Cheese is probably the most important dairy product and it is all about milk. Without milk, we won’t be able to make and eat cheese. Milk is a complex and fascinating liquid that nourishes infants, children and even adults. It is one of the most ancient parts of humanity and associated with the birth of human and other animals. The abundance of milk had lead to invention of cheese and other important dairy products. Cheese is a form of preserved milk and its concentrated vital nutrients is available in a portable and compact form.
Archaeological evidences have shown us that sheep is probably the first milk-producing domesticated animal at about 8000BC, before cows and goats. Early cheese making techniques are still shrouded in mystery, but it is believed that cheese making activities started about 7000 years ago.
There are three different milk types that can be used to produce cheese.
Cows are found in many parts of the world and they are one of the mammals with the largest stature. Dutch Holstein is the ubiquitous black and white milk-producing cows. They are champion milkers and can produce about 6 gallons of fresh milk each day. Some breeds produce milk with higher protein and fat content at lower volume.
As a result, each breed may produce cheese with different slightly different texture, consistency and taste. Gruyere and Fontina are two important traditional cow-based milk cheese; known for their sweeter flavours.
Goats are tougher than cows and can tolerate more arid and hotter environments. Goats eat wider variety of plants than cows; not just grass, but also vines, weeds, woody plants and shrubs. This results in cheese with unique taste. Fresh goat milk can be sweet and smells creamy with tangy flavour and lemony aroma.
There are multiple varieties of goat milks, such as the ripened ones, including Humboldt Fog and Bucheron. Fresh chevre is also preferable if it is produced in local areas. We can serve these delectable, tangy and unique cheeses with more acidic white wine, such as Pinot Blanc or Sauvignon.
Sheep are hardy animals and they are typically found in grassland. They thrive in both cool and warm areas. However, well-known milk-producing sheep breeds are usually found in warmer climates. Other than for its meat and wool, sheep dairying is also the most ancient organized industries in human civilization. Cheese produced from sheep milk is known for its rich texture and savory flavour.
Most important dairy sheep breeds include Lacaune and East Friesian. Manchego and Ossau Iraty are two famous sheep cheeses that can be found in Spain and France. If we are lucky enough to visit places where these cheeses are produced, it is a good idea to head immediately to local sheep creameries.
These sheep milks are known for their savory and rich taste. They should pair well with more fruity red wines, such as Syrah and Zinfandel.
Cheese tasting is an exciting activity and we should try it whenever we have the opportunity.