Tag Archives: cheese

Do you like cheese? You can thank the Indus Valley Civilization for it

The Indus Valley Civilization was the earliest known producer of dairy and dairy products, according to new research.

Image credits Anthony Arnaud.

The lands that make up modern-day Pakistan and India have been producing dairy for almost five thousand years now, according to researchers at the University of Toronto Mississauga. The team explains that dairy has been produced and consumed by the people of the Indus Valley Civilization from as far back as 2500 BCE.

Original cheese

“We found that dairy was an integral part of their diet at a site that dates to about 2500 BCE,” says Chakraborty, who is conducting his post-doctoral research with Heather Miller, an anthropology professor at UTM.

The Indus Valley Civilizations, also known as the Harappans, built one of the greatest empires of the ancient world. Much of the foundations of their success have been lost to time — for example, we don’t have a great idea of how they managed to feed so many people. The study goes some way towards helping us understand the Harappan diet.

According to the findings, dairy was an important part of their diet. It helped fill hungry bellies at home, and likely greased the wheels of commerce.

Chakraborty used a technique called stable isotope analysis to examine food residue from shards of ancient pottery recovered in the area. The analysis reveals that dairy wasn’t only present in diets at the time, but it was in fact quite common (as judging from the available pottery). Out of 59 shards he analyzed, Chakraborty found 21 with traces of dairy fats.

“This [consumption of dairy] would have allowed the accumulation of a surplus of animal protein, without affecting the number of animals in your herd. The question becomes the role of dairy. Why is it so important in this ancient settlement? It is something that could be exchanged between settlements and regions. It is an opportunity for different economic specializations to develop,” he explains.

The analysis was possible because pottery is porous and absorbs some of the food cooked or stored inside during its lifetime. Chakraborty looked for fats (lipids) because they don’t dissolve in water, which makes them more resistant through time.

Chakraborty worked with Professor Greg Slater of McMaster University to analyze these compounds. Their origin can be determined based on the ratio of carbon isotopes they contain. Based on the chemical composition of these fats, they were also able to determine what food the animals who produced them ate.

The paper “Compound specific isotope analysis of lipid residues provides the earliest direct evidence of dairy product processing in South Asia” has been published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

A 6,000-year-old fruit fly gave the world modern cheeses and yogurts

Credit: Pixabay.

Historians often trace the dawn of human civilisation back 10,000 years, when Neolithic tribes first settled and began farming in the Fertile Crescent, which stretches through much of what we now call the Middle East. Prehistoric peoples domesticated plants to create the cereal crops we still grow today, and in the Zagros mountains of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, sheep, goats and cows were bred from their wild relatives to ensure a steady supply of meat and milk. But around the same time as plants and animals were tamed for agriculture, long before anyone even knew of microscopic life, early humans were domesticating microbes too.

In a paper published in Current Biology, we discovered how “milk yeast” – the handy microorganism that can decompose lactose in milk to create dairy products like cheese and yoghurt – originated from a chance encounter between a fruit fly and a pail of milk around 5,500 years ago. This happy accident allowed prehistoric people to domesticate yeast in much the same way they domesticated crop plants and livestock animals, and produce the cheeses and yogurts billions of people enjoy today.

Milk yeast cells are large and oval and here surrounded by rod-shaped bacterial cells. Loughlin Gethins & Suzanne Crotty, UCC, Author provided

The domesticated diet

Domestication is evolution directed by a human hand. After wild parents have bred, farmers retain the offspring with properties that are beneficial for future breeding. Take farmed wheat, for example. This crop species produces a lot more seeds than wild grasses do, because these seeds are the grain that humans harvest. Early farmers deliberately bred pairs of wheat plants that produced lots of grain so that their offspring would inherit this trait. As these pairings were repeated over many generations, grain-rich descendants were gradually created.

It’s survival of the fittest, but the fittest are variants that have characteristics that are useful for humans. The wary and vicious wolf becomes the friendly and obedient dog.

Neolithic farmers stumbled on the practice of domesticating microbes when they tried to preserve food by fermenting it. Fermentation relies on microbes, such as bacteria, yeast and fungi, increasing the acidity of the food to protect it against spoilage. Microbes that were good at making fermented products that were palatable and safe were kept to start the next batch, and so useful microbes were evolved and domesticated. “Baker’s yeast,” or Saccharomyces cerevisiae, was a microbe selected from nature to make beer, wine and other fermented drinks 13,000 years ago.

Kluyveromyces lactis, or milk yeast, is found in French and Italian cheeses made from unpasteurised milk, and in natural fermented dairy drinks like kefir. But the ancestor of this microbe was originally associated with the fruit fly, so how did it end up making many of the dairy products that people eat today? We believe milk yeast owes its very existence to a fly landing in fermenting milk and starting an unusual sexual liaison. The fly in question was the common fruit fly, Drosophila, and it carried with it the ancestor of K. lactis. Although the fly died, the yeast lived, but with a problem – it could not use the lactose in milk as a food source. Instead, it found an unconventional solution – sex with its cousin.

When K. lactis arrived with the fly, its cousin K. marxianus was already happily growing in the milk. K. marxianus is able to use lactose for growth because it has two extra proteins which can help break down lactose into simple sugars that it then uses for energy. The cousins reproduced and the genes needed to use lactose transferred from K. marxianus to K. lactis. The end result was that K. lactis acquired two new genes and could then grow on lactose and survive on its own. The fermented product that K. lactis made must have been particularly delicious as it was used to start a new fermentation – a routine that has continued to the present day.

