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From Milk to Cheese

Millennia of Italian Cheese Making

Cheese is one of the most ancient foods. Like butter, it was a good way to preserve milk
before refrigeration. All cheese begins the same way, with fresh milk. But is it morning milk
or afternoon milk? Summer milk or winter milk? Italian cheese makers know this makes a
difference.

Then an enzyme or an acid is added to make the milk curdle. Originally the enzyme, called
rennet, came from the stomach of a lamb or kid. Later it came from a calf. Sometimes early
cheese makers used vegetable rennet, from fig sap or members of the thistle family, which
includes artichokes and cardoons.

After milk and a curdling agent, salt is the third critical product in cheese making. Salt is
not there just for the taste. It also interferes with undesirable organisms. And it aids in
aging by sucking the moisture out of the cheese. So salt is either added directly to the
cheese, or sometimes the cheese is bathed in brine. The amount of salt in cheese can
vary from less than 1 percent to almost 5 percent. The permutations possible by
combining these three factors are endless.