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A dairy product made by clotting milk from cows, sheep or goats with rennet or lactic acid, to produce solid curds and liquid whey. The whey is drained off (perhaps to be used as food for pigs, or made into whey butter), while the curds are generally salted, then pressed into moulds. Some cheese is ripened with bacteria or surface fungi, and kept for a time before eating. It can take up to 2,500 pounds of milk to make 200 pounds of cheese.
The name is probably a development of the latin caseus.
Cheese doesn't happen naturally, if milk was left to its own devices, it would ripen, then sour - separate and go bad. When drained through a cloth, it produces creamy curds, which, though delicious if eaten immediately with bread and salt, quickly go bad.
For 'lasting' cheese you need rennet, a digestive enzyme present in the stomach of all mammals; but vegetable 'rennet' made from thistles and butterwort work in a similar way - and are suitable for vegetarians.
Chopping the curds (called 'cheddaring') before or immediately after draining the whey gives a crumbly cheese; while smooth cheese such as Mozzarella are made by leaving the curd uncut.
When properly stored, a 'cheddared' cheese develops a natural coat. The appearance of blue mould in the cracks is encouraged in some cheeses by the innoculation of Penicillium roqueforti - and among British cheeses, this produces blues such as Stilton and Dorset Blue Vinney.
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