Facts and Fiction

What is the difference between artisan cheese and farmstead cheese?

Artisan cheese is cheese made thoughtfully by hand, usually in small batches. The milk for artisan cheese is purchased from a high quality source. Farmstead cheese is made only from the milk of the cheesemaker's own animals (cows, goats or sheep). Farmstead cheese is artisan cheese, but an artisan cheese is not necessarily a farmstead cheese.

What is open vat cheesemaking?

During open vat cheesemaking, the process used at Beecher's, the milk is poured into an uncovered vat. The cheesemaker works over the vat, like a cook making a very large pot of soup. Every step of the process is controlled by hand, with the cheesemaker relying on intuition and experience to know when to proceed to the next step. Mistakes could ruin hundreds of pounds of cheese. In contrast, large cheesemaking operations rely on complete automation. From the time the milk enters the plant until the finished cheese is packaged, it never touches human hands in a highly regulated process. The end product is very consistent but generally less interesting in flavor and texture than open vat cheeses. The difference between the two cheeses is similar to the difference between grocery store and home made bread.

What is the difference between "natural" and "organic"?

Natural foods are minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients, preservatives and other chemicals that do not occur naturally in food. In general, natural foods are as near to their original state in nature as possible. The animals producing milk that is considered natural may be treated with antibiotics if they are ill, but they are removed from the herd until the antibiotics disappear from their milk.

Organic foods are also natural foods, but not all natural foods are organic. In 2002 the U.S. Department of Agriculture put in place a set of national standards that food labeled "organic" must meet, whether it is grown in the United States or imported from other countries. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown (or, in the case of milk, where the animals are raised) to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Organic milk comes from animals that are fed organic feed, and are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. Companies that handle or process organic food (organic cereal, for example) must also be certified in order to call their product organic.

What is rBST?

Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), also called rBSG, is a growth hormone used to increase milk production in cows. According to a 2002 survey by the Department of Agriculture, it is used in 22 percent of the nation's dairy cows. Use of the hormone, which has been sold in the United States since 1994, is controversial because it can cause health problems in cows. Currently there is no test that can distinguish between milk from rBST treated and untreated cows; however, many health conscious consumers prefer not to consume dairy products from rBST treated cows. Controlling the source of the milk is the key to guaranteeing that dairy products do not have additional growth hormones added. All Beecher's products have no rBST added - made exclusively from the milk from a single, local herd of untreated cows.

How much milk does it take to make a pound of cheese?

It takes about 10 pounds (5 quarts) of milk to make 1 pound of whole milk cheese.

What are starter or "friendly" cultures?

Also called starter cultures, friendly cultures are added to milk at the start of the cheesemaking process. The cultures change the lactose or milk sugar (the only carbohydrate in milk) into lactic acid. This equalizes the pH so the milk protein will form curds when the rennet is added. The cultures used by the cheesemaker are a closely guarded secret as they contribute to the distinct qualities of each cheese. For more information about the cheesemaking process see Cheesemaking 101.

What is rennet?

Rennet is a coagulating enzyme used to curdle milk, causing clumps (curds) to form and separate from the liquid (whey). Rennet is added after the cultures and is also integral to the final flavor of the cheese. Until recently, rennet was derived from the stomach lining of a calf, goat or lamb. Now, many cheesemakers use vegetable rennets (derived from plants) or microbial rennets. In addition to being less expensive than traditional animal rennets, vegetable and microbial rennets allow cheesemakers to craft cheeses suitable for vegetarians. All Beecher's cheeses are made using microbial rennets. For more information about the cheesemaking process see Cheesemaking 101.

What is annatto?

Annatto is a natural food coloring derived from the ground seed pods of the annatto tree, native to Central and South America. Cheese is naturally the color of the milk from which it is made. Some cheeses have a yellow or lightly orange hue use caused by the vitamin A that cows ingest from grazing out in lush pastures. During cold winter months, cows come in from the pastures and are fed silage (forage plants that are stored in a silo) and the cheeses that result from this milk are white. This variation persuades some cheesemakers to color their cheeses so they will look uniformly nutritious. The earliest colorings were carrot juice and marigold petals. Today, as they have for at least a century, cheesemakers add color by adding annatto. Beecher's products do not contain any added coloring.

