One often hears, mostly from so-called food purists, that they do not eat processed or industrial cheese but only real
cheese. As cheese makers, we often speculate as to which cheese they are referring to. Maybe it is time to inform cheese lovers, also the food purists, how cheese makers see cheese.
Before the Industrial Revolution all cheese was artisanal made and is therefore wise to start there. Artisanal cheese of that period simply meant that it was made on farms from milk produced on the farm. Traditional methods were used to make labour intensive and highly individual cheeses in small volumes. Quality was of an acceptable standard but could vary from day to day depending on weather conditions, milk quality and which family member made the cheese. Today, artisanal cheese is still mostly made on farms however, in many cases milk is bought in from surrounding dairy farmers because many recognise milk production as a separate and specialised industry sector. When artisanal cheese is made from milk produced by the cheese maker’s own animals, it is correctly referred to as farmstead or farmhouse cheese. Regardless of the origin of the milk, artisanal cheese is today still synonymous with small volumes and unique individual characteristics. The quality, although influenced by terroir, milk quality and cheese maker expertise, is of a much higher standard than ever before.
Industrial cheese is a direct result of World War II when the size of dairy farms increased which resulted in bigger cheese factories. Milk quality improved, production increased and cheese making methods were standardised to produce consistent good quality cheese as a food for growing populations. Purists sometimes frown upon industrial cheese because they want more individuality and are under the incorrect impression that it is highly “processed”. Industrial cheese is made according to the same seven manufacturing steps as artisanal cheese, but mechanisation has the potential to reduce contamination and thus improve quality compared with manual production. It is fair to argue that it is equally challenging for industrial and artisanal cheese makers to make 500 000 and 50 kilograms of good cheese respectively per day. Industrial cheeses might lack individual identity due to its uniformity and homogenised flavour but one should not forget that all cheese makers have the same objective: to make cheese which is nutritional, value for money and can be enjoyed by consumers. One should also not underestimate the role, which food production engineers play in designing and building ingenious cheese making equipment to make large volumes of consistently safe and good quality cheese.
Processed cheese is made from natural industrial and artisanal cheese
, milk ingredients, emulsifiers
and melting salts. In some instances colourants, flavourants and popular foods are added to make it more attractive for consumers, especially children. Although many purists shun this type cheese, it is an important member of the cheese family and eaten in large quantities in many well-known cheese-producing countries such as Germany, France and the USA. It is to a large degree the humble processed cheese slice, which initiated cheese consumption in Asian and African countries, mostly as an important ingredient in the fast food industry.
The lovers of real cheese, when pressed for a description or definition, use words such as genuine, traditional and authentic. However, it can be argued that all artisanal, farmhouse, industrial and processed cheeses are genuine, traditional and authentic. Regardless of what type of cheese maker, we are all proud to make a healthy, tasty, nutritional and handy food for the modern consumer.