The origin of cheese and cheesemaking is unknown, but the practice is closely related to the domestication of milk producing animals; primarily sheep, which began 8 – 10,000 years ago. The art of cheesemaking is referred to in ancient Greek mythology and evidence of cheese and cheesemaking has been found on Egyptian tomb murals dating back over 4000 years.
Cheese may have been discovered accidentally by the practice of storing milk in containers made from the stomachs of animals. Rennet, an enzyme found in a stomach of ruminant animals, would cause the milk to coagulate, separating into curds and whey. Another possible explanation for the discovery of cheese stemmed from the practice of salting curdled milk for preservation purposes. Still another scenario involved the addition of fruit juices to milk which would result in curdling the milk using the acid in the fruit juice.
During the time of the Roman Empire, cheesemaking had become a widespread, highly valued process practiced throughout Europe and the Middle East. In the Julius Caesar era, hundreds of varieties of cheese were produced and traded across the mighty Roman Empire and beyond. The Roman influence though documentation and trial and error also aided in refining and improving the techniques employed to make cheese.
As cheesemaking flourished in Europe and the Middle East, North and South America were completely void of cheese and the art of cheesemaking until much later when it was introduced by European immigrants.
Many of the popular cheeses today, such as Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan and Gouda, are relatively new, appearing only in the last 500 years.
Some guidelines to your favourite cheeses – there are five main categories:
Soft cheeses are those with interiors that are neither pressed nor cooked. Their texture is creamy, velvety and almost melts in the mouth because their moisture level varies between 50% and 60%. Their butterfat level varies between 20% and 26%. This percentage is higher in double- and triple-cream cheeses, which are made with milk and cream.
Soft cheeses are divided into two categories:
SOFT CHEESE WITH BLOOMY RIND
This type of cheese includes Camembert From Here or Brie From Here, and they have a delicate taste. They are produced by leaving curdled milk to drain in moulds for a few hours before salting. Then, the external surface is sprayed with a culture (penicillium candidum) that gives the cheese its characteristic white and fluffy rind called “bloom.” The cheese is then ripened for about one month during which time the texture and colour of the interior becomes more and more consistent.
SOFT CHEESE WITH A WASHED RIND
The manufacturing process is similar except that the curdled milk is removed before being moulded, which allows for better draining. The result is a denser but still soft interior. The cheese ripens for two to four months. Then it is washed and brushed on several occasions with brine to which alcohol is sometimes added. The term “mixed rind” indicates a cheese that was washed at the beginning of the ripening period, then left to continue ripening as the microbial flora does its work.
Very often, soft cheeses are served with crusty bread and fresh grapes at the end of a meal. However, they are also served at wine and cheese tastings, or added to sandwiches, soups and cooked dishes.
With a 45%-50% moisture level, these cheeses contain a firmer and more compact texture than you can obtain by mechanically pressing curdled milk to extract additional whey (lactoserum). In some cases, to intensify draining, the interior is heated slightly. This category includes a wide range of cheeses that vary enormously according to the production process as well as the ripening method and duration.
Overall, there are two semi-soft cheeses:
To obtain this appetizing texture, you first divide the interior and drain it with mechanical pressure. Then, the interior is heated to reduce moisture. Next, the cheese is interior-ripened, i.e. the aging process starts in the centre and ends on the outside edge. Some cheeses in this category develop a relatively firm rind, which is washed or brushed periodically. Others are covered with a light protective paraffin or plastic film.
Everyone has heard of the famous Oka from this category. After having been mechanically pressed, the interior of these cheeses is ripened on the surface, i.e. the aging process progresses from the outside towards the interior of cheese. This delicate operation is carried out in a cold room where the cheese is turned and washed periodically with a salt water solution.
In addition to being an essential ingredient for fondues, semi-soft cheeses enhance the taste of pizzas, pasta dishes, quiches, soups, salads and sandwiches. The majority are also delicious for the raclette.