What kind of milk is used for making cheese?

Cheese can be made from the milk of many animals, but most cheeses are made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep.

What is the difference between cow, goat and sheep's milk cheese?

Over 300 varieties of cow's milk cheeses are made in the United States alone, the most popular milk. Cow's milk cheese is desirable because of its varied fat content, and the wide range of cheese that can be made from it successfully. Cow's milk can be crafted into both fresh and aged cheeses, and is used for cottage cheese, triple crème, mozzarella and everything in between.

Goat's milk cheeses are known for their white color and tangy flavor. When goat's milk cheeses are aged, the tangy flavor gives way to creamy and earthy flavors. It is the most easily digested of the three milks.

Sheep's milk cheeses are the least familiar of the three throughout the United States. Those who love sheep's milk cheeses adore its nutty, earthy and sometimes gamey flavor. The color of sheep's milk cheese falls somewhere between the color of goat and cow's milk cheeses. Like goat's milk, sheep's milk is also easily digested.

What are curds and whey?

"Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey..." The cheesemaking process begins when the solids in milk begin to separate from the whey. The more whey a cheesemaker drains from the curds the drier the cheese will be. Cottage cheese is an example of a cheese that still contains a good deal of whey. Parmesan cheese, on the other hand, contains very little whey. Miss Muffet was likely eating a watery form of cottage cheese.

What happens to the whey after it is drained from the curds?

The manner in which whey is treated usually depends upon the size of the cheesemaking operation and how much whey it produces. Whey can be dried and made into whey powder, which can then be used in high protein drinks, infant formula and bakery products. Whey can also be used to make some cheeses including Ricotta and the Norwegian cheese Gjetost. A smaller cheese producer who has easy access to pigs may sell the whey as pig feed. But most small producers will dispose of their whey, since they do not produce enough of it to make processing financially feasible. The whey from Beecher's cheeses was tested by the City of Seattle and was deemed safe to be disposed of in the city's sewer system. For more detailed information about whey, read Whey to Go!, an article featured in the newsletter of the American Cheese Society.

Is cheese made from unpasteurized milk safe?

Most cheeses made in the U.S. are from pasteurized milk. If unpasteurized milk is used, government regulations require that the cheese be aged for at least 60 days before it is sold. Regulatory agencies recognize aging of cheese as equal to pasteurization for eliminating pathogenic bacteria. Safe handling and storage of cheese are key to ensuring its safety and quality. Beecher's butter and cheese are made from pasteurized milk. For more information about the cheesemaking process see Cheesemaking 101.

How is cheese part of a healthy diet?

Cheese contains a high concentration of essential nutrients, in particular high quality protein and calcium, as well as other nutrients such as phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. The composition of milk used and the manufacturing process influence the nutrient content of specific cheeses. (For more nutritional information visit www.nationaldairycouncil.org)

Can I eat cheese if I am lactose intolerant?

Many cheeses, particularly aged cheeses such as Cheddar and Swiss, contain little or no lactose. For this reason, cheese is an important source of calcium and many other nutrients found in milk for people who have difficulty digesting lactose or milk's sugar. (For more nutritional information visit www.nationaldairycouncil.org)

Is it true that cheese is good for my teeth?

Consuming cheese immediately after meals or as a between-meal snack helps to reduce the risk of tooth decay. In particular - aged Cheddar, Swiss, blue, Monterey Jack, Brie, Gouda and processed American cheese have been shown to help prevent tooth decay. Calcium, phosphorus and other components in cheese may contribute to this beneficial effect. (For more nutritional information visit www.nationaldairycouncil.org)

What is a cheesemonger?

A cheesemonger is a person who sells cheese. A monger is a broker or dealer. The word monger is usually used in combination with another word, such as in alemonger.

What is a turophile?

A turophile is a lover of cheese. It comes from the Greek words for cheese, tyros; and lover, philos.


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