CHEESE FACTS! The
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!