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Cheese

( Originally Published 1918 )



'"THE chief constituent of cheese is casein coagulated by the action of rennet. But, prepared from casein alone, cheese would be coarse and almost tasteless, and when dry would become as hard as stone. To give tenderness and flavor to the paste-like mass, the cream is commonly retained in milk used for making cheese. The casein furnishes the main substance of the product, while the cream contributes what might be called the seasoning.

`Hence we have two principal varieties of cheese: one, prepared with milk from which the cream has been taken, contains only casein ; the second, made from unskimmed milk, contains both casein and cream. The first kind, known as cottage cheese, white cheese, or, more expressively, skim-milk cheese, has little food value and is not made for its own sake, but in order to put to some use the milk that has already served to make butter. The second kind, called cream cheese, is what commonly appears on our tables in different varieties and varying appearance, according to the quality of the milk and the mode of preparation.

"To make cheese still more unctuous and to give it a finer flavor, we do not always content ourselves with using milk in its natural state; to the cream that it naturally contains we often add some more from milk skimmed expressly for the purpose. The cheeses thus enriched with fatty matter are the most delicate of all. Again, we occasionally adopt a middle course, using neither natural milk nor entirely creamless milk, but of two equal parts of milk we keep one just as it is and skim the other, mixing them together afterward.

"By adding or withdrawing, in varying quantities, this fatty constituent of the milk, we obtain as many different varieties of cheese. If also we bear in mind that sheep's milk has not exactly the same properties as goats' milk, nor goats' milk the same properties as cows' milk; if we remember, further, that the same animal's milk varies according to the nature of its feed and the care given to the herd; and if, finally, we take into account the different methods of manufacture, of one sort in one place, of another sort somewhere else, we shall understand how numerous may be and in fact are the various kinds of cheese."

"For my part," Jules interposed, "I know at least half a dozen kinds. There is Roquefort, a pasty cheese streaked with blue and of a sharp flavor; Gruyere, riddled with large round holes and yellowish in color, and clear like quartz; Auvergne, as large as a big millstone and not very delicate in flavor; Brie, in thin, wide cakes that sweat a kind of ill-smelling cream; Mont d'Or, packed with a little straw in a round deal box; and a lot of others that I can't remember now."

"Jules has just told us the best known kinds of cheese; I will add a few words on the way they are made.

"Fresh cheeses are those that are eaten soon after being made. They are white and soft. They are made of either skimmed or unskimmed milk, and in the latter case they are incomparably better. When the rennet has brought about coagulation, the curdled milk is poured into round molds of tin or glazed earthenware, with holes in the bottom for the escape of the whey contained in the curdled mass. As soon as this has drained enough and is sufficiently firm, the cheese is done, and it is taken from the mold ready for the table without any other preparation."

"That's the cheese I like best," Emile declared. "It 's the kind we spread on slices of bread to make those delicious sandwiches."

"That is very true, but it has the fault of not keeping long. In a few days it turns sour and uneatable. All the other cheeses would do the same, all would spoil and become sour if certain measures were not taken to prevent this. These measures consist in the use of salt, which is rubbed and sprinkled on the outside of the cheese, and sometimes. even mixed with the curd itself. All cheeses, then, that are to be kept a long time receive more or less salt, while fresh cheese is not salted at all.

"Of these salted cheeses some are soft, some hard.

That of Brie, named from the district where the best is made, in the department of Seine-et-Marne, is a large and thin soft cake, made of sheep's milk. It is salted on both sides with finely powdered salt, and is left to soak for two or three days in the salted liquid that drips from it. The salting finished, the cheeses are packed in a cask with alternate layers of straw, and are left alone for several months. Then there starts a kind of fermentation, which is the be-ginning of putrefaction, and which develops new qualities. The curd loses its odor and insipid taste of milk-food, to acquire the heightened flavor and strong smell of cheese ; its mass becomes more oily, even partially fluid, and changes under the rind to a liquid pap of creamy appearance. This work of modification is called refining. It has gone just far enough when the liquid part under the rind is of a pleasant taste. The cheeses are then taken out of the cask and are ready for eating.

"This first example shows us that cheese acquires its peculiar qualities through an incipient deterioration. Before this putrefaction sets in the cheese is simply curd, sweetish, insipid, without pronounced odor; after this process it has the odor, the taste, in fact all that is required to make it really cheese. But the putrefaction, once started artificially, does not stop where we should like it to stop. It goes on all the time, slowly indeed if we take some precautions, and the cheese, smelling more and more, and tasting stronger and stronger, ends by becoming a mass of rottenness. All cheese, therefore, when it gets too old, is sure at last to go bad; it spoils by continuing to excess the kind of deterioration that in the beginning gave it precisely the qualities de-sired.

