Explore the science and the art of cheesemaking and the development of this ancient biotechnology into a modern industry.

Cheesemaking concentrates and preserves milk’s nutrients

Cheese is a concentrated form of key nutrients in milk – mainly protein and fat. Milk is about 86% water – it also contains fat, carbohydrate, proteins, minerals and vitamins. The cheesemaking process removes water from milk and, combined with the conversion of lactose to lactic acid and the addition of salt, increases its shelf life.

Discovering cheese

Cheese was probably first discovered by observing the accidental souring of milk and then pressing and salting the solid curd to preserve it. Understanding and controlling the process of coagulation probably stemmed from using animals’ stomachs as early storage vessels. The rennet from the stomach combined with the warmth and movement while carrying it would gradually turn the milk into curds and whey.

The cheesemaking process

Cheesemaking involves coagulating the casein protein in milk and then using varying methods of processing the curd to expel the liquid whey. The whey is drained off, and the solid curds remaining are salted, shaped and left to ripen in a controlled environment. Microorganisms are used at each step of the process and play a key role in determining flavour and texture characteristics of the final cheese. The science of cheese explains the process in more detail.

Diversity of cheese characteristics

Cheese comes in numerous varieties of different styles, textures and flavours. Most cheese types originated many centuries ago, and their typical style and characteristics can usually be attributed to the unique cultural context and conditions of the community or region of origin.

The numerous differences in cheese characteristics are created by the source of milk, the microorganisms introduced and variations in the method of processing – even slight changes can create significant differences.

Cheesemaking the traditional way

Gouda is a semi-hard Dutch cheese. Hamilton-based artisan cheese factory Meyer Gouda Cheese makes traditional Gouda using milk directly from the adjoining farm. The source and freshness of the milk used contributes to the quality and consistency of their cheeses.

Meyer makes their cheese by hand in the traditional way to retain the authentic style and characteristics of traditional Gouda cheese produced in Holland.

The art and the science of cheesemaking

Until the industrial age, cheesemaking was an art. It was made by hand in small quantities on the farm, with traditional skills and techniques being passed down through the generations and establishing some of the distinct styles that exist today.

The growth of large-scale factory-produced cheese, along with the application of developing scientific and technological knowledge, has brought efficiency and standardisation to cheesemaking and transformed it from an art to a science. However, the art of cheesemaking and traditional methods have been retained and are valued in the production of artisan cheeses. As people have become increasingly distanced from food production and concerned about the environment, there has been a revival of interest in artisan-style products.

The articles Scaling up cheese making and Uses of whey explore recent changes to cheese production.

Take up the challenge

Students can have first hand experience with the cheesemaking process. The activities Safety in cheesemaking and Plan quality control testing help prepare students for developing and making cheese in the classroom. Separating curds and whey and Identifying cheese characteristics involve investigations of the sensory kind!

Useful links

Meyer Gouda Cheese website.

Read about Meyer Gouda Cheese’s successes from 2013 onwards at the Champions of Cheese Awards on the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association website.

This resource links to NCEA level 2 technology assessment resources in manufacturing – Technology 2.12 and 2.13 – published on the TKI website.

    Published 23 March 2012