This is the most important category with its large number of cheeses and the popularity of its varieties. It includes well-known selections like Cheddar and Gouda. Generally without a rind, these cheeses have a supple and elastic texture.
The interior is drained and pressed to withdraw the most whey (lactoserum) possible before being cooked or semi-cooked. The moisture level is between 35% and 45%. Some firm cheeses (like curd cheese or fresh Cheddar) are not ripened, which explains their under-developed flavour. Others are interior ripened for three to six months. In some of these cheeses, “eyes” form when gas is created before the interior hardens.
Firm cheeses are unequalled when it comes to adding sharpness to vegetables, omelettes, au gratin dishes, quiches, pizzas and soups.
Blue-veined cheeses are more commonly called “blue” because of the bluish or greenish veins that furrow the interior.
Production is similar to that of soft or non-cooked semi-soft, with one important exception: you incorporate a culture (penicillium glaucum roqueforti or penicillium candidum) with the curdled milk to promote the development of mould in the interior. Ripening, which lasts several months, takes place in a humid place. In order to facilitate air circulation in the interior and to promote the development of veins, the cheese wheels are pierced with long needles.
This type of cheese is eaten plain with fresh fruit or nuts. It is also served with cooked meats, pastas or vegetables. It can also thicken a sauce, enhance a fondue or give dip a tangy flavour.
Fresh cheeses are obtained simply by leaving milk out in the ambient air to allow it to curdle naturally. The curdled milk is then poured into a small basket with holes (the “cheese drainer”), which allows the whey to drain out and gives the cheese its final form. The addition of ferments acidifies the milk, transforming it into firm curdles that are crumbly, permeable and delicate. Fresh cheeses have a moisture content higher than 60%, and they have a more or less dense texture that can be liquid, smooth or creamy. These cheeses need to be eaten quickly after they are made. Fresh Cheddars and Ricotta cheese are part of this category.
Fresh cheese such as Ricotta can be served with crackers, and in sandwiches and salads. It is also perfect for delicious dessert recipes or for stuffing meat and vegetables.
~ Added info courtesy Our Cheeses
Keep your cheese in similar conditions as they mature, i.e. hard, semi-hard and semi-soft cheeses are stored in temperatures of around 8 – 13 C.
Here are a few tips from Serenata Flowers to keep in mind when you’re next shopping for a wine and cheese combo.
The age of the cheese will often determine its intensity. The aging process of cheese is called “affinage” and is where the water slowly evaporates, leaving behind a harder cheese that has a much more intense flavour.
While the age of cheese will dry it out, it also has a large impact on the taste and flavours left behind.
Rind cheeses like Brie are soft and gooey but have picked up an “earthy” flavour from the caves they are kept in while older cheeses such as Gruyère and Emmental obtain a more nutty flavour, just as blue cheese acquires pungency from the mould.
Just as cheese changes with age, so does wine. Wine flavours range from delicate to bold while their depth and complexity will also be affected by the age.
Younger wines are often spirited with lively aromas whereas older ones will be earthier as the flavours will have knitted together over time.
Salty and sweet flavours work well together, especially when it comes to wine and cheese. The sweetest of wines will complement the saltiest of cheeses and the high salt found in blue cheese and Gouda will intensify the sweetness of the wines to make a perfect pairing.
Rich, creamy cheeses complement an oaky white wine and create the perfect sensation on your palate.
However, a stark contrast can also work well – depending on your taste buds. Try combining a sparkling wine or champagne with a rich cheese. This is why champagne and Camembert cheese work so well together.
Cheese and wine cheat sheet
With the above tips in mind, here is your ultimate guide on pairing the perfect wine with the ideal cheese.
1. Fresh and soft cheeses
Both fresh and soft cheeses work really well with crisp white and dry rosé wines as well as with sparkling wines (if you’re in the mood). White wine teamed with apple, berry and tropical fruit tastes can also work perfectly well with this type of cheese but you should avoid tannic red wines as this will overpower the taste of the cheese.
