There are more than 200 varieties of cheese produced in the United States; and over 1,400 kinds catalogued in the World Cheese Exchange Database.
Different ingredients and processes are used to make the different types of cheese, and each type possesses its own distinct texture and flavor profile.
Cheese can be made from whole, 2% lowfat, 1% lowfat or fat-free milk, or combinations of these milks. About one-third of all milk produced each year in the United States is used to make cheese. In 2003, a total 8.5 billion pounds of cheese was produced in the United States.
Cheeses are categorized in several ways: natural versus process cheeses, unripened versus ripened and soft versus hard.
Natural cheese is a general classification for cheese that is made directly from milk. In fresh, unripened cheese, the curd, separated from the whey, can be formed into cheese immediately, whereas in matured or ripened cheese, the curd may be further treated by the addition of select strains of bacteria, mold, yeast or a combination of these ripening agents. The bacteria, mold and yeast continue to ripen the cheese over time, changing the cheese's flavor and texture as it ages.
Natural cheeses are often categorized according to their moisture or degree of softness or hardness. Soft cheeses include Brie, Camembert, ricotta and cottage cheese. Semisoft cheeses include blue, brick, feta, Havarti, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Muenster and provolone. Hard cheeses include Cheddar, Colby, Edam, Gouda and Swiss. Very hard cheese varieties include Parmesan and Romano.
These cheeses are made by blending one or more natural
cheeses into a homogenous mass, heating the mix and adding emulsifying salts,
which modify the appearance, texture and flavor of the cheese. Process cheeses
contain more moisture than natural cheeses. Pasteurized process cheeses include
American cheese, cheese spreads and cheese foods. Cold-pack cheese is a blend
of natural cheeses processed without heat. Flavoring and seasonings are often
added to these.
Cheese powders, or dehydrated cheeses, are prepared using a single cheese variety or a blend of various cheeses. Products may be all cheese or a blend of cheese with other dairy ingredients (for example, whey, nonfat dry milk, etc.), food ingredients and/or color. Some typical applications for cheese powders include prepared dry mixes, sauces and snack foods.
These cheeses are special flavor ingredients that blend lipases (natural food-grade enzymes) together with natural cheese to intensify the effect of cheese flavor development. Available in paste or powder form, applications include flavor enhancement of pasteurized process cheese and cheese sauce, salad dressing and snack foods.
Analogs, or cheese substitutes, are cheeselike products made with nondairy ingredients such as corn oil. These nondairy products have less flavor and poor melting performance.
Cheese is basically a concentrated source of the many nutrients found in the milk from which it was made. Milk itself is regarded as a nearly complete food. It is extremely difficult to present average nutrient values for cheese as a whole due to the differences in manufacturing processes and standards of identity. Even within one variety of cheese, variations in the type of milk, processing, season and locality can lead to marked fluctuations in nutritional composition.
Considering that it takes about 10 pounds (5 quarts) of milk to make 1 pound of whole milk cheese, cheese is a nutrient-dense food. Cheese provides calories; high-quality protein; vitamins; and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus and zinc.
The fat content of cheese varies by type. For healthy people, cheese can be a part of the everyday diet when consumed in moderation, like any other food. Fat is necessary in the human diet to transport fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K into the body. Many cheeses are an excellent source of calcium and a good source of protein and phosphorus while being low in trans fatty acids.
For individuals wishing to lower their calorie
or fat intake, a variety of lowfat cheeses are also available. These include: