© Copyright 2022 Veron Zhou, Ryerson University.
For lactose-intolerant people, cheese is either an antagonist or their guilty pleasure. In a world of cheeses, we often forget how cheese has infiltrated food culture and our diets. One can think of the cheese string commercials, parmesan cheese grated on pasta and ‘cheese pull’ videos that surround and encourage the consumption of cheese. Despite its popularity, cheese is easily forgotten in part due to its continued production and wide availability. Yet when one envisions a world without cheese, the effects are more drastic than expected as it would affect hundreds of recipes. A cheeseless world means no cream cheese frosting on red velvet cupcakes, no cheese on pizza and no mozzarella corn dogs. For some people, this would be devastating while others may be indifferent.
To an amateur, cheese is just cheese but if they looked closer perhaps they would notice the sheer variety of cheeses that exist with their distinct appearances, textures and shapes. For example, fig. 1 shows a small selection of cheese types that range from white to yellow while blue cheese has multiple colours. Looking closely, one can see the crack, holes and texture abnormalities on the cheeses such as on the mezzo secco (see fig. 1). Further, notice the different shapes with the mozzarella cheese as a circular ball while the brie is in a triangular slice (see fig. 1). To amateurs, these differences of appearance seem random but they actually distinguish cheese types and reveal aspects of their respective cheesemaking processes.
To cheesemakers and enthusiasts, the cheese’s appearance reveals its creation process. The most telling aspect is the presence of a rind which can be used to estimate the time the cheese spent aging and the toughness of the cheese texture (Kubick). Although processes may vary, the longer time spent aging results in thinner and denser rinds with a firmer cheese texture. For instance, the Robusto cheese has a thinner and compressed rind because it has aged longer so the texture would be harder than a goat cheese which has a thicker but softer rind with a softer texture (see fig. 1). Using the presence of a rind, cheesemakers and enthusiasts can gain insight into the cheese’s creation by looking at its surface appearance.
It is important to note that the aging process is also relevant to the intensity of the flavour and aroma. The flavours may seem irrelevant when looking at cheese but it is how culinarians see cheese, by the possibility of their consumption. Due to the various flavours and textures, different cheeses will complement different dishes, for instance, mozzarella’s mild taste and soft texture go well in a simple Caprese salad while the stilton’s rich combination of sweet and nutty pairs with crackers and honey. The variety of cheese types allows chefs to see cheese through the ways it can be prepared and served to their guests.
You don’t have to like cheese but there are many ways to look at it. Next time you look at cheese, really look at it. Is it just cheese? Or is it ‘cheddar,’ ‘stilton,’ or ‘feta’? Look closely and perhaps you will see one that you want to try.
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.
Kubick, Erica. “What Is This Shit All up on My Cheese? And…Can I Eat It?” Cheese Sex Death, www.cheesesexdeath.com/wtf-is-a-cheese-rind#:~:text=Left%20to%20their%20own%20devices,spices%2C%20and%20flavorings%20like%20paprika.
Cheese Types. From FTD Fresh. “How to Make the Perfect Cheese Platter.” FTD by Design, ftd.com, 14 Dec. 2015, https://www.ftd.com/blog/celebrate/cheese-platter.