how to press, ripen, and cure fresh cheeses, thereby creating a product that could be stored for long periods. Each country or region developed different types of cheese that reflected local ingredients and conditions. The number of cheeses thus developed is staggering. France, famous for the quality and variety of its cheeses, is home to about 400 commercially available cheeses.

The next significant step to affect the manufacture of cheese occurred in the 1860s, when Louis Pasteur introduced the process that bears his name. Pasteurization entails heating milk to partially sterilize it without altering its basic chemical structure. Because the process destroys dangerous micro-organisms, pasteurized milk is considered more healthful, and most cheese is made from pasteurized milk today.

The first and simplest way of extending the length cheese would keep without spoiling was simply ageing it. Aged cheese was popular from the start because it kept well for domestic use. In the 1300s, the Dutch began to seal cheese intended for export in hard rinds to maintain its freshness, and, in the early 1800s, the Swiss became the first to process cheese. Frustrated by the speed with which their cheese went bad in the days before refrigeration, they developed a method of grinding old cheese, adding filler ingredients, and heating the mixture to produce a sterile, uniform, long-lasting product. Another advantage of processing cheese was that it permitted the makers to recycle edible, second-grade cheeses in a palatable form.

Prior to the twentieth century, most people considered cheese a specialty food, produced in individual households and eaten rarely. However, with the advent of mass production, both the supply of and the demand for cheese have increased. In 1955, 13 percent of milk was made into cheese. By 1984, this percentage had grown to 31 percent, and it continues to increase. Interestingly, though processed cheese is now widely available, it represents only one-third of the cheese being made today. Despite the fact that most cheeses are produced in large factories, a majority are still made using natural methods. In fact, small, "farmhouse" cheese making has made a comeback in recent years. Many Americans now own their own small cheese-making businesses, and their products have become quite popular, particularly among connoisseurs.

Raw Materials

Cheese is made from milk, and that milk comes from animals as diverse as cows, sheep, goats, horses, camels, water buffalo, and reindeer. Most cheese makers expedite the curdling process with rennet, lactic acid, or plant extracts, such as the vegetable rennet produced from wild artichokes, fig leaves, safflower, or melon.

In addition to milk and curdling agents, cheeses may contain various ingredients added to enhance flavor and color. The great cheeses of the world may acquire their flavor from the specific bacterial molds with which they have been inoculated, an example being the famous Penicillium roqueforti used to make France's Roquefort and England's Stilton. Cheeses may also be salted or dyed, usually with annatto, an orange coloring made from the pulp of a tropical tree, or carrot juice. They may be washed in brine or covered with ashes. Cheese makers who wish to avoid rennet may encourage the bacterial growth necessary to curdling by a number of odd methods. Some cheeses possess this bacteria because they are made from unpasteurized milk. Other cheeses, however, are reportedly made from milk in which dung or old leather have been dunked; still others acquire their bacteria from being buried in mud.

The unusual texture and flavor of processed cheese are obtained by combining several types of natural cheese and adding salt, milk-fat, cream, whey, water, vegetable oil, and other fillers. Processed cheese will also have preservatives, emulsifiers, gums, gelatin, thickeners, and sweeteners as ingredients. Most processed cheese and some natural cheeses are flavored with such ingredients as paprika, pepper, chives, onions, cumin, car-away seeds, jalapeño peppers, hazelnuts, raisins, mushrooms, sage, and bacon. Cheese can also be smoked to preserve it and give it a distinctive flavor.

The Manufacturing

Although cheese making is a linear process, it involves many factors. Numerous varieties of cheese exist because ending the simple preparation process at different points can produce different cheeses, as can varying additives or procedures. Cheese making has long been considered a delicate process. Attempts to duplicate the success of an old cheese factory have been known to fail because conditions at a new factory do not favor the growth of the proper bacteria.

Preparing the milk

  • 1 Small cheese factories accept either morning milk (which is richer), evening milk, or both. Because it is generally purchased from small dairies which don't pasteurize, this milk contains the bacteria necessary to produce lactic acid, one of the agents that triggers curdling. The cheese makers let the milk sit until enough lactic acid has formed to begin producing the particular type of cheese they're making. Depending on the type of cheese being produced, the cheese makers may then heat the ripening milk. This process differs slightly at large cheese factories, which purchase pasteurized milk and must consequently add a culture of bacteria to produce lactic acid.