We think that by 6,000 years ago, farmers were using fermented goat and sheep milk to make tasty beverages like yoghurt and kefir. We know that milk-producing animals – cows, sheep, goats – were all domesticated between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, and analysis of human tartar found on teeth shows that humans were consuming milk, most likely as cheese or other fermented products by 5,500 years ago. The chance encounter between two yeast species and a little bit of illicit sex made all of this possible.

Who could’ve imagined that such a random series of events would produce so many of the world’s great culinary delicacies?

John Morrissey, Lecturer in Microbiology, University College Cork

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Doctors petition FDA to add breast cancer warning on cheese

In light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, members of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) are requesting the FDA to label cheese in accordance to studies which found that it raises the risk of several types of cancer — including breast cancer.

“Dairy cheese contains reproductive hormones that may increase breast cancer mortality risk,” the label would read.

The world “cheese” is derived from a Latin word “caseus” which means to ferment. Cheesemaking began at least 8,000 years ago around the time when sheep were first domesticated, as a way to keep dairy edible for longer periods of time. Today, the world has access to hundreds of types of cheese, and we just can’t seem to get enough of it. But while it’s undoubtedly tasty, cheese can have some unwanted health effects..

The nutritional value of cheese varies widely, but the vast majority of cheese is rich in saturated fats, which are a major contributor to cardiovascular diseases and conditions. While they also contain healthy protein and calcium, the fat content is so high that many national health organizations recommend minimizing its consumption and eliminating it from snacks.

However, in recent times, the consumption of cheese has been associated with even more health issues.

“High-fat dairy products, such as cheese, are associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, according to a 2017 study funded by the National Cancer Institute,” reads the petition published by the PCRM, a a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. “Researchers examined the dietary intakes of 1,941 women diagnosed with breast cancer and compared them with the diets of women without breast cancer. The results showed that those who consumed the most American, cheddar, and cream cheeses had a 53 percent increased risk for breast cancer. Components in dairy such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and other growth hormones may be among the reasons for the increased risk for cancer.”

A complex issue

Studies analyzing the link between cheese and cancer have not always yielded clear results. Virtually all studies of this type are observational — they observe a connection, not causation. Based on a systematic review of the epidemiologic literature, there is a probable association between milk intake and lower risk of colorectal cancer, a probable association between diets high in calcium and increased risk of prostate cancer, and limited evidence of an association between milk intake and lower risk of bladder cancer. For other types of cancer, the risks were less clear.

Given the huge variability of cheese and other dairy products out there, it’s difficult to draw a definite line. A recent study found that cheese can raise breast cancer risk, but that yogurt might reduce it. The petition references another study which concluded that among women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, consumption of high-fat dairy products is associated with increased mortality risk.

However, a broad analysis of 9693 studies found major differences in how these studies are carried out. This particular study was essentially a review of previous meta-analyses — themselves studies of other studies — so this is probably the most comprehensive review of dairy-cancer associations out there. The study reports that two meta-analyses showed “increased risk of breast cancer with higher consumption of milk or cheese”, but that 8 meta-analyses showed “non-significant associations between ‘all-dairy products’” and the risk of breast cancer. This is a good depiction of how nutritional science is often unclear due to the sheer complexity of the involved parameters.

Nevertheless, while the evidence isn’t completely conclusive, physicians associated with the PCRM say it’s strong enough to justify labeling cheese — and they do bring some compelling evidence.

“New data from the Women’s Health Initiative show that a lower-fat, higher-carbohydrate diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and grains resulted in long-term health benefits. Compared with women who made no diet changes, the dietary intervention group had 15 percent lower long-term risk of breast cancer mortality, a 30 percent reduction in heart disease, and 13 percent lower risk of developing insulin-requiring diabetes. Possible mechanisms for these results include increased fiber intake, reductions in hormones associated with breast cancer, and improvements in LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin, and glucose levels.”

They also provide an explanation for why sometimes, dairy seems to be associated with equal or even lower overall cancer risk.

“It should be noted that limited evidence suggests that dairy intake in general (that is, not specifically high-fat dairy products) is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.10 This likely is because health-conscious individuals tend to consume high amounts of dairy products due to their successful promotion as “health foods.” High-fat dairy products are much higher than low-fat dairy products in their concentrations of fat, saturated fat, and estrogenic hormones associated with cancer risk.”

Cheesy labels

In light of all this, the physicians argue, cheese should be labeled as a factor of cancer risk. Simply adding a pink ribbon on products is not enough, they conclude.

“To ensure that Americans understand the potential significant risks, and resulting long-term costs, of consuming dairy cheese products, the FDA should ensure that the notice above is prominently placed on product packaging and labeling for all dairy cheese products,” says the petition.

The FDA has not replied to the petition.

Lab-grown dairy hints at the future of food

Credit: Pixabay.

Lab-grown meat is getting a lot of attention along with plant-based meat substitutes. Technology is driving the industry toward providing alternatives to conventionally produced food products. Dairy proteins may be the next product produced in a lab, for use in fluid “milk” production and processed dairy products like yogurt and cheese, to name a few.

Winston Churchill predicted the rise of synthetic foods in 1931.

“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future.”

While it took longer than 50 years, his prediction is coming true with meat proteins and now dairy proteins.

