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Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. ― Clifton Fadimon

Processed cheese, popularly known as American cheese, is a milk product that has blended well with other compelling foods that are lined up in fancy-looking cartons in a supermarket. The delectable dishes that come to one's mind at the mention of 'cheese' is unlimited! And if you aren't someone who's feeling particularly gorged right now and is terribly devoted to pleasures of the table, especially foods with cheese sauces and the like, you must be within an ace from dropping off your chair by the sudden blow of a weakened state of hunger. Distracting oneself by making more use of your intellect than the heart of your stomach usually does the trick; so here now, I shall mention its etymology.

Etymology

The Old English word for 'cheese' was cyse that came from the West Germanic kasjus. In the German language, it is Käse. In Middle Dutch - case from the Latin word caseus; in Welsh - caws, perhaps from a Proto-Indo-European base, kwat, which means 'to ferment, become sour'. In India, in the ancient language of Prakrit chasi, meant 'buttermilk'; Old Church Slavic - kvasu, which meant 'leaven', kyselu 'sour', kyseti - 'to turn sour', and in Sanskrit, kvathati, which means 'boils, seethes'! With so many similar sounding words, one can't thoroughly ascertain how man got to know of cheese, but one can draw upon its extensive trail, as to how it may have originated in quite a few countries. And most ancient tales that are slight fables with interspersions of many promising facts sound enthralling. With the story of cheese, it was said that around 5000 BC, there were nomadic tribes from Central Asia galloping on their horses. They carried bags made out of goat's and sheep's stomach with milk in them. Their stomachs naturally contain a lining of rennet, lactic acid, and bacteria. As the horse galloped, the milk in them churned, and over time, curdled. They probably drank the whey, and left the rest in earthen pots where it fermented over time to form cheese.

Processed vs. Natural

Natural cheese can be made at home, it would probably be one of the healthiest to eat. It can be made from the milk of cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, and camels. Milk, which is one of the most important ingredients, is heated and brought to a certain temperature that is conducive for the growth of essential bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum) that would ferment it. The bacteria feed on the lactose in the milk turning it to lactic acid. Those that produce only lactic acid are called homofermentive bacteria, whilst the ones that make not only lactic acid but also other compounds like ethanol/acetic acid and carbon (CO2) as by-products, are called heterofermented bacteria. When the milk turns sour, it separates itself into curd and whey. Both have several nutrients like minerals, proteins, vitamins, and essential amino acids. The color and flavor of the cheese depends upon the quality of the milk from which it is made.

Here's a quick skim through the different types of cheese - cheddar, feta, asiago, blue cheese, brie, gorgonzola, Swiss cheese.

Essential Facts

The couple of rushing brand names that pop up into one's head the moment one thinks of processed cheese, are "Kraft", the French cheese - "La Vache Qui Rit" (pronounced as 'vahsh-keeh-ree'), which is more popularly known around the English-speaking world as "The Laughing Cow". Kraft, the largest company for confectionery foods and beverages in U.S.A., and hence well-known, was founded by James Lewis Kraft who was of German ancestry. It started flourishing with its myriad varieties of processed cheese being sold around 1914. The Laughing Cow, being originally French, has also gained world-wide popularity with the innumerable types of cheese it manufactures.

The Making

While manufacturing this cheese, natural cheese (cheddar is the most commonly used) is tempered with. Processing it involves the use of salts, emulsifiers, additives, preservatives,
and added artificial colors.

Salt

Salt is a natural preservative that plays a vital role in increasing the shelf-life of the cheese. It would most certainly contain a lot more sodium than those in an organic cheddar. Sodium multiplied by 2.5 is the salt content. Check the label for the percentage of ingredients. One has, hence, to be careful with the amounts of processed cheese he/she eats, as high intake of salt comes with its own soup of problems such as stroke, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, asthma, and also, if in dreadful extremes, it has been linked to stomach cancer.

Emulsifiers

Emulsifiers are molecules that are half water-friendly and half oil-friendly; which simply means that when they are used with pasteurized natural cheese, they add to its texture, stop the fat from being separated while being heated, and reduce microbial activity, thus increasing it's shelf-life by tremendous degrees. The emulsifiers used extensively are monoglycerides and diglycerides (E471), and acetic acid esters of monoglycerides and diglycerides of fatty acids (E472a) to give a wax coating for palatably aesthetic appeal.

Artificial Food Colors and Additives

Artificial food colors and food additives play a major role in the making. There can be some dangerous food additives. And these make the product quite unhealthy when added. The human brain was designed to understand naturally-occurring colors in fruits and vegetables and the foods we eat. When cheese is colored too unnaturally and vibrantly, the color tricks your innate senses into thinking that it is healthy. The human body is designed to eat natural foods and not ones that are made from unnatural chemicals. Coloring in foods has been linked to cancer and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). So it is best to see to it that the processed cheese you eat doesn't look too good to be true, because it probably isn't. Again, check the label to ascertain the percentage of ingredients.

There are various kinds of cheeses. Some can be eaten when they're fresh; while it is best to let some others age and ripen by keeping them in storage, having apt temperatures and levels of humidity, wrapped in cloth or hay, and in wispy cushions of flavoring molds. Every kind has its own personality, and gets better when put in different conditions in order to be of the most superior quality. Usually, it's the unpasteurized product that is of better quality than those that come from pasteurized milk. Though, the necessity to pasteurize it came due to the presence of a disease-causing bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis in milk-products. A lot of connoisseurs disdain the thought of pasteurizing milk for making cheese, as all the natural bacteria that give them their superior quality are killed in the process. They reckon that factories, where cheese is produced, are quite clean for manufacturing good natural products.

So, whether it is cheese or any other food product - it would be maintained that what is natural is always healthy and vice-versa. And cheese, with all its plumes of delicacy, has a right to be healthy. Certainly, it is the one with less use of chemicals. Processing cheese by adding too many additives and colors has nipped away some of the benefits of eating the natural product; and you and me, hopefully, shall learn to differentiate what is right for our bodies and what isn't. It certainly isn't the most difficult thing!