Separating the curds from the whey

  • 2 The next step is to add animal or vegetable rennet to the milk, furthering its separation into curds and whey. Once formed, the curds are cut both vertically and horizontally with knives. In large factories, huge vats of curdled milk are cut vertically using sharp, multi-bladed, wire knives reminiscent of oven racks. The same machine then agitates the curds and slices them horizontally. If the cutting is done manually, the curds are cut both ways using a large, two-handled knife. Soft cheeses are cut into big chunks, while hard cheeses are cut into tiny chunks. (For cheddar, for instance, the space between the knives is about one-twentieth of an inch [half a centimeter].) After cutting, the curds may be heated to hasten the separation from the whey, but they are more typically left alone. When separation is complete, the whey is drained.

Pressing the curds

  • 3 Moisture must then be removed from the curds, although the amount removed depends on the type of cheese. For some types with high moisture contents, the whey-draining process removes sufficient moisture. Other types require the curds to be cut, heated, and/or filtered to get rid of excess moisture. To make cheddar cheese, for example, cheese makers cheddar, or finely chop, the curd. To make hard, dry cheeses such as parmesan, cheese makers first cheddar and then cook the curd. Regardless, if the curds are to be aged, they are then put into molds. Here, they are pressed to give the proper shape and size. Soft cheeses such as cottage cheese are not aged.

Ageing the cheese

  • 4 At this stage the cheese may be inoculated with a flavoring mold, bathed in brine, or wrapped in cloth or hay before being deposited in a place of the proper temperature and humidity to age. Some cheeses are aged for a month, some for up to several years. Ageing sharpens the flavor of the cheese; for example, cheddar aged more than two years is appropriately labeled extra sharp.

Wrapping natural cheese

  • 5 Some cheeses may develop a rind naturally, as their surfaces dry. Other rinds may form from the growth of bacteria that has been sprayed on the surface of the cheese. Still other cheeses are washed, and this process encourages bacterial growth. In place of or in addition to rinds, cheeses can be sealed in cloth or wax. For local eating, this may be all the packaging that is necessary. However, large quantities of cheese are packaged for sale in distant countries. Such cheeses may be heavily salted for export (such as Roquefort) or sealed in impermeable plastic or foil.

Making and wrapping processed

  • 6 Edible yet inferior cheeses can be saved and made into processed cheese. Cheeses such as Emmental (commonly called Swiss), Gruyere (similar to Swiss), Colby, or cheddar are cut up and very finely ground. After this powder has been mixed with water to form a paste, other ingredients such as salt, fillers, emulsifiers, preservatives, and flavorings are added. The mixture is then heated under controlled conditions. While still warm and soft, the cheese paste is extruded into long ribbons that are sliced. The small sheets of cheese are then put onto a plastic or foil sheet and wrapped by a machine.

Quality Control

Cheese making has never been an easily regulated, scientific process. Quality cheese has always been the sign of an experienced, perhaps even lucky cheese maker insistent upon producing flavorful cheese. Subscribing to analytical tests of cheese characteristics may yield a good cheese, but cheese making has traditionally been a chancy endeavor. Developing a single set of standards for cheese is difficult because each variety of cheese has its own range of characteristics. A cheese that strays from this range will be bad-tasting and inferior. For example, good soft blue cheese will have high moisture and a high pH; cheddar will have neither.

One controversy in the cheese field centers on whether it is necessary to pasteurize the milk that goes into cheese. Pasteurization was promoted because of the persistence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a pathogen or disease-causing bacteria that occurs in milk products. The United States allows cheeses that will be aged for over sixty days to be made from unpasteurized milk; however, it requires that many cheeses be made from pasteurized milk. Despite these regulations, it is possible to eat cheeses made from unpasteurized milk to no ill effect. In fact, cheese connoisseurs insist that pasteurizing destroys the natural bacteria necessary for quality cheese manufacture. They claim that modern cheese factories are so clean and sanitary that pasteurization is unnecessary. So far, the result of this controversy has merely been that connoisseurs avoid pasteurized milk cheeses.

Regulations exist so that the consumer can purchase authentic cheeses with ease. France, the preeminent maker of a variety of natural cheeses, began granting certain regions monopolies on the manufacture of certain cheeses. For example, a cheese labeled "Roquefort" is guaranteed to have been ripened in the Combalou caves, and such a guarantee has existed since 1411. Because cheese is made for human consumption, great care is taken to insure that the raw materials are of the highest quality, and cheese intended for export must meet particularly stringent quality control standards.