What is synthetic dairy?

Perfect Day Inc., a California-based start-up, has recreated the proteins found in conventional cow’s milk without the use of animals. The company developed a form of genetically modified microflora that produces both whey and casein through a fermentation process.

The approach can be loosely compared to the use of brewer’s yeast to produce alcohol. Yeast is used in controlled environments to create fermentation byproducts and the two processes simply employ different yeasts for a different purpose and output.


Perfect Day has the technology to remake the small fraction of milk that is protein, arguably the most important component to produce other foods. The company suggests that its dairy protein is vegan and lactose-free, while providing the same high-quality nutrition as conventional dairy protein. This could have significant appeal for consumers.
Perfect Day says their product is the exact same as the protein found in cow’s milk. Conventional milk is approximately 3.3 per cent protein, of which 82 per is casein and 18 per cent is whey. The other main elements are water, fat and carbohydrates.

Tough to mimic full-fat milks

Milk produced by dairy cattle is a versatile ingredient used in various products worldwide. More than 70 per cent of milk sold from Canadian farms in 2019 is used for further processing, leaving the remainder to be consumed as fluid milk.

It may be difficult to produce full-fat milks that mimic the taste and texture of cow’s milk. Protein is just one component of fluid milk; milk fat is another, which would likely be the most difficult to mimic with plant-based alternatives. The structure of milk fat provides a specific taste and mouth feel when drinking milk, and this may be a tougher formulation challenge than creating proteins to be used in cheese or yogurt.

The early focus of Perfect Day’s communication was on fluid milk — the kind we drink —but the company has shifted its focus to processed products.

Perfect Day has partnered with food production powerhouse Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), among others, to move towards full-scale production. The company is one of the world’s largest agricultural processors and food ingredient providers with more than 330 manufacturing facilities in almost 200 countries. ADM supplies a vast list of ingredients for both human and animal consumption; synthetic dairy protein may be a perfect addition to their offerings.

Products such as yogurt and cheese are different than fluid milk, and may be more suitable for using lab-grown casein and whey. The synthetic proteins could be used to replace dairy milk ingredients or to complement them.

In yogurt production, for example, protein is often added to improve texture. There are differing proportions of milk components in various processed products. This means that fermented casein and whey proteins could augment or replace conventional protein ingredients. This is easier to do in products with high-protein ingredients.

That said, the potential use of animal-free dairy protein goes far beyond traditional dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. Hot dogs that contain milk powder and granola bars that contain modified milk ingredients are examples of the many foods that could use this alternative dairy protein.

Tackling malnutrition?

Perfect Day CEO Ryan Pandya said last year: “We began to look into how we can use our protein to prevent stunted growth and malnutrition in the developing world.” This suggests Perfect Day’s focus is on providing ingredients rather than producing milk.


The Canadian
per capita consumption of butter increased from 2.72 kilograms to 3.21 kilograms from 2007 to 2016. This increase in butter demand has led to an excess of milk protein in the marketplace in both Canada and the United States.Some products aren’t well-suited to this approach. Butter, for example, is made from milk fat and has almost no protein. We’ve long had a plant-based alternative to butter — margarine. But many consumers moved away from margarine and back to butter.

While it remains to be seen if these fermented proteins can be produced economically, their introduction into the marketplace could cause significant disruption to the dairy industry. The disruption would be due in part to switching some processed products away from conventional dairy proteins.

There would be additional disruption because of the change in relative demand for protein and other milk components. We would likely end up with more significant surpluses of proteins from both conventional dairy and synthetic production.

The future

Many issues need to be resolved before these products arrive in our supermarkets. The economics of production have to work. Products need to be reformulated to incorporate the fermented proteins with other ingredients to replace the milk components.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency currently describes milk as being produced by an animal. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet made a policy statement on classifying synthetic milk proteins.

Milk in Canada is also subject to a supply management system that includes quota for production.


Read more: How the dairy lobby’s cash grab put Canada in Trump’s crosshairs


Will synthetic casein and whey be subject to the same system? The regulatory environment will require significant clarification, and any changes will be vigorously debated by various interests.

Some consumers will highly value the fact that animals are not required to produce these proteins, creating a vegan, lactose-free product. There will also be a perception that synthetic dairy proteins will have a smaller environmental footprint.

Other consumers will likely have concerns that the proteins are produced using a genetically modified yeast.

Despite these uncertainties, we will likely see synthetic dairy products on grocery shelves within a few years.

Michael von Massow, Associate Professor, Food Economics, University of Guelph and Mitchell Gingerich, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics, University of Guelph

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Scientists played music to aging cheese to change its taste. Hip-hop worked the best

Non-stop loops of rock, hip-hop, classical, ambiental, and techno music were played to aging Emmental cheese wheels to see whether the sounds would affect the taste. Surprisingly, the music did appear to have an effect on the cheese, especially the hip-hop music: it made for a stronger and fruitier smell.

They look similar but taste slightly different. Image credits: Bern University / Beat Wampfler.

Cheese-making is big business. Most people love a healthy chunk of tasty cheese, but for some people, the old Cheddar, Camembert, or even Danish Blue just won’t cut it. As a result, there’s immense variability in the cheeses you can find on shelves, ranging from fruity cheeses to mold cheeses and even some cheeses made with worms.

