Early American Cheese Production

August 31, 2012 11:58:00 AM EDT

cheese on shelvesSwitzerland first realized the benefits of producing cheese in a factory setting in 1815, producing large enough quantities to sell to the community. This was a profitable idea, since most people at the time were working hard to make their own cheese at home amidst all their other labors, so cheese was usually a rare treat. Once it was manufactured on a larger scale, however, more people were able to enjoy cheese on a regular basis.


The success of cheese manufacture in Switzerland inspired the same in the America. During the 1600s, Puritan women brought their home cheese-making skills with them when they immigrated to America from England. At that time, it was mainly the women who made the cheese, using the cream of the milk for butter making and the skim milk for cheese making. It was challenging and tedious work. So when the first American cheese factory opened in Wisconsin in 1851, American women were overjoyed at the idea of being able to simply buy the cheese they had always made themselves.


Cheese making remained a common process for farms (especially dairy farms) for the first several years after that first American factory opened. But one by one, cheese factories were built across America. Typically mom-and-pop producers, these small cheese factories sprouted up in towns near dairy factories, selling cheese to busy families who gratefully spent a little extra to buy ready-made cheese.


In Wisconsin, as crops struggled to grow with erosion and soil depletion problems, dairy and livestock farms fast became the norm. Wisconsin has been a central hub for dairy products ever since. In 1868, a small cheese factory opened in a little log house in Green County. Five local dairy farmers provided the milk for the cheese production and the economy swelled with the success of the fledgling company. Green County, Wisconsin has remained a major focus of cheese production from that time forward.


Cheese manufacture quickly took off, outgrowing its roots in farm production and moving into massive manufacturing. As the railroads came into Wisconsin, they brought greater demand for Wisconsin cheese and more business for the dairy farmers and jobs for the locals. From that point forward, the cheese business only grew ever larger until it became what it is today. Cheese is as much a part of American history as it is a part of the American diet.

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Cheese Making, Part 2

August 29, 2012 11:50:00 AM EDT

Cheese rounds near a windowIn addition to milk and vinegar, there is another major ingredient used in making milk. Starter is a compilation of bacteria that helps develop the cheese and give it that distinctive cheese flavor. Different microorganisms can produce different flavors. While fresh whole milk contains its own bacteria that can turn the milk to cheese, it can also contain some harmful microorganisms that are easily killed by pasteurization. Then the starter can be added to put back in the beneficial bacteria without any of the harmful variety.


Once the starter is added, it takes some time for the bacteria to get to work and make the change from milk to cheese. Sometimes the starter used is cultured buttermilk, but this can provide inconsistent results. It is best to use something like a mesophilic starter specifically sold for cheese making. It comes in a small packet of powder, similar to the way yeast is sold. Direct Vac Innoculation (DVI) is a form that is poured into the milk without any pre-culturing and is most recommended for the beginning cheese maker.


For a firm cheese, it is recommended to use rennet in addition to the starter.  Rennet is an enzyme derived from calf stomachs that hardens the cheese.


With these simple ingredients, almost anyone can make their own cheese with surprisingly delicious results. But just like with home canning and other in-home procedures, cheese making must be done with proper sanitation.


Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can dwell on surfaces for days at a time. Cheese making relies on the culturing, or growth, of certain bacteria and any other microorganisms that are in the ingredients or on the tools will also grow.  Culturing harmful bacteria in the cheese could make someone very sick.


Everything that comes in contact with the cheese must be properly sterilized. A bleach solution of a capful of bleach in a rinsed sink half full of water should work to clean pots, bowls, utensils, and other items used in cheese making. Or, small tools that are made of stainless steel can be passed through the flames of the stove to kill anything living.


Once safety is ensured and the appropriate ingredients put together for making cheese at home, cheese making can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. Recipes can be found online or in many cookbooks and the results can be phenomenal. So if you decide to make your own at home, don’t be surprised if people beg you for more of your cheese or offer to buy it from you.

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Cheese Making, Part 1

August 27, 2012 11:44:00 AM EDT

cheese being cutCheese begins with milk, as most people know. But vinegar is a key ingredient that really gets the process going. Vinegar is what encourages the milk to curdle and give cheese an acidic flavor. Before vinegar, bacteria was used to produce the acid. Using bacteria is a lengthier process and the cheese continues to increase in flavor as it ages. Some of the most expensive cheeses are still made with acid-producing bacteria instead of vinegar.


Many cheeses can be made with vinegar, including the simplest of all, cottage cheese. Cottage cheese does not require rennet, which is an enzyme that helps to harden the cheese curds. This enzyme is derived from calf stomachs, as they have natural enzymes for processing cow milk. But rennet, as well as acid-producing bacteria, is temperature sensitive and requires several steps in processing. Vinegar bypasses several of these steps, leading straight to the cooking step. Harder cheeses also require the time-consuming process of draining, pressing, and drying the cheese, in addition to aging for several months.


Regardless of whether bacteria, enzymes, or vinegar are used, it all has to start with the milk. Fresh cow’s milk is the best for cheese making. Excellent cheese can also be made from the milk of goats, sheep, mares, and camels.


If fresh milk is not available, anyone who wants to make their own milk can do so with the milk found on grocery store shelves. Commercial milk is harder to work with because it is pasteurized, killing both the flora and fauna that help in the production of the milk. It deters from the resulting flavor of the cheese. However, pasteurizing provides the benefit of safety because it kills bacteria and other unpleasant microorganisms that could potentially make people sick.


Commercial milk is also homogenized, making it harder to produce cheese from. To homogenize means to break up the fat lipids into such a tiny size that they will never separate like they naturally would in fresh milk. This can cause the cheese to turn out waxy and sticky. Using skim milk and replacing the fat with whipping cream can help to improve the resulting texture of the cheese.


Stay tuned for Part 2 for more information on the making of cheese.

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Origins of Cheese

August 24, 2012 11:34:00 AM EDT

cheeseCheese; It’s a staple used in main dishes, sides, and even desserts all over the world. Cheese comes in many forms and varieties, from Muenster to ricotta and from blue cheese to string cheese. Everybody has their favorite. But where does it all come from? When did cheese become a part of the human diet and how did it develop through the years? After all, cow and goat milk was intended for calves and kids. When was it that someone discovered the possibility of taking that milk and making it into something uniquely created for human consumption?


Thousands of years ago, sheep were domesticated for the production of milk. Cows were later domesticated and also used for milk production. Milk from these animals has been consumed by human beings for at least 8,000 to 10,000 years.


One theory that might explain the discovery of cheese is milk being stored in the stomachs of animals. Just as animal bladders were used for many years for storing water, it is quite possible that milk could have been stored in stomachs. Enzymes dwelling in the lining of the stomach could have begun to curdle the milk, deriving soft cheese. Or, when milk began to curdle on its own, people could have added salt to preserve it, which would have encouraged the development of cheese.


Either way, by the time of the Roman Empire, cheese making was a common practice throughout all of Europe, with a tremendous trade market involving several types of cheese. In Egypt, burial tombs predating 2000 B.C. contain murals depicting the making of cheese. And the Greeks mention cheese making in their mythology.  Thus it is clear that cheese has been around for a very long time.


Until recently, most cheese was made and consumed at home. Farms of all sizes and even humble cottages contained simple cheese-making equipment and most societies considered it somewhat of a delicacy. Eventually, however, it was realized that it could be an excellent product for manufacture. The first cheese factory was founded in Switzerland in 1815. Today, cheese is mass-marketed and produced on such a large scale that almost all people in most industrialized nations have access to cheese.

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