Because they possess such disparate characteristics, different types of cheese are required to meet different compositional standards. Based on its moisture and fat content, a cheese is labeled soft, semi-soft, hard, or very hard. Having been assigned a category, it must then fall within the range of characteristics considered acceptable for cheeses in that category. For example, cheddar, a hard cheese, can contain no more than 39 percent water and no less than 50 percent fat. In addition to meeting compositional standards, cheese must also meet standards for flavor, aroma, body, texture, color, appearance, and finish. To test a batch of cheese, inspectors core a representative wheel vertically in several places, catching the center, the sides, and in between. The inspector then examines the cheese to detect any inconsistencies in texture, rubs it to determine body (or consistency), smells it, and tastes it. Cheese is usually assigned points for each of these characteristics, with flavor and texture weighing more than color and appearance.

Processed cheese is also subject to legal restrictions and standards. Processed American cheese must contain at least 90 percent real cheese. Products labeled "cheese food" must be 51 percent cheese, and most are 65 percent. Products labeled "cheese spread" must also be 51 percent cheese, the difference being that such foods have more water and gums to make them spreadable. "Cheese product" usually refers to a diet cheese that has more water and less cheese than American cheese, cheese food, or cheese spread, but the specific amount of cheese is not regulated. Similarly, "imitation cheese" is not required to contain a minimum amount of cheese, and cheese is usually not its main ingredient. In general, quality processed cheese should resemble cheese and possess some cheesy flavor, preferably with a "bite" such as sharp cheddar cheese has. The cheese should be smooth and evenly colored; it should also avoid rubberiness and melt in the mouth.

Where To Learn More


Brown, Bob. The Complete Book of Cheese. Gramercy Publishing, 1955.

Carr, Sandy. The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Cheese. Simon and Schuster, 1981.

Kosikowski, Frank. Cheese and Fermented Milk Foods. Cornell University, 1966.

Mills, Sonya. The World Guide to Cheese. Gallery Books, 1988.

Timperley, Carol and Cecilia Norman. A Gourmet's Guide to Cheese. HP Books, 1989.


"American Cheese and 'Cheeses'," Consumer Reports. November, 1990, pp. 728-732.

Birmingham, David. "Gruyere's Cheese-makers," History Today. February, 1991, pp. 21-26.

Raichlen, Steven. "Farmhouse Cheeses," Yankee. February, 1991, pp. 84-92.

Rose Secrest


views updated May 21 2018

cheese Prepared from the curd precipitated from milk by rennet (containing the enzyme chymosin or rennin), purified chymosin, or lactic acid. Cheeses other than cottage and cream cheeses are cured by being left to mature with salt, under various conditions that produce the characteristic flavour of each type of cheese. Although most cheeses are made from cow's milk, goat's and sheep's milk are used to make speciality cheeses, which are generally soft.

There are numerous variants (over 400) including more than 100 from England and Wales alone (nine major regional cheeses: Caerphilly, Derby, Double Gloucester, Cheddar, Lancashire, Red Leicester, Stilton, and Wensleydale). Some varieties are regional specialities, and legally may only be made in a defined geographical area; others are defined by the process rather than the region of production. The strength of flavour of cheese increases as it ages; mild or mellow cheeses are younger, and less strongly flavoured, than mature or extra‐mature cheeses.

Cheeses differ in their water and fat content and hence their nutrient and energy content, ranging from 50–80% water in soft cheeses (mozarella, quark, boursin, cottage) to less than 20% in hard cheese (Parmesan, Emmental, Gruyère, Cheddar) with semi‐hard cheeses around 40% water (Caerphilly, Gouda, Edam, Stilton). They retain much of the calcium of the milk and many contain a relatively large amount of sodium from the added salt. Blue‐veined cheeses (Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort, etc.) derive the colour (and flavour) from the growth of the mould Penicillium roquefortii, during ripening. Holes (e.g. in Gouda, Gruyère) arise during ripening from gases produced by bacteria.

Traditionally, hard cheeses must contain not less than 40% fat on a dry weight basis, and the fat must be milk fat. However, a number of low‐fat variants of traditional hard cheeses are now made. A 40‐g portion of hard cheese is a rich source of vitamin B12 and calcium; a good source of protein and vitamin A; a source of vitamin B2, iodine, and selenium; depending on type contains 9–16 g of fat, of which 64–69% is saturated; provides 120–190 kcal (500–800 kJ).

Cottage cheese is soft, uncured, white cheese made from pasteurized skim milk (or milk powder) by lactic acid starter (with or without added rennet), heated, washed, and drained (salt may be added). Contains more than 80% water. Also known as pot cheese, schmierkäse and, in the USA, as Dutch cheese. A 50‐g portion is a source of protein and supplies 50 kcal (210 kJ).

