How to Look At Cheese

© Copyright 2018 Abdullah Idrees, Ryerson University

Cheddar Cheese Wedge
J. P. Lon, “Somerset-Cheddar”, From J. P. Lon. A wedge of Unpasteurised West Country Cheddar cheese, made in Somerset (with PDO.). Retrieved February 14, 2018, from Wikimedia Commons, 2007. Used with permission from J. P. Lon.

This is cheese. It is yellow, it is triangular, and it looks savory. And yet, that is where the elegance of its simplicity stops. Because how can something look savory? How can something look like it tastes, if it is savory at all? When it comes to cheese, it is more than what meets the eye because it is more than a scrumptious food product. It is a process.

Not many people realize that when they look at cheese, they are really looking at processed milk. In an attempt to prevent milk from spoiling during a time when refrigerators were nonexistent, the liquid was acidified, curdled and salted to maintain its protein and calcium heavy components while increasing its half-life (“Cheesemaking 101”). Different methods lead to different results, with vinegar and lemon juice being used interchangeably depending on the specific tangy taste an epicure may be looking for in their goat cheese (“Cheesemaking 101”). Even the curd processing manipulates the final product. Moist cheese, such as mozzarella, is the result of water processing whereas Cheddar cheese focuses on wicking moisture away, the many methods creating variations of identities that differ in appearance, texture, color, shape, and size (“Cheesemaking 101”).

It also does not grow on trees in the form in which it is consumed, like fruits or vegetables, but what it manages to do is be multifaceted in its synthetic existence. Its eclectic adaptability adheres it to visual culture, seeing as how a burger looks incomplete without the yellow tint of a processed cheddar slice, or how a fruit plate would feel empty without the quintessential Brie. Even a mass culture contender such as Cheetos would be a dud without the infamous seasoned cheese powder. It is not merely a snack in the form of wrapped cheese strings for lunchtime nor a quick protein and calcium boost before or after a workout. It’s a metaphorical irony, made up of living bacteria and mold that do not poison the consumer when the conventions of jargon would indicate otherwise. The product even manages to skirt the lines of artificiality, seeing as how it is just put through the natural state of dehydration and flavorings, complimenting nature without insulting it the way genetically modified organisms would. So when one looks at cheese, one sees every ounce that was curdled and every minute spent through the curd processing, resulting in the physical manifestation of a universe of flavor. Visually speaking, it is not the physical characteristics of cheese that are all to be seen but the senses that amalgamate in order to convey the vicarious experience of taste and texture based on appearance alone.

Cheese is a complex amalgamation of proteins, enzymes, and compounds that have effects on how it tastes based on appearance, ranging from the sour, pest infused Casu Marzu (Persad) or the penicillin infused Blue Cheese (Meier). It only makes sense that people do not look deeply at something when it is taken for granted, considering the ubiquitous nature of cheese. But then again, there are millions of overlooked micro-universes in the world with that of cheese making the rankings.


Works Cited


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.