What makes different types of cheese taste so different?


What makes different types of cheese taste so different?

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To make cheese, all you really need are three ingredients: milk, salt and live microbial cultures including rennet. The specific strains of microbes added to the milk play an important role in giving each variety of cheese its distinct flavor.

There are several things that go into the flavors of cheese. To understand it, first you need to know how it’s made. To begin you need to make the curds. This is done by making the milk more acidic so that it curdles. For most cheeses this is done with a bacteria culture, but for certain cheeses this can be done with an acid.

For aged cheeses you can use a bacteria culture. There are two main bacteria culture types, mesophillic and thermophillic. Each of them has several different strains that each taste a little different. There are also bacteria that produce gas, like the bacteria used for Swiss cheese to make the holes.

For fresh cheeses (mozzarella, Ricotta, etc) you can often just use an acid to curdle the milk like citric acid, vinegar or lemon juice. Each of these can have their own slight flavor to them.

For many cheeses, you have to age them. The amount of time you age them will allow for the bacteria to grow, the flavor to deepen and the cheese to dry out a bit. Things like Parmesan age for years to get that strong flavor and really hard dry texture.

While aging it, you can either seal the cheese in a wax or let it develop a natural rind. The rind will grow other bacteria and molds on its surface that will influence the flavor.

There are also certain things you can add to the cheese. For example you can add an enzyme called lipase to get that flavor that Romano and Provolone have. Or you can add mold starters to them to get things like bleu cheese.

You can process cheese to make it more melty and give it a different texture. This was how they used to make American cheese, but I think the big companies make it from the byproducts of the cheese making process now.

You can take the curds of two different cheeses and press them together to make a sort of hybrid cheese. If one cheese is colored, then it will also give the marbled appearance. Think Colby Jack for instance.

Finally, you can add flavors to cheese using other ingredients like salts, spices, peppers, vegetables, wine, and a whole lot more.

EDIT: I almost forgot. You can make cheese with different types of milk. Cow’s milk will taste different than goat milk for instance.

The magics of microbiology. Bacteria and fungi digest protein, sugars and fats in the milk to support their own growth. Some may go ham on milk sugars, some may break down fat preferentially, some produce byproducts to inhibit the growth of their competitors, some eat the waste produced by others; it’s a wild party with a packed buffet table. The waste products and by-products of that digestion include aromatic stuff like organic acids, amines, ketones, esters and more. Cheese typically contains considerable microbial diversity which evolves over time and according to various preparation/ripening parameters like temperature, oxygenation, salt, water and fat content, inoculation of the surface or interior with specific bacteria and fungi, etc. There’s also the notion of terroir, whereby the milk has a certain nutrient and aromatic profile based on what the animals eat and both the milk and the preparation/ripening facility have a specific, desirable microbiological composition, leading to a particular combination of flavors and aromas in the finished product.

There are two fundamentally different kinds of cheese. Acid set cheeses like paneer and ricotta, and rennet set cheeses like cheddar and parmesan. They use different chemicals to make the milk solidify.

Cheeses can be made from different milks that have different flavours. Cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, and so on.

The milk can be processed in various ways before being turned into cheese. The cream can be separated and used to make cream cheese, or the whey left over from making a rennet cheese can be set with acid to make a type of ricotta.

Acid cheeses need an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, and different acids in different quantities taste different.

Rennet cheeses also need some acid, though less than acid set cheeses and they usually get it from bacteria cultures added to the milk. Different cultures produce different flavours. Some cultures require different temperatures such as the high temperature cultures used in Alpine cheeses like Emmental.

Different cheeses have different moisture content which affects their texture and flavour. This is the fundamental difference between Cheddar and Colby. Controlling the size of the curds, the pressure the cheese is pressed into shape, and intermediate steps like Cheddaring allow for different moisture contents.

Many rennet set cheeses are aged which does a number of things but a big one is giving the still live bacteria in it to grow very slowly at low temperature. Some aged cheeses also introduce mould, usually a strain of Penicillium which makes blue veins through the cheese and changes the flavour significantly.

Some fresh cheeses that aren’t aged are heated and shaped while in a plastic, not quite molten state. This can make for stretchy cheese like mozzarella.

Some cheeses just add extra flavourants like herbs, spices, or alcohol.

Cheese can also be altered after the fact. Some cheeses are smoked or emulsified.