Valley Bounty: Cheese
People have been making cheese for longer than they have been writing down the things they make. We do not know the exact circumstances of the production of the very first cheeses, but it may have been a consequence of nomadic people storing milk in sheep or goat stomachs, which would have provided the right mixture of acid, bacteria, and rennet (enzymes found in the stomachs of ruminants) to produce cheese from milk. This proved to be a useful way to preserve milk long before refrigeration and pasteurization, and was practiced intentionally as far back as 6,000 B.C.
It is interesting to think of cheesemaking as a kind of guided, intentional spoilage; the cheesemaker works with the microorganisms and enzymes, controlling their environment to direct them towards a particular outcome. Though all cheeses are made using the same basic principal and types of ingredients, subtle differences in environment, method, and strains of bacteria are responsible for the wide variety of cheeses we enjoy today.
Fortunately for us, the knowledge of those techniques has made it through centuries and from all around the globe to our local dairies and cheesemakers, who produce a huge variety of styles of cheese. If you’re entertaining this holiday season, visit a local retailer or winter farmers’ market and see if you can find a local cheese in a style that’s new to you—I’m willing to bet you can find a new favorite.
Valley Bounty is written by Brian Snell of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)