There are nearly two thousand different varieties of cheese in the world. Cheese has been around since ancient times. Murals in Egyptian tombs that depict cheese-making date back to somewhere around 2000 BCE but it’s believed that the first cheese was made much earlier, between 8000 BCE and 3000 BCE. It is thought that the first cheese was made accidentally while trying to transport or store milk and probably tasted sour and salty and had a consistency like today’s feta cheese.
Pilgrims to the United States brought cheese on their ships, including the Mayflower in 1620. The first industrial cheese factory opened in 1815 in Switzerland but successful large-scale production began years later in the United States around 1851. During the era of World War II, factory cheese making became more widespread than traditional methods. Factories are now the primary source for cheese in the United States and Europe.
The United States produces more cheese than any other country in the world, more than eight billion pounds every year. Nearly twenty million metric tons of cheeses are produced throughout the world. More cheese is produced annually worldwide than coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans and tobacco combined! Despite its large production, most of the United States’ cheese remains domestic. France, therefore, is the biggest exporter of cheese, based on export value. In quantity, Germany is the biggest exporter and Germany imports more cheese than any other country. People in Greece eat more cheese than anyone else in the world, averaging about 27.3 kilograms per person, three quarters of which is feta cheese.
It takes approximately ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese. Cheese is produced by draining the whey, or moisture, from milk after its protein hardens. Acids aid in this process and enzymes or microorganisms may be added to cheese to produce these acids. Some cheeses, such as blue cheese, brie and gorgonzola are exposed to mold which helps them to age. About a third of the milk produced in the United States goes into the manufacture of cheese. Cheese can be made from a variety of different milks including cow, sheep, goat, buffalo, horse and even camel. Cheese is an important food source because it travels well, has a long life, and is high in fat, protein and vitamins. Did you know that some varieties of cheese are actually outlawed? Cheeses are typically outlawed because they are not pasteurized and not aged for the recommended amount of time, making them full of bacteria, particularly listeria, that could potentially make a person ill.
Cheese, eaten in moderation, can be an excellent source of calcium, protein and phosphorous. It often gets a bad name for being high in saturated fat though. Certain varieties of cheese such as cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and American, may help to prevent tooth decay. It is thought that cheese may increase the flow of saliva which helps to eliminate acids and sugars in the mouth. The vitamins in cheese may help to protect tooth enamel, and the cheese may actually have an antibacterial effect.