But, regardless of what they contain or how extreme they are, all cheese-making involves a dance between milk and fermenting bacteria. Despite our thousands of years of making and eating cheese, we’re still only now learning some things about this process and the bacteria that drive it. To test a rather quirky theory, Swiss producer Beat Wampfler and a team of researchers from the Bern University of Arts played different types of music for 6 months to several aging Emmental wheels.

They split the wheels of cheese into several groups:

The researchers then subjected the cheeses to two types of tests: laboratory analysis (which have not been finished yet) and a taste test carried out by a star-studded line-up. Both results highlighted differences between the cheeses. The sample from the medium-frequency cheese exhibited the strongest taste, along with the control sample. The hip-hop cheese, however, was considered the tastiest.

“The experiment was a success, and the results are amazing: the bio-acoustic impact of sound waves affects metabolic processes in cheese, to the point where a discernible difference in flavour becomes apparent – one which can even be visualised using food technology,” researchers write in a press release.

The tests were quite thorough. Core samples were taken from the cheese wheels for the sensory screening tests immediately before the evaluation, with each core sample being approximately 10 cm long and 1 cm in diameter.

Each tester received half a core sample, served to them on odorless and flavorless paper plates. It was a “blind” test, so they did not know which cheese they were tasting. The sensory screening of the cheese samples was carried out based on a consensus profile, the press release reads.

Image credits: University of Bern / Beat Wampfler

Hip-hop cheese appeared to be on top for most people, having a stronger and more fruity flavor, something regarded as favorable in the context. Of course, the taste test is subjective and not everyone agreed. The Mozart cheese, which had a milder taste, was preferred by some.

“My favorite cheese was that of Mozart, I like Mozart but it’s not necessarily what I listen to… maybe a sweet little classical music it does good to the cheese,” chef and jury member Benjamin Luzuy tells Agence-France Presse. Luzuy also told Reuters that “The differences were very clear, in term of texture, taste, the appearance, there was really something very different.”

While this is obviously a cool project with a creative approach, perhaps a healthy dose of skepticism is also required on top of that cheese. The lab results have not yet been concluded, and the study itself has not been peer-reviewed — there’s a certain advertising bonus associated to this whole thing, so it’s safe to say that it will still be a while before results are confirmed. For instance, the heat generated by the transducer playing the music might also influence how the cheeses aged.

The scientists themselves acknowledge the need for a stronger case for this type of study.

“In general, it can be confirmed that the discernible sensory differences detected during the screening process were minimal. The conclusion that these differences did indeed confirm the hypothesis, namely that they can clearly be traced back to the influence of music, is conceivable, but not compelling.”

“More extensive testing is required in order to determine whether there is a link between exposing cheese wheels to music as they mature and discernible sensory differences,” they conclude.

Still, it’s not completely implausible that the soundwaves (or some associated process) slightly affected the bacteria and caused changes in taste. It’s certainly a creative process which raises intriguing questions, and the results may end up appearing on our plates before they appear in a scientific journal. Luzuy concludes:

“For chefs like me, these results are fascinating. This opens up new avenues for us in terms of how we can work creatively with food in the future.”

Cheese.

Novel approach to identifying flavor molecules poised to make fermented goods even more delicious

The Germans are coming for your cheese! They want to make it tastier!

Cheese.

Image credits Corinna Barbara.

Researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the Leibniz-Institute for Food Systems Biology, and the University of Hohenheim have developed a new technique for identifying flavor-bearing protein fragments in fermented foods such as cheese or yogurt. They hope that their findings will form a launchpad from which to upgrade the tastiness of a wide range of foodstuffs.

Cheesy business

Just like everything else, fermented foods draw a lot of their taste from volatile aromatic compounds. Unlike most other things, however, the flavor profile of items like cheese, yogurt, beer, or soy sauce also depends heavily on non-volatile substances (i.e. things you can’t smell). Some of the most important compounds that fall under this category are fragments of (originally-long) proteins broken down by bacteria during fermentation of milk or grains.

Still, there’s a lot of these fragments out there — over 1000 have been documented to impart flavor in fermented-milk products alone. Even worse, they take a whole lot of time and effort to discover. To work around the issue, a team led by Thomas Hofmann, head of the Chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science at TUM, has developed a new method to discover these tasty bits.

The team combined existing methods of proteome (protein) research with methods of sensory research to quickly and efficiently identify the most flavorful protein fragments in a given sample. The team tested their procedure on two varieties of cream cheese — which had different degrees of bitterness. The goal was to identify exactly which protein fragments gave the cheeses their bitter off-taste.

“We coined the term ‘sensoproteomics’ for this type of procedure,” said Andreas Dunkel from the Leibniz-Institute for Food Systems Biology, lead researcher for the study.

An initial review of the literature on the subject told the team that there would be roughly 1,600 different protein fragments that could create a bitter off-taste in dairy products. Chromatography-coupled mass spectrometer analysis in tandem with computer simulations narrowed the search down to 340 potential candidates. Comparative spectrometric, sensory, and quantitative analyses further reduced the number of fragments responsible for the bitter cheese flavor to 17.

“The sensoproteomics approach we have developed will, in the future, contribute to the rapid and efficient identification of flavor-giving protein fragments in a wide range of foods using high-throughput methods—a significant help in optimizing the taste of products,” says Prof. Hofmann.

