Module 2. Definition, standards, classification, nutritive value and basic principles of cheesemaking

Lesson 3


3.1 Introduction

The word ‘cheese’ is derived from the Old English ‘cese’ which in turn was derived from the Latin ‘caseus’ which means correct or perfect thing. Cheese may be defined ‘as the curd of milk separated from the whey and pressed into a solid mass’. This definition of cheese is satisfactory but too limited and vague from a technical standpoint. Therefore, a relatively complete definition is as follows:

Cheese is the curd or substance formed by the coagulation of milk of certain mammals by rennet or similar enzymes in the presence of lactic acid produced by added or adventitious microorganisms, from which part of the moisture has been removed by cutting, warming and pressing, which has been shaped in mould and then ripened (also unripened) by holding for sometime at suitable temperatures and humidity.

The expansion of the numbers of types of cheese makes a simple definition of cheese difficult. Thus the definition, the curd produced from milk by enzyme activity and subsequent separation of whey from the coagulum does not cover whey cheese, lactic cheese, cream cheese and some of the cheeses produced by newer techniques, viz. ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis. The definition is, therefore, not universally acceptable.

3.2 Definition of Cheese

Cheese is the fresh or matured solid or semi-solid product obtained:

a) By coagulating milk, skim milk or partly skimmed milk, whey, cream or butter milk or any combination of these materials, through the action of rennet or other suitable coagulating agents and by partially draining the whey resulting from such coagulation, or

b) By processing techniques involving coagulation of milk and/or materials obtained from milk (provided that the whey protein casein ratio does not exceed that of milk) and which give an end product which has similar physical, chemical or organoleptic characteristics as the product defined under (a).

According to the FSSR (2011), cheese means the ripened or unripened soft or semihard, hard and extra hard product, which may be coated with food grade waxes or polyfilm, and in which the whey protein/casein ratio does not exceed that of milk. Cheese is obtained by coagulating wholly or partly milk and/or products obtained from milk through the action of non-animal rennet or other suitable coagulating agents and by partially draining the whey resulting from such coagulation and/or processing techniques involving coagulation of milk and/or products obtained from milk which give a final product with similar physical, chemical and organoleptic characteristics. The product may contain starter cultures of harmless lactic acid and/or flavor producing bacteria and cultures of other harmless microorganisms, safe and suitable enzymes and sodium chloride. It may be in the form of blocks, slices, cut, shredded or grated cheese. FSSR (2011) has also defined cheese on the basis of ripening as follows:

(i) Ripened cheese is cheese which is not ready for consumption shortly after manufacture but which must be held for some time at such temperature and under such other conditions as will result in necessary biochemical and physical changes characterizing the cheese in question.

(ii) Mould ripened cheese is a ripened cheese in which the ripening has been accomplished primarily by the development of characteristic mould growth through the interior and/ or on the surface of the cheese.

(iii) Unripened cheese including fresh cheese is cheese which is ready for consumption shortly after manufacture.

Cheese or varieties of cheeses shall have pleasant taste and flavor free from off flavor and rancidity. It may contain permitted food additives and shall conform to the microbiological requirements prescribed in the regulation.

3.3 Classification of Cheese

Several schemes to classify cheese have been proposed to assist international trade and to provide compositional and nutritional information. The basis for such classification include age, type of milk, country of origin, ripening process/agents, important compositional varieties, like moisture and fat, general appearance, texture and rheological qualities. However, none of the above schemes is complete in itself. There are about 2000 names of cheeses. It is very difficult to classify the different cheeses satisfactorily, in groups. There are probably only about 18 types of natural cheeses. These are: Cheddar, Gouda, Edam, Swiss, Brick, Herve, Camembert, Limburger, Parmesan, Provolone, Romano, Roquefort, Sapsago, Cottage, Neufchatel, Trappist, Cream and Whey cheeses.

Such a grouping, though informative, is imperfect and incomplete. These can also be classified on the basis of their rheology, and according to the manner of ripening as shown below:

1) Very hard (grating) - Moisture < 35% on matured cheese and ripened by bacteria, e.g. Parmesan, Romano.

2) Hard - Moisture < 40%

a) Ripened by bacteria, without eyes: Cheddar

b) Ripened by bacteria, with eyes: Swiss

3) Semi-hard - Moisture 40-47%

a) Ripened principally by bacteria: Brick

b) Ripened by bacteria and surface microorganisms: Limburger

c) Ripened principally by blue mould:

i) External – Camembert

ii) Internal – Gorgonzola, Blue, Roquefort.

4) Soft - Moisture > 47%

a) Unripened – Cottage

b) Ripened – Neufchatel

Table 3.1 Legal standards for cheese


Table 3.2 Ten distinct types of natural cheeses classified according to differences in processing


Last modified: Wednesday, 3 October 2012, 9:46 AM