Baker's or hoop cheese is made in the same way as cottage cheese, but the curd is not washed, and it is drained in bags, giving it a finer grain. It contains more water and acid than cottage cheese.

Cream cheese is unripened soft cheese made from cream with varying fat content (20–25% fat or 50–55% fat); at 50% fat a 100‐g portion is a rich source of vitamins B12 and A and supplies 440 kcal (1800 kJ).

Processed cheese (first developed by J. L. Kraft & Co. in Chicago, 1915) is made by milling various hard cheeses with emulsifying salts (phosphates and citrates), whey, and water, and pasteurizing to extend the shelf life of the cheese. Typically 40% water, a 30‐g portion contains 5 g of protein and 8 g of fat, and provides 100 kcal (410 kJ). A soft version with 50% water is used as a spread.

Feta is Greek and general Balkan; white, soft, crumbly, salted cheese made from goat's or ewe's milk.

Swiss cheese is an American name for any hard cheese that contains relatively large bubbles of air, such as the Swiss Emmentaler and Gruyère cheeses.


views updated May 23 2018

cheese1 / chēz/ • n. 1. a food made from the pressed curds of milk. ∎  a molded mass of such food with its rind, often in a round flat shape: a 50-pound, muslin-wrapped cheese. ∎  a round flat object resembling a cheese.2. inf. the quality of being too obviously sentimental: the conversations tend too far toward cheese.cheese2 (also big cheese) • n. inf. an important person.cheese3 • v. inf. chiefly Brit., exasperate, frustrate, or bore: that really cheesed off Ricky.PHRASES: cheese it1. Brit., archaic look out. 2. dated run away.


views updated May 21 2018


CHEESE , mentioned in the Bible only once by the term gevinah (Job 10:10) and once as ḥariẓei ḥalav (i Sam. 17:18), a kind of cottage cheese. In the Talmud, cheese is much more frequently mentioned. Apparently in the period of the Second Temple the cheesemakers formed a guild and their name has been preserved in the Tyropoeon valley (Gr. Τυροποὲων, of the "cheesemakers") mentioned by Josephus (Wars, 5:140)

Cheese is most prominently mentioned in the Talmud with regard to the prohibition of eating cheese made by Gentiles. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Shab. 1: 4, 3c), it was one of the 18 injunctions enacted by the sages in the upper rooms of Hananiah b. Guryon (the parallel passage in the Babylonian Talmud (13b) does not mention cheese). The Mishnah (Av. Zar 2:5) gives two reasons for the prohibition – one that the milk was curdled with rennet from the stomach of animals which had not been slaughtered according to the requirements of the *dietary laws; and the other, that rennet was used from animals sacrificed for idolatry. The Halakhah followed this talmudic injunction, applying it rigidly even if the rennet used by the Gentile cheesemaker was otherwise permissible, as when derived from vegetarian sources (Sh. Ar., yd 115:2). However, in later centuries, the law became more lenient, permitting a Jew to produce cheese in vessels of Gentile cheesemakers (ibid., 105:12) and allowing the consumption of cheese made by Gentiles, if a Jew was present during its manufacture (Isserles to 115:2). The prohibition, however, does not extend to soft cheese of the cottage type, since rennet is not used.


et, 5 (1953), 84–91; Eisenstein, Dinim, 68.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]


views updated May 23 2018

cheese a cheese is the emblem of St Juthwara, a reputed British virgin martyr with a cult in the south west of England, and St Bridget of Ireland.

See also an apple pie without some cheese, chalk and cheese.


views updated May 18 2018

76. Cheese

See also 168. FOOD and NUTRITION ; 272. MILK .

the formation of cheese from casein during the coagulation of milk.
a knowledge of cheeses.
the collecting of cheese labels.
Obsolete, a form of divination involving observation of cheese, especially as it coagulates.
the collecting of Camembert cheese labels.


views updated Jun 08 2018

cheese 1 food made of pressed curds. OE. ċēse, *ċīese, ċȳse = OS. kāsi (Du. kaas), OHG. chāsi (G. käse) :- WGmc. *kāsjō — L. cāseus.


views updated Jun 08 2018

cheese Food made by curdling milk and then processing the curd. The commonest source is cows' milk. Blue cheeses are pierced in order to channel air to a reactive fungus previously introduced. The simplest product is cottage cheese, formed when skimmed milk coagulates.