The paper “A New Approach for the Identification of Taste-Active Peptides in Fermented Foods” has been published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Dairy has been greatly underestimated and is an “excellent” protein source for children, study finds

Dairy holds a controversial position in our modern diets. It used to be a go-to recommendation for kids, but nowadays, many recommend avoiding giving dairy to children — or even adults. A new study takes a pretty clear position in that debate, naming dairy an excellent protein source using a new calculation method.

Dairy might be better for us than we preivously thought. Image via Pixabay.

Researchers from the University of Illinois have been using pigs as a model for the protein uptake of children. This isn’t a new approach, it’s something that was suggested by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 2011.

“Plant proteins are the primary sources of amino acids in many parts of the world, whereas animal proteins are the primary sources in other parts of the world. However, the composition and digestibility of these types of proteins differ,” says Dr. Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at U of I and principal investigator of this research.

Researchers in Stein’s lab calculated the protein score for eight different sources of protein, derived both from plants and animals. The protein scores are a reflection of the amount of digestible amino acids in a food with a “reference protein,” a theoretical protein which contains all the fully digestible amino acids in the proportions required for human nutrition at a particular stage of life. They calculated how digestible the proteins are through this standard method which has been used for 20 years. However, researchers argue, this method is not complete and has significant flaws, failing to take significant factors into consideration.

“The total tract digestibility fails to take into account nitrogen excretion in the hindgut,” Stein says. “The PDCAAS also assumes that all amino acids in a foodstuff have the same digestibility as crude protein, but in reality, amino acid digestibilities differ.”

So they also used a new calculation, which they called digestible indispensable amino acid score (DIAAS). They calculated DIAAS on the same eight different proteins — whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, milk protein concentrate, skimmed milk powder, pea protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, soy flour, and whole-grain wheat. They found that all dairy proteins met Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) standards as “excellent/high” quality, while soy protein isolate and soy flour qualified as “good” sources of protein. With this approach, dairy scored much better than it did with traditional methods. This would mean that dairy has been greatly underestimated as a protein source for children, though researchers concede that this method also has its limitations.

“The protein sources used in this experiment were fed raw, and foods processed as they typically are for human consumption might well have different protein values.”

Still, Stein and his team believe this is a significant step forward compared to previous approaches. Although lots of time and effort is being invested into understanding how the human body deals with nutrients, we still know surprisingly little about these interactions. Of course, more research is needed to validate this method, but small shifts like this go a long way towards expanding our understanding — and enabling us to eat healthier.

“The results of this pilot study indicate that dairy proteins may be an even higher quality source of protein compared to vegetable-based protein sources than previously thought,” said Dr. Greg Miller, chief science officer at NDC. “While using DIAAS is a newer concept and more research will be needed, one thing rings true — milk proteins are high quality and milk as a beverage has protein plus eight other essential nutrients, which is especially important when it comes to kids, because they need quality nutrition to help support their growth and development.”

The paper, “Values for digestible indispensable amino acid scores (DIAAS) for some dairy and plant proteins may better describe protein quality than values calculated using the concept for protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS)” was published in the February 2017 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.

Eating a lot of cheese doesn’t raise your cholesterol and is associated with lower body mass index

Cheese eaters, rejoice! A new study conducted by Irish researchers has found that contrary to popular belief, eating a lot of cheese doesn’t really raise your cholesterol levels. It might even make you thinner.

Cheese might not be as bad for you as we thought. Image credits: Chris Buecheler.

Researchers from the University College Dublin studied the impact of cheese and dairy eating on 1500 participants from Ireland. They wanted to assess the current health guidelines, which warn that eating cheese (which is rich in saturated fats) can increase your risk of developing high blood cholesterol. What they found was that, surprisingly, participants who ate large amounts of cheese didn’t actually have higher cholesterol levels. According to the American Heart Association for instance, adults shouldn’t consume more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Since one ounce of cheddar contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol, that’s 10% of your daily intake. If you eat too much cholesterol, it accumulates in your bloodstream and eventually deposits in your arteries restricting blood flow to your heart.

“What we saw was that in the high consumers [of cheese] they had a significantly higher intake of saturated fat than the non-consumers and the low consumers and yet there was no difference in their LDL Cholesterol levels,” said Dr Emma Feeney, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science and Food for Health Ireland, who was lead author on the paper.

Researchers believe that it is the mixture of nutrients that many types of cheese contain nutrients that counterbalance the increased consumption of saturated fats. Scientists even found that dairy intake was positively correlated with lower body mass index, lower percentage of body fat, lower waist size and lower blood pressure.

Pictured: Dr Emma Feeney, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science and Food for Health Ireland, who led the research on the study that shows that eating large amounts of cheese does not raise LDL cholesterol levels.

Of course, correlation doesn’t imply causation — in other words, this doesn’t mean that cheese itself is good for your cholesterol or for your weight. Cheese eating is just a piece of the puzzle, and we have to consider the entire diet of people. More likely than not, higher dairy intake is part of a larger eating pattern that we should consider. However, if you’re a cheese fan, it’s pretty encouraging news.

“We have to consider not just the nutrients themselves but also the matrix in which we are eating them in and what the overall dietary pattern is, so not just about the food then, but the pattern of other foods we eat with them as well,” Feeney added.

Ironically, researchers also found that people who consumed low-fat yogurt and milk tended to have a higher intake of carbohydrates. However, the cause and effect may be the other way around — people who eat more carbohydrates may be more likely to consume low-fat dairy because they want to lose weight. Another surprisingly finding was that people who ate a low-fat diet tended to have higher cholesterol levels.

