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About Cheese

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Cheese is a food made mainly from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep; however, it is made from the milk of other animals, too, including buffalo. Cheeses come in four main degrees of firmness, or “texture.” The texture of a cheese reflects whether or not it was aged, the processes used to create it, and how long it was aged.

Soft cheeses, such as cream cheese or cottage cheese, are fresh—they haven’t been aged.

Semisoft cheeses, such as brick and Muenster, are “young” cheeses—they’re aged for just a few weeks.

Hard cheeses, such as cheddar and Swiss, are aged for at least a few months, or longer.

Very hard cheeses, used for grating, or eaten in paper-thin slices, have been aged for nine months or longer.

Flavor

The flavor of a cheese also reflects a number of factors:

Type of milk used
Traditional cheeses are made from the milk of cows, goats, or sheep. Each kind of milk has a particular flavor, which varies with the season of the year. Spring and summer milk is often sweet and rich, due to the abundance of fresh forage available to the dairy animals.

Whether or not a culture was added
A culture, which is a beneficial bacteria or mold much like those used to culture yogurt, can give a cheese a particular flavor or tang. Blue cheeses are an example of cultured cheeses.

The cheese-making process
The cheese may be made in a sophisticated process—for example, mozzarella is fresh (unaged) cheese that is sliced and then kneaded like dough. Other cheeses may be cured in rounds, or given other special treatment.

Why are there so many varieties of cheese? The four basic types of cheese—soft, semisoft, hard, and very hard—are all produced in many countries, and each region has its own traditional versions of the basic cheese types.

Texture and storage time

The shelf life of cheese is based on its texture. Soft, fresh cheese keeps for just a few days. Semisoft cheese can be stored for up to two weeks. Hard cheeses are generally stable for four weeks. Very hard grating cheeses can be kept indefinitely if they are refrigerated.

Cheeses should always be refrigerated and well wrapped (in plastic wrap or foil, depending on the cheese).

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