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CHEESE FACTS! The FAQ's!

 

Dairy intolerance: the word “dairy” is usually restricted to meaning cows milk products, to which an estimated 20% of the UK population is said to have some intolerance. If this affects you, consider goats, ewes, or buffalo milk products: all are available through local producers and distributors.

Lactose intolerance: all milk of animal origin contains lactose, but not in the same proportions – see the table for comparisons.

Migraines:
often associated with cheese consumption, we have observed over the years that about 50% of our customers who suffer this way are in fact reacting to the coagulant used to create the curds: cheeses made with non GMO vegetarian coagulants rather than traditional rennets of animal origin do not cause problems. Unfortunately we know of no way to predict the reaction of an individual so affected – it does mean a trial. The majority of modern British cheeses are made with vegetarian rennet. Your supplier should be able to advise. Tip - the majority of traditional Continental cheeses with an AOC or equivalent do not use vegetarian rennet.

Fat content: an unnecessary worry for most people, but there are conditions where it must be watched ie diabetes. Fat content is measured in a two main ways: fat in dry matter (FIDM) and overall fat, both expressed as a percentage. The fat in dry matter measure is always higher, since it reflects the fat content of a sample after all other moisture has been driven off. Overall fat reflects the proportion of fat per mouthful, as it were. This can be very confusing, since a young, fresh cheese may be made with full fat milk or even with added cream – but the moisture content is so high that the overall fat content is quite low.
The fat content of many cheeses is not as may be expected. Grana-type cheeses (Parmesan, Grana Padano) are all made with semi-skimmed milk, and so have a fat in dry matter percentage about half that of a traditional cheddar. Dorset Blue Vinny has half the fat of Stilton, but all the flavour. There are many cheap low fat cheeses on the market, and generally they have little flavour and rather too much salt, colorants and preservatives: the other staple reduced fat cheese is Jarlsberg – looking a little like a Swiss Emmental, but softer, more creamy coloured. Regular Cottage cheese is low fat anyway, about 4%-5%, and a good one, like the Irish Compsey Creamery has a good taste and texture. At the bottom end of the fat content league table is Ricotta; made properly, it is produced from the whey left after production of another cheese – whey itself is high in sugars and protein and contains less than 1⁄2% fat, but beware – many branded ricottas include a lot of cream, to take them up to around 30% fat. “Proper” ewes milk and cows milk ricottas are available from local suppliers. Cheeses like Brie and Camembert may look fatty if they have been properly matured, but a “real” Brie made from untreated milk is usually less than 40% FIDM: in addition, in your digestive system there is an interesting reaction involving calcium and the fat in untreated milk which results in about 16% of the fat present being converted to stearates which you cannot digest, thereby further reducing the fat available.

Food safety:
dairy produce is treated as if it were highly dangerous – it is not. The people producing quality products on a small scale have no interest in poisoning their customers. The rule of thumb we work to at home is well tried: a dairy product typically has to be too foul to eat before it will do you any harm. The food safety information distributed typically to the pregnant or immunologically compromised is, in our view, policy rather than science. The facts of cheesemaking life are that raw milk has its native population of lactobacilli – they go through their life cycle, multiplying and producing lactic acid: the cheesemaker measures the increasing acidity of a batch prepared for cheesemaking, and when it is at a level beyond the tolerance of pathogens such as listeria monocytogenes and salmonella, the cheesemaking begins. Once a cheese is more than three months old, it is irrelevant in terms of “safety” whether or not the original milk was heat treated.
Consider: if you are seriously concerned, do you boil the water you use to clean your teeth? You should, because you are more likely to get something out of the tap than from a dairy product of any sort.

Flavour: in “real” cheese, it all depends on the breed of animal, the quality of the feed, the cheesemaker him- or herself, the recipe, the type of maturing etc. etc. etc. In general, cheeses made from unpasteurised milk develop a far greater range of flavours than those made from treated milk: the flavour precursors in milk are all highly volatile, fat-soluble substances, 90% of which are driven off by heat treatment – that simply removes the possibility of developing the full flavour possible. A good retailer will expect you to taste before you buy.

Strength: even at the simplest, strength of flavour in cheese is not easily reduced to a number on a scale. Palates differ, and the sequence in which foodstuffs are taken influences ones perceptions. Many harder cheeses produced for mass consumption taste “strong” because they have been made very acidic – look beyond the bite on the palate and ask yourself “does this actually taste of anything?” Like good wine, good cheese develops both acidity and fullness of flavour which integrate well over the maturing period.


Nutritional comparisons

Contituents/100g unit Cow Goat Sheep Buffalo
Protein g 3.2 3.1 5.4 4.5
Fat g 3.9 3.5 6.0 8.0
Carbohydrate g 4.8 4.4 5.1 4.9
Energy K cal 66 60 95 110
  K J 275 253 396 463
Sugar (Lactose) g 4.8 4.4 5.1 4.9
Fatty Acids  
Saturated g 2.4 2.3 3.8 4.2
Mono-unsaturated g 1.1 0.8 1.5 1.7
Polyunsaturated g 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.2
Cholesterol mg 14 10 11 8
Calcium iu 120 100 170 195


Please note that these are typical readings, not absolutes. The key factors here are the broad comparisons: cows milk is highest in saturated fats, sheep and buffalo typically have half their fats mono- or polyunsaturated. Sheep and buffalo also are a rich source of calcium, zinc and B-complex vitamins (not shown in the table above)


Name as a guide to content: some popular cheese types such as Feta and Halloumi can in their native land be made, in the case of Feta, from either 100% ewes milk, or up to 80%:20% ewes milk and goats milk. If you are looking for such cheeses in order to avoid dairy beware: cheap variants of these cheeses in some supermarkets include cows milk in order to keep the price down. Tip – read the small print! Or shop with a retailer you can trust – cherish the cheesemongers of this world!

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