It would be really interesting to see this study replicated on a larger sample size, and in different parts of the world. Culture and geography have a huge impact on our nutrition, and at the moment, it’s not clear if there’s something specific to the Irish diet which led to these results or if we simply overstated the negative effects of cheese. As it is almost always the case, a good balance is key to eating a healthy diet and living a healthy life — no matter where you’re from.

Journal Reference: E L Feeney, A O’Sullivan, A P Nugent, B McNulty, J Walton, A Flynn and E R Gibney — Patterns of dairy food intake, body composition and markers of metabolic health in Ireland: results from the National Adult Nutrition SurveyNutrition & Diabetes (2017) 7, e243; doi:10.1038/nutd.2016.54

What Wikipedia can’t tell you about making cheese

Cheese-making is a long standing tradition around the world, with almost every culture developing their own specific types (except the Chinese and Native Americans). But the basic steps of the process remain the same no matter where you go. It’s been made for a long time now and the process is pretty simple — simple enough, in fact, that you can make it in your own home.

Image credits Jill Wellington / Pixabay.

One article isn’t enough to cover all the ways of making cheese out there, so we’ll talk about each of the steps in general then take a look at how to make the tastiest cheese in existence.

1. Getting milk

Finding good quality milk will probably be the most problematic step in the process. No matter what animal it comes from, whole, unprocessed raw milk is the best base for making virtually any type of cheese. But it can be hard to get your hands on it — raw milk commercialization is banned in several countries around the world. If you live in the US, you can check your state’s position on the issue here.

In a pinch, off the shelf milk works too, but avoid ultra heat treated (UHT) or homogenized milk if you can. The heat treatment UHT milk goes though alters the protein casein, and the milk doesn’t hold together well enough to make cheese. If you plan to give UHT a try, read this forum first for a few tips.

In the case of homogenization, fats are smashed into the casein, causing them to partially bind. The molecular thrashing about involved in the process also alters some of the casein. Overall, it won’t be able to bind as well, making for a thinner curd — still, it’s much better than UHT. If using homogenized milk, skim through the forum here for tips and tricks.

Lastly, keep in mind that processed milk can lose a lot of its calcium or fat content taken up in other products. This will negatively impact the quality of your cheese and may even ruin your efforts altogether. A few tablespoons of calcium salt (calcium chloride, CaCl2) should be enough to replenish the calcium.

Adding buttermilk, cream, or similar products to the milk can help replenish fat content if done right. There is no universal recipe for success here, however. Since dairy and dairy product quality varies a lot from place to place, ask local cheesemakers and experiment on this point to find out what quantities and products work best.

Small cheeseries usually purchase their milk from dairies which don’t pasteurize. This intact bacterial content can supply enough lactic acid (a curdling agent) on its own by processing lactose (sugars) if the milk is left to sit long enough. Depending on which cheese is being produced, this ripening milk is sometimes heated.

If using pasteurized milk, a culture of bacteria must be supplied to start producing lactic acid. Yogurt or sour milk can be used to supply these bacteria if you can’t find any starter cultures.

2. Curdling

Image credits Joel Kramer / Flickr.

If you give it enough time, lactic acid levels will rise enough to start tying the proteins on its own. But if you wait up to that point, you won’t have a tasty cheese. With a few exceptions in fact, it will probably taste quite horribly.

So rennet is added to the mix before this point. Traditionally, rennet was harvested from the stomachs of calves and lambs. One of its main components is chymosin, an enzyme which act on the casein in milk and curdles it — biologically, it curdles mother’s milk in the digestive tract of calves to allow better absorption of nutrients.

Today however rennet is mainly produced by genetically engineered bacteria colonies. There are also a lot of veggie alternatives, so take a look online or in local shops to see what your options are. Depending on the type of rennet and manufacturer, you’ll probably have to process it in some way before addition — usually, this is as simple as mixing with a cup of warm water.

The rennet speeds up the milk’s separation into curd (the solid bit, lumps of phosphoprotein and fat) and whey (the liquid part of milk, that contains lactose, minerals, vitamins, and traces of fat.) The layer of curd flows to the top where it’s cut into chunks — bigger ones for soft cheeses, and smaller for hard cheeses. After cutting, the mix is sometimes heated to make it fully separate faster.

3. Pressing the cheese

The whey is drained after separation but the chunks of curd still have a lot of moisture in them. Depending on which kind of cheese you’re trying to make a certain amount of it has to be drained. Some cheeses are good as they are at this point but for others, the pieces of curd have to be cut, heated, or filtered to dry further. To make cheddar for example, the curd has to be “cheddared“, or chopped into fine pieces. For Parmesan, you have to cheddar and then cook the curd.

Regardless of how you process the curd, if you want to age it it has to find its way into a mold. Wrapped in cheesecloth, it’s pressed into the wheel-of-cheese shape in the mold.

By this point, the curd looks like cheese, has the texture and humidity of cheese — it’s basically cheese. But the taste isn’t yet quite right. Now it’s time for the finishing touches.

4. Aging the cheese

Italian cheeses left to age.
Image credits SplitShire / Pexels.

This step involves salting the cheese in brine, inoculating it with mold, or wrapping it in a material to be aged. The more it’s aged, the sharper, more pungent the flavor. Cheddar for example can be aged for one to two months (mild) up to several years (extra sharp). Fresh and soft cheeses don’t need to be aged.

