Cheese Facts


There are more than 200 varieties of cheese produced in the United States; and over 1,400 kinds catalogued in the World Cheese Exchange Database.

Different ingredients and processes are used to make the different types of cheese, and each type possesses its own distinct texture and flavor profile.

Cheesecan be made from whole, 2% lowfat, 1% lowfat or fat-free milk, or combinationsof these milks. About one-third of all milk produced each year in the UnitedStates is used to make cheese. In 2003, a total 8.5 billion pounds of cheesewas produced in the United States.

Cheesesare categorized in several ways: natural versus process cheeses, unripenedversus ripened and soft versus hard.

Natural cheeses

Natural cheese is a general classification for cheesethat is made directly from milk. In fresh, unripened cheese, the curd, separatedfrom the whey, can be formed into cheese immediately, whereas in matured orripened cheese, the curd may be further treated by the addition of selectstrains of bacteria, mold, yeast or a combination of these ripening agents. Thebacteria, mold and yeast continue to ripen the cheese over time, changing thecheese's flavor and texture as it ages.

Naturalcheeses are often categorized according to their moisture or degree of softnessor hardness. Soft cheeses include Brie, Camembert, ricotta and cottage cheese.Semisoft cheeses include blue, brick, feta, Havarti, Monterey Jack, mozzarella,Muenster and provolone. Hard cheeses include Cheddar, Colby, Edam, Gouda andSwiss. Very hard cheese varieties include Parmesan and Romano.

Process cheeses

These cheeses are made by blending one or more naturalcheeses into a homogenous mass, heating the mix and adding emulsifying salts,which modify the appearance, texture and flavor of the cheese. Process cheesescontain more moisture than natural cheeses. Pasteurized process cheeses includeAmerican cheese, cheese spreads and cheese foods. Cold-pack cheese is a blendof natural cheeses processed without heat. Flavoring and seasonings are oftenadded to these.

Cheese powders

Cheese powders, or dehydrated cheeses, are prepared using a single cheesevariety or a blend of various cheeses. Products may be all cheese or a blend ofcheese with other dairy ingredients (for example, whey, nonfat dry milk, etc.),food ingredients and/or color. Some typical applications for cheese powdersinclude prepared dry mixes, sauces and snack foods.

Enzyme-modified cheese

These cheeses are special flavor ingredients thatblend lipases (natural food-grade enzymes) together with natural cheese tointensify the effect of cheese flavor development. Available in paste or powderform, applications include flavor enhancement of pasteurized process cheese andcheese sauce, salad dressing and snack foods.

Cheese analogs

Analogs, or cheese substitutes, are cheeselikeproducts made with nondairy ingredients such as corn oil. These nondairyproducts have less flavor and poor melting performance.

Cheese is basically a concentrated source of themany nutrients found in the milk from which itwas made. Milk itself is regarded as a nearly complete food. It is extremelydifficult to present average nutrient values for cheese as a whole due to thedifferences in manufacturing processes and standards of identity. Even withinone variety of cheese, variations in the type of milk, processing, season andlocality can lead to marked fluctuations in nutritional composition.

Consideringthat it takes about 10 pounds (5 quarts) of milk to make 1 pound of whole milkcheese, cheese is a nutrient-dense food. Cheese provides calories; high-qualityprotein; vitamins; and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus and zinc.

The fat content of cheese varies by type. Forhealthy people, cheese can be a part of the everyday diet when consumed inmoderation, like any other food. Fat is necessary in the human diet totransport fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K into the body. Many cheeses are anexcellent source of calcium and a good source of protein and phosphorus whilebeing low in trans fatty acids.

For individuals wishing to lower their calorieor fat intake, a variety of lowfat cheeses are also available. These include:

  • Lowfat cheese: 3 grams or less of fat per reference amount (1 ounce formost cheeses, 4 ounces for cottage cheese).
  • Reduced-fat cheese: 25 percent less fat perreference amount than its full fat counterpart.
  • Fat-free cheese: less than 0.5 grams of fat per reference amount.
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