What exactly is cheese? | Ask Dr. Universe

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.

Dr. Universe answers questions from Washington State University.

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

Get your fill of winter activities on Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier’s landscape undergoes a dramatic transformation in winter.

Bonney Lake, Sumner gear up for holiday festivities

Plateau holiday festivities are right around the corner.

Enumclaw, Buckley busy during the holidays

What’s going on during the holiday season on the Plateau? Here’s a list of activities you and your family may enjoy!

Giving Trees help kids with Christmas

Nexus Youth And Families Enumclaw is asking local residents to help a child in need this Christmas by participating in the organization’s Giving Tree program.

Art display by local teachers, students

For the next month, the city of Enumclaw, 4Culture of King County and Arts Alive! will present an exhibition of current works by students of local art class teachers.

Surplus van benefits Enumclaw seniors

A surplus Metro Transit van was donated last week to the Enumclaw Senior Center to assist the facility in meeting a variety of transportation needs.

Preventing a Hepatitis A outbreak | Public Health Insider

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by a highly contagious virus. A large outbreak in San Diego, along with outbreaks in Los Angeles and in Salt Lake City has Public Health officials concerned that a hepatitis A outbreak could occur in King County. Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s Health Officer, explains who’s at risk and what can be done to prevent an outbreak.

Rescue group aims to save dogs’ lives; Saturday fun run will benefit the cause

All great dogs end with a tail, but this great tale begins with a dog.

Annual quilt show coming to Expo Center

The Crystal Quilters are preparing for a return to the Enumclaw Expo Center, getting ready for their 22nd annual quilt show.

Scottish Country dancers return to Enumclaw for 23rd year

For more than two decades, this group of dancers — now led by Jim and Pat McDonald — has been encouraging people from all over South King County and East Pierce County to learn more about their Scottish heritage or, barring a clan bloodline, to just get out and try something new.

Learn to compost with some red wrigglers

The Dinkelman Worm Farm is hosting a vermiculture demonstration — or the cultivation of earth worms — at the Delvin Farms Good For All Plants event next weekend to help people create compost in their own homes to help benefit their gardens or farms.

Free series provides insight from expert on death, dying

As a funeral home director in the 1980s, Duane Weeks began wondering why people weren’t dealing with death very well.