And now, for the grand finale!

Making telemea

Try saying “telehmeah”. Ok, try again. Well that’s close enough.

You may not know it yet, but telemea is the best cheese in…everywhere. It’s a soft-ish, creamy white traditional Romanian cheese with a relatively high water content. Think of feta cheese, only much better.

Ibănești telemea, an EU-recognized PGI traditional cheese.
Image via bio-romania.

And lucky you, you’re about to learn all about how to make it with the tools lying about in your kitchen and a trip to the store. Possibly an old t-shirt too, if you can’t find any cheesecloth.

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  • 8 liters of milk (best to use raw or unhomogenized milk).
  • Rennet — you’ll have to follow producer’s guidelines to determine the quantity needed.
  • 60 grams of homemade yogurt or sour milk.
  • Brine made with water and uniodized salt.

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You can theoretically use any type of milk for this, sans the UHT kind (for homogenized milk you’ll need to add calcium salts, see point 1). Now:

  1. Slowly heat the milk up to 80°C (176°F) — as a rule of thumb heat it but keep it from boiling. Then let it cool down to 31-36°C (87-96°F).
  2. Now we need to make the milk acidic to promote curdling. Add sour milk or homemade yogurt to the mix. If you don’t have any, 2 teaspoons of vinegar will do the trick. Stir thoroughly and let set for 5-10 minutes keeping the above temperature constant.
  3. Add the rennet. If you need to mix it with water, make sure to use still water — the chlorine in tap water will inhibit the reaction.
  4. Keep the 31-36°C temperature constant for around 45 minutes to one hour. You’ll know the milk is ready when you can run a knife all the way to the bottom of the pot with a clean cut. If not, just give it more time until this happens.
  5. Cut the curd in strips 2-3 cm (0.7-1.2in) in length. Cut again perpendicular on these lines, keeping the proportion, to form squares.
  6. Cover the base and walls of a strainer with cloth, and leave it in the sink or over a collecting pot. Move the curdled milk to the strainer (use a smaller vessel like a teapot or bowl).

When the curd dries up a bit, tie the cloth in a bag and hang it up somewhere. Gravity will strain the rest of the whey from the curd. When it stops dripping, put the bag in a mold (any shape works really,) put a plate and something heavy over it, and let is rest overnight.

You’ll be delighted to know that you now have a solid piece of cash. It’s actually “caș”, but it sounds the same and why ruin a nice thing. It’s very tasty as it is but you’ll need to salt it to have true telemea. To make the brine, pour and stir the salt in water until the crystals won’t dissolve any more — what the chemists call a saturated solution. Around 150-200 grams (5.3-7oz) of salt in one liter of water should be enough.

Put the piece of cash in the brine (that’s one sentence I didn’t think I’ll have to write today). It will tend to float about half-way out of the water, so sprinkle salt on this side and let it sit. You’ll have to turn it and salt the cheese at least once a day, and 48 hours of salting will get you a moderately-salted telemea — but you can let it sit in brine for as long as you want. Even a few months. Just remember to submerge it in water to desalt before eating it. Salting will also harden the cheese and improve the texture.

Keep the telemea in a fridge in a closed container for at least 24 hours to cure it, and then enjoy!

340-Year-Old Cheese Recovered From Shipwreck: ‘We think it’s cheese’

It’s perhaps the stinkiest cheese in the world right now, after molding at the bottom of a shipwreck for centuries.

The cheese likely resembled modern-day Roquefort. Photo by Sarah & Boston via Wiki Commons

The royal warship the Kronan suffered a dire fate in 1676, sinking to the bottom of the Baltic, off the coast of Öland. The shipwreck was discovered in 1980, and almost 30,000 artifacts have been recovered since. Many of them were in excellent shape, preserved by the clay around the shipwreck.

Most recently, archaeologists have uncovered a stinky surprise which might tell us a bit about the culinary taste of the 17th century Swedes. According to Lars Einarsson, the dive’s lead archaeologist, the stench was reminiscent of yeast and Roquefort – a type of blue cheese. Einarsson said he thinks it smells intriguing, but it really shouldn’t be tasted.

“It’s been in the mud, so it’s reasonably well preserved, but at the same time it has been at the bottom of the sea for 340 years,” he said. “I certainly don’t recommend tasting it.”

“I think it smells quite nice, because I like exotic food.”

So instead of tasting it, they went for a more scientific approach and sent it to the lab for analysis. The results aren’t in yet, but if their hunch is confirmed, it will be one of the oldest cheeses ever found. However, when it comes to foodstuff, it won’t be even close. Just last year, a team of archaeologists found a shipwreck from the 1st or 2nd century, loaded with Roman garum, a fish-based condiment.

This is how one French power plant produces electricity using cheese

The town of Albertville in southeastern France has begun using cheese to generate electricity. Their power plant, build in the Savoie region, uses a byproduct of the local Beaufort cheese manufacturies as the base for its biogas power generation system.

Ahhh, cheese. Truly, a tragically under-appreciated food. Is there any meal it cannot make wholesome with its creamy bliss? Is there anything that cheese cannot do? The answer to the last one is most likely “yes” but the French seem set on turning it into a definite “no.” Not content with enjoying cheese only with their crackers and wine, the people of Albertville in France have now found a way to include dairy in their power grid.

