How Cheese Works

Cheese History and Culture

According to legend, the first cheese was made when someone, probably in the Middle East, discovered that storing milk in a calf's stomach over a long journey made it separate into curds and whey. Cheese was found in an Egyptian tomb dating to 3200 B.C., and Homer mentioned it in "The Odyssey'" [source: Lambert]. It became popular as a way to preserve milk and keep it from spoiling in warm climates. Eventually, travelers brought cheese to Europe. During medieval times, cheese was perfected by monks in monasteries, who aged it in caves. Bacteria and molds that are now added by hand originally existed naturally or were accidentally introduced, creating new types of cheeses.

In Europe, laws regulate cheese and wine production. Name-controlled (or PDO, for protected designation of origin) cheeses are found in Italy, England, France, Switzerland and Spain. For example, cheese made in specific provinces in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy -- with a very specific recipe and technique -- is the only kind that can legally be sold as Parmigiano-Reggiano. Unless you buy cheese with that name stamped on its side, you're not buying "real" Parmesan cheese. (What does that tell you about those green cans of pregrated Parmesan?)

American cheese has long been reviled, but today artisanal cheesemakers are gaining a following in the United States. The first cheese factory was built in 1850 in New York state, but as dairy farms sprung up in the Midwest, cheese production moved there [source: Lambert]. Today, Wisconsin is the biggest cheese-producing state, with 25.9 percent of the country's cheese production in 2006 [source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board].

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You Cheesehead!
Residents of Wisconsin, and fans of the Green Bay Packers, proudly embrace the nickname "cheesehead." Wisconsin leads the country in cheese production, so that makes sense, but what does football have to do with cheese? Apparently, Chicago Bears fans began using "cheesehead" as an insult to Packers fans. But Packers fans embraced the name, and soon cheesehead hats and other merchandise went on sale as a way to show pride in the Packers and in Wisconsin.

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More Great Links


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