Cheeses: mozzarella, ricotta, halloumi, feta, brie and Camembert
Wines to pair with: champagne, cava, Chablis, pinot gris, pinot grigio, un-oaked chardonnay and lambrusco
2. Semi-hard, medium-aged cheeses
These cheeses will have a firmer texture and stronger flavours in comparison to softer cheeses and will therefore need a medium bodied wine to accompany them. Fruity reds, full bodied whites and a vintage sparkling wine will add the acidity needed to balance out the taste of these cheeses.
Cheeses: havarti, Edam, Emmental, Guyère, young cheddar and Manchego
Wines to pair with: chardonnay, white and red Burgundy, white Bordeaux, champagne, pinot noir, vintage port, zinfandel and merlot
3. Smelly cheeses
Smelly cheeses require a light bodied wine that won’t overpower its strong flavours. The trick here is to complement rather than challenge the taste of the cheese.
Cheeses: epoisses, taleggio and morbier
Wines to pair with: gewurztraminer, riesling, sauternes, red Burgundy and pinot noir
4. Blue cheeses
Blue cheeses require wine that is not only a little sweet but which also has some “oomph”. This is to help balance and complement the saltiness which the cheese brings to the table.
Cheeses: stilton, gorgonzola, Roquefort, cambozola and Bleu d’Auvergne
Wines to pair with: red port, tawny port, sauternes, Oloroso sherry, banyuls, recioto and tokaji
5. Hard-aged cheeses
Harder aged cheeses work extremely well with full bodied white wines and tannic reds. Their nuttiness will also work incredibly well with sherry and sweet wines so there is plenty of choice.
Cheeses: aged cheddar, Cheshire, Comté, aged Gruyère, aged Gouda, pecorino, Manchego, asiago and parmigiano reggiano
Wines to pair with: white Burgundy or Bordeaux, white Rhone, sweet riesling, viognier, vintage champagne, vin jaune, red Burgundy, red Bordeaux and Cabernet sauvignon
The all rounder…
If you’re looking for one perfect wine, guaranteed to complement all/most cheeses then a stunning sparkling wine – dry and sweet – can work really well as their acidity will balance the nuttiness and saltiness of the cheese.
Choosing the ideal wine for your cheese doesn’t need to be too difficult. Use this guide to get the balance of flavours and textures just right and you and your guests will have nothing to worry about!
Cheese contains a host of nutrients such as calcium, protein, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12.
A great round-up of cheese from eatout.co.za
Asiago is a Italian cow’s milk cheese with a texture that varies according to its age. Most commonly it appears as a crumbly aged cheese with a tangy, strong flavour.
Bleu en Blanc is a South African cheese created by Fairview. It has the outer shell of camembert with marbled blue-mould veins within.
Bocconcini are delightful, egg-sized mozzarella balls. Originally made only from the milk of water buffalo, they are now usually a combination of cow’s milk and buffalo milk.
Brie is a soft, cow’s milk cheese named after and produced in Brie, in the Île-de-France region. Brie is usually sold in triangular wedges (or segments) from a larger wheel. Try French toast with brie and vanilla bean compote.
Camembert is a French cow’s milk cheese with a soft texture, buttery colour and white rind, which is produced in rounds. Camembert, made in Normandy, was issued to French troops in WWI, keeping it firmly established in the hearts (and bellies) of the French public. Try this caramelised shallot and camembert tart or these pork and apple burgers topped with camembert.
Cheddar is one of the most popular cheeses in the world. If you don’t know what it looks or tastes like, you’ve got some serious work to do. Try these cheddar sconesor a heavenly soufflé with caramelised pear.
Cheshire is a cheese produced in England and Wales. It is semi-hard and firm, with a crumbly texture that breaks down easily in the mouth, and a mild, milky taste.
Chèvre simply means cheese made from goat’s milk. French chevré takes many forms, such as bucheron, crottin, chavroux and rocamadour. Try pan-fried courgette flowers with goat’s cheese stuffing.
