What exactly is cheese? | Ask Dr. Universe

What exactly is cheese? -Mark, 11

  • Monday, August 1, 2016 8:15pm
  • Life

Dr. Universe answers questions out of the Washington State University. Illustration by David Huyck.

What exactly is cheese? -Mark, 11

Cheese is delicious. At least, that’s this cat’s professional opinion. For the more scientific answer, I visited the cheese makers here at Washington State University.

Cheese is the fat and protein from milk, said my friend John Haugen who runs the WSU Creamery where they make Cougar Gold Cheese.

At the creamery, students test milk from the dairy to make sure its fat and protein ratio is just right for cheese. They also heat up the milk to get rid of any bad bacteria—it’s a process called pasteurization. Not all bacteria are bad, though. In fact, some bacteria are really helpful for making foods, including yogurt, pickles, and cheese.

All cheese is made with a kind of lactic acid bacteria. These tiny little organisms are so small you would need to use a microscope to see them. They eat the sugar in the milk and make acid. The acid gives the cheese its tangy flavor.

There are even certain kinds of bacteria that are in charge of making the holes in Swiss cheese.

As Haugen explained how they add bacteria into the milk, I wondered how the liquid mix becomes a solid.

Haugen said that we need an enzyme, a protein that has a very special job to do. In cheese, enzymes work on protein in milk to break the bonds that keep it together. The protein opens up and sticks to other proteins around it to create a solid. If the enzyme does its job, the liquid will thicken, or coagulate.

“It’s almost looks like thick yogurt,” he said.

After that, the cheese makers will cut up the coagulated milk. When it starts looking a bit like cottage cheese, a machine pumps the mix onto a metal table.

This mix is partly made up of whey, which is mostly water. The other part of the mix is the soft, fresh curds. You can eat the cheese curds. They are tasty. Trust me. But they aren’t quite officially cheese yet.

First, the student cheese makers will pack the curds together into big loaves. They will flip the loaves over several times in a process called “cheddaring.”

If you wanted your cheese to be stringier, softer, crumblier, or harder, you might treat it a little differently. But at the creamery, Cougar Gold gets cheddared, chopped up, and salted to kill off some of the remaining bacteria and to keep it from liquefying.

The cheddaring process is actually named after the place where cheddar was first invented—Cheddar Gorge in England.

During the 12th century, people kept their cheese in caves. The temperature and humidity was just right for storing cheese.

At the WSU Creamery, cheese is also stored at just the right temperature, but inside tin cans.

“It’s almost like its own little cheese cave,” said Haugen. The cheese will stay in the can one full year before we eat it. Aging the cheese helps bring out the flavors.

After my visit to the creamery, I learned cheese is not just delicious. It’s milk, bacteria, enzymes, and salt. It’s science.

Sincerely,

Dr. Universe

More in Life

Enumclaw High hosts 7th annual Empty Bowls event

The event, held at Enumclaw High School, will help fund the Enumclaw Food Bank and Plateau Outreach Ministries.

A modern fairytale with a twist

He did it on one knee. One knee, with a nervous grin… Continue reading

Read the first two books before tackling ‘Banished’

Well, look at you. And you do — ten times a day,… Continue reading

Breakfast for the Birds coming Feb. 21

Celebrate the coming of spring with breakfast, fun hats and Ciscoe Morris.

With help from ‘The Grumpy Gardener,’ you can prepare for spring | The Bookworm

Normally, you’d never allow it. Holes in your yard? No way! Trenches… Continue reading

How to keep The Courier-Herald visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections, and you might see less news. Here’s how you can fix that.

A small act of kindness can make a big impact | SoHaPP

Join SoHaPP’s book group this February to discuss “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. Don’t have the book? Check it out at the Enumclaw Library or visit The Sequel.

This book will WOW you | Point of Review

Wow. Just… wow. Did you see that? Wasn’t it awesome? It was… Continue reading

EHS graduate McNab promoted to Lieutenant Colonel

Tom McNab was recently promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force.

White River Valley Museum opens “Suffer for Beauty” exhibit

Corsets, bras, and bustles, oh my! The White River Valley Museum is hosting its new event, “Suffer for Beauty,” which is all about the changing ideals of female beauty through the ages. The exhibit runs through June 17.

Library’s art and writing contest returns to Pierce County | Pierce County Library System

Pierce County teens are encouraged to express themselves through writing, painting, drawing and more for the annual Our Own Expressions competition, hosted by the Pierce County Library System.

‘School of Awake’ offers advice to adolescent girls

Twinkle, twinkle. For as long as you can remember, you’ve known how… Continue reading