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Nature Bulletin No. 657   November 25, 1961
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
John J. Duffy, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

Bread and cheese are two of the earliest foods produced by man. The Old Testament relates that David was carrying ten cheeses to his brethren when he met and slew Goliath. On clay tablets discovered in the Euphrates valley and dating from about 3000 B.C., there are references to cheese. Roman soldiers and Viking sailors received cheese as part of their wages. Since ancient times, in many parts of the world, various kinds of cheese have been made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, mares, camels, llamas, reindeer, buffaloes and zebras.

The distinctive nature of cheese is that it contains and preserves, in a concentrated form, almost all of the food values in the milk from which it was made: butterfat, proteins (mostly casein), minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, Vitamin A and riboflavin.

Many people have a notion that cheese is indigestible and constipating. Actually, cheeses are from 90 to 99 percent digestible and valuable food for both children and adults. The people in countries where cheese is an almost continuous part of the diet have the highest national averages of health.

Cheese is the curd obtained from milk by coagulation of the casein: by natural souring, as in homemade cottage cheese; by adding a "starter" containing lactic acid bacteria; by adding rennet, a digestive enzyme used for centuries and obtained from the lining of the fourth stomach of a suckling lamb or calf; or by adding both bacteria and rennet. The watery content, whey, is usually drained off and used in other products or to feed farm animals. In America, almost all kinds of cheese are made from the whole milk or the partly defatted milk of cows. However, cottage cheese -- an ancient type -- is made from skim milk, and in cream cheese-- one of the few varieties that originated in America -- both milk and cream are used.

There are more than 400 recognized brands of natural cheese -- as distinguished from "processed" cheese and cheese spreads -- but they represent variations of about 20 basic types classified as hard, semi- hard, and soft. Excepting some of the soft kinds -- such as Mozzarella (used in pizza and lasagna), cream and cottage cheese, they are distinguished further by the ripening and curing or aging processes that determine the texture and distinctive flavor of the final product.

Blue cheese, Stilton and Gorgonzola -- all made from cow's milk and Roquefort, made from sheep's milk, have sharp piquant flavors and, throughout the body of the cheese, veins or mottlings of blue-green mold produced by sifting powdered bread mold or its spores into the curds. Camembert and Brie are soft cheeses made from cow's milk. Their distinctive characteristics are due largely to a penicillin mold that forms a rind on the surface.

Parmesan is one of the very hard, granular Italian cheeses commonly grated on spaghetti, etc. allowed to ripen slowly for 16 months or even several years, and rubbed occasionally with earth and oil, the exterior becomes dark green or black.

About 80 percent of all cheese produced and eaten in the U. S, today is American Cheddar, originally made at Cheddar, England; and in 1851 near Rome, NY, by the first cheese factory in this country. It became widely known as "store", "rat trap", or "Yankee" cheese. It is a mild firm cheese made from cow's milk. The flavor depends upon how slowly and how long it is aged -- from 30 days up to 2 years.

Most of our Swiss cheese is made in Wisconsin by a process developed in the Emmenthal region of Switzerland. To cow's milk, curdled with rennet, is added a special kind of bacteria which, when the big "wheels" are placed in a warm humid room, cause the characteristic holes or "eyes" to form and the cheese to acquire a sweet nutty flavor.

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