"From its appetizing flavor and fine texture Roquefort is the king of cheeses, the prominent feature in any well-appointed dessert. Its renown extends all over the world."

"That's the cheese that is so strong and takes so much bread to go with it " asked Emile.

"Yes, that is it. Its pronounced flavor and its blue streaks make it easy to recognize. It is made in a village of Aveyron called Roquefort, and is obtained from sheep's milk only, the best of all milk on account of its richness in casein and butter."

"Brie cheese also," observed Louis, "is made of sheep's milk; yet it doesn't compare in quality with Roquefort."

"That marked difference shows us how much the method of making it determines the quality of cheese. You have just seen what pains are taken with Brie cheese; now see how much care is given to Roquefort.

"The cakes of curd are not thin in this case, but as thick as they are wide. They are stored for months in grottoes hollowed in the heart of a rock, either by nature or by man, in the environs of the village of Roquefort. These grottoes are remarkable for the strong currents of air that circulate through them, and for the coolness of their temperature. During the summer, while the thermometer outside marks thirty degrees,' it shows but five inside the cheese caves. The difference is that between the heat of an oppressive summer and the cold of a severe winter. It is in the depths of these cold caves that the cheeses acquire their peculiar qualities. The only care given them is an occasional rubbing with salt and a scraping of their surface to remove whatever moldiness may have developed. This moldiness even gets into the inside by degrees, where it forms blue veins. But that is in no way detrimental; on the contrary, the flavor of the cheese gains by the formation of this mold, which is merely another kind of rotting that adds its energies to those of the usual change undergone by cheese. Hence the makers are not content with letting nature produce these signs of moldiness : they hasten the process by mixing with the fresh curd a little powdered moldy bread. The cheese would be better if left to its own working, but this addition accelerates the result, and today, alas, in the making of Roquefort, as in so many other branches of industry, there is greater eagerness for quick results than for excellence.

The cheese called Auvergne is made in the mountains of Cantal. Cows' milk is used. When the curd has formed, the dairyman, legs and arms bare, mounts a table and tramples and compresses with feet and hands the mass of fresh cheese to squeeze out the whey. The curd is then separated, mixed with pounded salt, and pressed in large round molds containing up to fifty kilograms. These enormous cheeses are finally left in cellars to the action of fermentation, which perfects them.

"Gruyere cheese owes its name to a little village in the canton of Fribourg in Switzerland. In the Vosges, Jura, and Ain a great quantity of this cheese is made. This too is made of cows' milk. The milk, after a third of its cream has been skimmed off, is slightly warmed in large kettles over a brisk fire. Then the rennet is poured in. When the curd has formed, it is separated as much as possible by being stirred in the kettle with a wide paddle, after which it is warmed still further. Finally the curd is collected, placed in a mold, and subjected to strong pressure. The cheese thus produced is next rubbed several times with salt, and then stored in a cellar and left undisturbed for two or three months. It is during its stay in the cellar that the holes or eyes characteristic of Gruyere cheese make their appearance; they are due to bubbles of gas released from the fermenting substance of the cheese. You will notice in the making of this kind of cheese the application of heat. The milk is warmed over the fire just before the rennet is added, which is not done in the other kinds. Hence Gruyere cheese is called cooked cheese.

"If kept too long, all cheeses are sooner or later invaded, first on the outside and then within, by mold, yellowish white at first, then blue or greenish, and finally brick red. At the same time the cheese decays and acquires a repulsive odor and a taste acrid as. to make the lips sore. The cheese is then a mere mass of putrefaction to be thrown on the dung-hill. The rate of decay is proportioned to the softness of the cheese and its permeability by the air. Therefore, in order that it may keep well, it must be carefully dried and also reduced to a compact mass by strong pressure. That is why so much force is exerted in pressing the large cheeses of Gruyere and Auvergne in their molds. But it is nothing in comparison with certain cheeses, called Dutch cheeses, which are noted for their extraordinary lasting qualities. They become so hard and dry that before they can be eaten they sometimes have to be broken up with a hammer and put to soften again in a cloth wet with white wine."

"Those very hard cheeses, as solid as a rock, can't be of much use," commented Emile.

"That is where you are mistaken. Cooks use this hard cheese to season certain dishes, after grating it to a powder. It is also in favor on shipboard as a valuable article of food on long voyages. The Dutch cheese is round like a ball, and has a reddish rind. It takes its name from the country where it is made."



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