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Many milks, many cheeses

Every milk speaks of a place, of an animal, of what that animal ate. So when milk is turned into cheese, these characteristics are transferred into the final product, a product that tells the story of a place and its distinctive nature, for better or worse.

There are around 2,000 types of cheese in the world, some ancient and some modern, differentiated by the type of milk or the production and aging techniques used.

Cheeses are classified first of all by the type of milk (cow, sheep, goat, buffalo or mixed). Then the milk might be raw, heat-treated or pasteurized (link to types of milk), and whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed, or cream, whey or buttermilk.

Next comes the processing technique. The level of cooking the curd can vary greatly. If the curd is cooked at a temperature above the curdling temperature (around 37-38°C/98-100°F), then the cheese is defined as cooked curd (over 48°C/118°F). Examples include Grana, Parmesan and Emmenthal. If the temperature does not go over 48°C/118°F, then the cheese is defined as semi-cooked curd (like Fontina and Asiago). Raw-curd cheeses, like crescenza, Gorgonzola and Taleggio, are not heated. Finally there are stretched-curd cheeses, like mozzarella, where the curd is stretched in hot water at 80-90°C/176-194°F.
Another difference comes from how the curd is worked. It can be stretched (mozzarella), aged (Cheddar), veined (Gorgonzola) or processed.

The fat content of cheeses can vary greatly. Cheeses are defined as full-fat if the fat content is over 42 percent, medium-fat if it is between 20 and 42 percent and low-fat if it is below 20 percent. The fat content depends mostly on the original milk (whole or semi- or fully skimmed, or whey) and the possible addition of cream. For example, Parmesan is made from semi-skimmed milk while ricotta is made from whey.

Cheeses are then divided according to their texture into fresh and soft cheeses, with water content between 45 and 70 percent; semi-hard cheeses with water content between 40 and 45 percent and hard and aged cheeses with a water content below 40 percent.

The length of aging is a major factor in defining the final cheese. Some fresh cheeses are not aged at all, and are consumed a few days after production (like mozzarella and ricotta). Other cheeses are aged for no more than 20 to 40 days, like Taleggio. Medium-aged cheeses like Fontina and some pressed cheeses (Cheddar, Salers) do not age for more than six months. Slowly aged cheeses like Parmesan and Emmenthal age for more than six months.
Finally cheeses are distinguished by the type of rind, which can be nonexistent, as with fresh cheeses; artificial (wax); or natural (formed naturally during aging).

The natural rind can be washed or mold-ripened. Mold-ripening produces the classic white rind of cheeses like Brie, which forms during aging because of the addition of selected Penicillium molds. Washed-rind cheeses are constantly washed and brushed to remove molds and encourage the formation of certain bacteria that help aging.

These categories are very general, and cheesemakers throughout history and around the world have created unique cheeses, the result of their creativity and the resources available. This is where the real wealth and biodiversity of cheeses lies.

  Many milks, many cheeses Many milks, many cheeses Many milks, many cheeses Many milks, many cheeses  
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