Beaufort cheese.
Image via telegraph

The dairy plant, opened in October last year, uses the skimmed whey left over from the process of making Beaufort cheese. Mixing it with cultures of bacteria, the whey is left to ferment, producing a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide — in essence, biogas. The gas is then fed through an engine that heats water to 90 degrees Celsius, and the steam used to generate electricity.

“Whey is our fuel,” said François Decker of Valbio, the company that designed and built the cheesy station.

“It’s quite simply the same as the ingredient in natural yogurt.”

The plant will produce about 2.8 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, enough electricity to supply a community of 1,500 people, Mr Decker told Le Parisien newspaper.

This isn’t Valbio’s first cheese-to-power station, but it is one of the largest. The company built its first prototype plant 10 years ago to be used by a cheese-making abbey where monks have kept this trade since the 12th century. About 20 other small-scale plants have been built in France, other European countries and Canada. More units are planned in Australia, Italy, Brazil and Uruguay.

Cream, the other by-product of Beaufort cheese-making is also reused for ricotta and serac cheese, butter, and protein powder.

Is Dairy Addiction Real? Here’s what science says

Dairy Addiction is one idea toted not only as a notion, but as a fact by a significant number of vegans, especially ones that do not link to any reliable source (if any at all) to provide any evidence to the conclusion they have reached. So I decided that I will take it upon myself to find out whether or not the scientific literature agrees with this.

First things first though, WHY do these people believe that Dairy products are addictive? Well, YUM Universe, a known vegetarian blog, sums it up like this:

The answer is casomorphins—protein fragments, derived from the digestion of the milk protein, Casein. The distinguishing characteristic of casomorphins is that they have an opioid effect. ”

Casomorphins, or in the case of milk, Beta-Casomorphins, are indeed a form of opioid found in milk. And yes, Opioids are addictive, so that must mean milk is addictive and we can just close this case, right? Well… not quite.

One study of milks effects on rats published in 1981 called Opioid Effects of Beta-Casomorphines mentioned that they found “none of the peptides displayed opioid activity.” This is not the only study either, as another study published in 1994 which focused entirely on this idea of the addictive qualities of milk named “An Assessment of the Addiction Potential of the Opioid Associated with Milk” concluded with the line “Ingestion of milk products containing β-casomorphin is not likely to become the focus of an addiction.”

This is not even the last of it, as there is even a case report of a woman in Germany who drank 4-5 liters of milk a day. The report wanted to know if the woman’s consumption of such high quantities of milk was pathological. It concluded that based on the fact that the woman did not have any withdrawal symptoms in the absence of milk that Milk drinking in this patient did not have the characteristic physiological, behavioral and cognitive phenomena associated with dependence and nondependence producing substances.”

Opioid containing foods go far beyond casomorphins as well, as there is Gluten Exorphin in wheat, Soymorphin in soy, and even Rubiscolin found in spinach. I see no argument that spinach and tofu is addictive by anybodies standards ever.

Now am I saying that dairy products are NOT addictive? Of course not, they certainly are in a sense, but this is not due to casomorphins. Milk is a high fat food, and as any nutritionist knows, foods high in fat, sugar, and salt can be addictive the same way drugs are. This was actually a survival mechanism in the past, as since food scarcity was an issue, it was better to consume foods that were higher in essential nutrients needed for our survival, such as fatty, sweet, and salty foods.

But this is not a milk-only issue. You can easily state this for any other high-fat, sweet, or salty foods, including avocados, fried lettuce, mangoes, nuts, juices, vinegar, and anything you add salt to. Literally ANY food that is sweet, fatty, or salty has the potential to be addicting, which is why these three food types are such an issue to anybody suffering from Binge Eating Disorder, otherwise known as a Food Addiction.

Tons of food can be addictive, but I can safely say that casomorphin, or food opioids at all, do not play any role in that.

swiss cheese

Why Swiss cheese has holes (it’s not the mice)

A team at Agroscope, a Swiss agricultural research center, reports what lends the Swiss cheese its uncanny hole-ridden appearance: tiny pieces of hay that find their way into the milk.

In 1917, Chemist William Clark proposed the Swiss cheese holes were made by CO2 bubbles eliminated by bacteria. To explain why the holes formed away from bacteria growth locations, Clark wrote at the time:

“There is really little reason, as well as little evidence, to support the assumption that the gas necessarily separates as gas bubbles where it is produced. It is not at all irrational to suppose that the gas, having first saturated the cheese mass, separates at advantageous points which have no necessary relation to those localities rich in bacterial growth. In other words we may suppose a process similar to the growth of crystals to take place,” he wrote.

For the past 15 years, however, Swiss cheese has been made with fewer and fewer holes in it. The only significant thing that has changed since is how the cows are milked, which suggests that the bacteria has nothing, in particular, to do with the holes in the tasty cheese.

At Agroscope, researchers looked at age-old milking methods in barns versus fully-automated, industrial milking systems which are much cleaner and mandated by regulations nowadays. When the cow is milked, “microscopically small hay particles” make their way into the substance and the cleaner the milking process the less hay you’ll find in the milk. In a series of tests, by adding various amounts of hay particles in the milk, the Swiss researchers could control the number of holes in the cheese.

“It’s the disappearance of the traditional bucket” used during milking that caused the difference, said Agroscope spokesman Regis Nyffeler. Now you know.

cheese hole meme raptor