Crottin was originally produced in the Loire Valley in France, but Fairview also makes a version. Made of goat’s milk, it has a white rind and a firm, nutty character.
Danish blue or Danablu is a blue-veined semi-soft cheese originally created to rival the roquefort. It’s usually served on an after-dinner cheese board or crumbled into dishes.
Dubliner is an Irish hard and slightly sweet cheese, which aims to combine the bite of parmesan, the sharpness of mature cheddar and the nuttiness of Swiss varieties. A noble cause, if you ask us.
Emmental/ emmentaler/ emmenthal is the proverbial holey Swiss cheese (hopefully minus mouse), with a mild flavour and pale yellow colour.
Epoisses de Bourgogne is widely considered one of the more, erm, fragrant of cheeses, made from cow’s milk, with a salty and creamy taste. Apparently it was a favourite of Napoleon’s. (Maybe it’s what he kept reaching for inside his jacket.)
Edam was particularly popular for sea travel between the 14th and 18th centuries due to its longevity. Bright yellow in colour with a red wax, it is very mild, contains little fat, and has almost no aroma. It pairs well with fruit and certain off-dry wines.
Feta is a crumbly goat’s milk cheese made in Greece (but made with cow’s milk elsewhere). It is produced in flat blocks and stored in brine, lending it its salty taste. Try this simple feta tart, or this more decadent mushroom, butternut and feta cheesecake.
Gorgonzola is an Italian blue cheese made from cow’s milk. It tends to be salty and creamy with a slight crumble. Gorgonzola is traditionally added to short pasta (not spaghetti) and is popular as a pizza topping. Try mushrooms with blue cheese and sage polenta or baby beetroot, blue cheese and walnut risotto.
Gouda is a super-mild Dutch cheese made from cow’s milk, which has a mellow yellow colour. Sadly, a lot of the gouda sold in South African supermarkets tends to be luminous in colour, tasteless and rubbery. Try get your hands on the proper milky-coloured Dutch stuff.
Gruyère is hard and slightly sweet, with a nuttiness that becomes more earthy with age. It’s named after the Swiss town Gruyères. Worship at the alter of this slow-roasted tomato and gruyère tart.
Grana Padano is one of the most well-known Italian cheeses. It’s a hard cheese perfect for grating, and has a grainy texture that increases with age.
Halloumi is made in Cyprus with a mixture of goat, sheep and sometimes cow’s milk. An unripened brine cheese, it’s quite firm and salty and can be fried (hooray) thanks to its high melting point. Try aubergine rolls baked with halloumi and red peppers.
Havarti is a Danish cow’s milk cheese with a semi-soft texture, pale yellow colour, slightly sweetish taste, and holes dotted throughout. It is often flavoured with spices, herbs and fruit.
Huguenot is the largest head of cheese produced in SA, according to its makers, Dalewood. It’s semi-hard with nutty overtones and tastes incredible after maturation for at least 6 months – and even better after 24, we’re pleased to be able to say.
Imsil cheese is produced in the Korean village with the same name. A Belgian missionary came to the country in the 1950s and started a farmers’ milk co-operative, which eventually became a cheese and yoghurt factory.
Jarlsberg is a Norwegian cow’s milk holey cheese with a firm texture, sweet and nutty flavour, and wax rind. Great for grilled cheese sandwiches.
Jack cheese (or Monterey Jack) is a semi-hard American cheese made from cow’s milk. Pale yellow in colour, it’s very mild and versatile. It is a favourite grated or melted on sandwiches, and is frequently flavoured with peppers, herbs and spices.
Korbáciky is a ‘string cheese’ from Slovakia, which is traditionally rolled on women’s thighs (yes) and knotted together into braids. It is sometimes flavoured with smoke and garlic.
Limburger is a semi-soft, washed rind cheese from Belgium. Made from cow’s milk, it has a creamy interior and orange rind (and a rather stinky aroma). It pairs well with all things Germanic (naturally), such as icy beer, rye bread and onions.
