Have you ever heard that eating cheese at night will give you nightmares? Truth be told this is nothing more than a cheesy legend. In fact, cheese can actually help a good night’s rest – it contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that has been shown to reduce stress and induce sleep.
So there’s one cheese myth cleared up for you right off the bat. And in the interest of keeping you cheese lovers knowledgeable (and eating your cheese morning, noon and night), here are some more interesting titbits and facts you should know about your favourite food.
ProductionCheese can be made from a variety of milks, not only from cows, but goats, sheep, buffalos, and even horses and camels. It takes about 10 litres of milk to make one kilogramme of Cheddar. Speaking of Cheddar, cheeses with bright orange to red hues (Cheshire, Red Leicester) get their crimson colouring from annatto, a natural flavourless dye obtained from the pulp of a tropical South American tree.
As for mass production, more cheese is made in the United States than any other country: about 6,717,000,000 pounds of it per year! In the UK, more than 700 varieties of cheese are produced, and some, like Stilton and West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, are PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheeses. That means they may only be produced according to strict rules in designated counties.
ConsumptionCheese is purchased by more than 98% of British households. The average person eats about 30 grammes of cheese per day, with the favourite being Cheddar. It accounts for more than 55% of the cheese market. The runner-up is Mozzarella. The French, Italians, Greeks and Germans eat almost twice as much cheese per day, mostly because they include it with breakfast. Deliciously smart, no?
NutritionCheese is one of the most concentrated sources of key nutrients, including calcium, protein, and vitamins A, B12 and D. While fat content differs among the many different varieties, the average is somewhere around 34%. Not bad for a food that’s not only delicious, but packed with nutrients necessary to build and maintain our bodies. An added plus – eating a piece of cheese after a sugary snack can actually help restore minerals to tooth enamel and protect against tooth decay.
StoringFor firm and semi-firm cheeses, wrap them airtight in plastic or foil. Most will keep for several weeks. For longer storage, you can wrap the cheese in a paper towel dampened with cider vinegar and store it inside a sealed plastic bag. This will help inhibit the growth of mould.
Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert should be stored at a cool room temperature for a day or two to bring them to perfect ripeness. After that, tightly wrap and refrigerate.
Fresh cheeses (cottage, cream, ricotta) should be stored in their original containers in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Mind the expiration date on the package and use within one week after opening.
PreparingCheese develops the optimal flavour and texture when served at room temperature. Take it out of the refrigerator 30 minutes to two hours before serving. If you can’t use a whole cheese at once, cut off only what you can eat and keep the rest tightly wrapped in the refrigerator. Moving cheese back and forth from the refrigerator only hastens moisture loss and spoilage.
If a little mould appears on the surface of your hard or semi-firm cheeses, simply use a knife to cut it away – the cheese is still safe to eat. If mould shows up on soft cheeses, throw them out. Shame on you – you didn’t eat them fast enough!
Odd BitsYour cheese education wouldn’t be complete without some rare truths to entertain guests at your next cocktail party. Did you know…
- Cheshire is thought to be the oldest British cheese. It’s even mentioned in the Doomsday Book, commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1085.
- Each spring, locals from Stilton, Peterborough have a race by rolling giant wheels of Stilton.
- Shropshire Blue is not from Shropshire. It’s made in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.
- Caerphilly cheese was once a traditional lunch for Welsh coal miners.
- In 1987, a 1,400-year-old piece of cheese was unearthed in a Tipperary bog in Ireland. It was still edible.
- King Henry II declared Cheddar to be the best cheese in Britain.
- Skunks love cheese. It seems Cheddar is their favourite as well!