Labneh originated in the Middle East and is the middle sibling of cheese and yoghurt. It can be served fresh, or dried and rolled in spices and stored in olive oil. Sheep’s milk and cow’s milk are generally favoured, but in Saudi Arabia the milk of camels can also be used.
Mozzarella is an Italian fresh cheese made from either cow’s or buffalo’s milk. Mild in flavour and bouncy in texture, it becomes stretchy when melted and for this reason is popular as a pizza topping. Try this recipe for pan pizza.
Mascarpone is a decadent Italian cheese made from cow’s cream, which has a soft and creamy consistency. It is prevalent in desserts, especially when served with nuts and figs. Try these delicate macaroon tartlets with fresh raspberries.
Neufchâtel, made in Normandy, has a white rind and a taste said to resemble mushrooms. Produced in heart shapes, this cheese is believed to date back to the 6th C.
This is, no doubt, the shape of your mouth while reading this list.
Paneer, which is very popular in Indian dishes, has been compared to less salty cottage cheese. Made from cow’s milk curds, it has a mild taste and soft texture.
Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the most well known Italian cheeses. Hard and golden in colour, it is made from cow’s milk and is aged for an average of two years. Grate it into pasta dishes and risottos and shave it into salads. Never buy the smelly pre-grated variety in packets! Try this asparagus and pea risotto, brocolli soup with parmesan toasts, or brinjal and tomato parmesan bake.
Provolone is an Italian semi-hard cheese made with cow’s milk. It can vary in flavour, from sweet to sharp.
Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk in Italy to produce a hard cheese with a crumbly texture and buttery flavour. This cheese is more affordable the Parmigiano-Reggiano and is used in pasta dishes and salads, as well as on a cheese board.
Queso blanco is a soft and creamy fresh (unaged) cow’s milk cheese similar to paneer and feta made in Spain, Portugal and in South American countries including Mexico.
Raclette is a Swiss cow’s milk cheese loved for its meltability. (This should be a word.) It’s a social cheese, which is melted in the centre of a table on a special grill or in front of a fire. The diners then scrape off the melted cheese and enjoy it with cold meats, pickles and potatoes.
Roquefort is a French, soft, sheep’s milk cheese with a blue/green mould and no rind. It’s creamy, tangy and complex, and pairs especially well with figs, fruit and nuts.
Ricotta is an Italian whey cheese with a creamy and soft consistency and mild flavour. It can be produced from sheep, cow, goat or buffalo milk whey. Make this sweet fig and ricotta tart or rye crostini with roasted peppers, broad beans and ricotta.
Stilton is an historic English cheese with a blue vein (blue stilton) or without (white stilton), both of which have DOP status. While some consider the blue version to be unpleasantly stinky, true cheese lovers enjoy it simply on a cheese board with crackers and pears, in sauces and salads, and paired with a sweet wine.
Taleggio is a washed rind and smear-ripened Italian cheese with a pungent aroma and comparatively mild flavour. It melts well. Try this potato, taleggio and spinach tart.
Urda is a fresh white cheese from Romania (similar to ricotta) that is popular throughout eastern European countries. It is used especially in desserts.
Velveeta is an American-style cheese with (we think) an alarmingly yellow hue and soft, ‘velvety’ texture.
Wensleydale is a cow’s milk cheese named after the town in which it has been produced for centuries, Wensleydale in Noth Yorkshire in England. In its traditional form, the cheese is crumbly but creamy, but recently fruit such as cranberries and apricots have been added to it.
Xynomizithra is a Greek sheep and/or goat whey cheese produced on the island of Crete. The cheese is soft, white and creamy, with a sour taste. It is commonly served with honey as a dessert. Xynomyzithra Kritis is a European protected designation of origin (DOP).
Yaroslavsky is a Russian (who’d have guessed from the name?) hard cheese made from cow’s milk, with a slightly sour taste. It is usually produced in rounds.
Zakusochny is a Russian soft, blue, cow’s milk cheese.
Zufi is an Italian cow’s milk cheese similar to ricotta made in Piedmont.