Cheese is everywhere. Cheddar, gouda, brie, pepper jack, mozzarella — you name it. We can’t get enough of it when it’s such a versatile and delicious food. If you have an other-worldly love of the various forms of the dairy product, there’s a holiday dedicated just for you. On Jan. 20, celebrate National Cheese Lover’s Day.
Curds and Whey
There’s no solid evidence of how or when the first cheese was created. The running theory is that the earliest humans made it by carrying milk in sheep cloth sacks. Proteins in the milk would turn into curds and whey. The curds would be harvested and salted for preservation. That’s likely what gave the earliest form its flavor profile.
It wouldn’t be until the 17th century that the first colonial settlers brought cheese to North America.
Even further down the line, the first American cheesemaking factory opened in 1831 in Koshkonong, WI. With the invention of refrigeration in 1913, the milk product became easier to preserve.
Creating the Delicacy
How is cheese made? The first step is to let milk sour, turning it into curds and whey. As they separate, the curds are collected, salted, and then left to age. The whey is collected and used for items like protein powder.
During the aging process, bacteria, enzymes, or fungi will be added to the batch. These give it distinct sharpness or bitterness. Herbs and spices might be added for more flavor. The temperature, time, moisture, and type of milk will affect the taste, color, and texture.
Everyone has their preference when it comes to the food staple. Some like feta for its distinctive sharp flavor, and others prefer brie for its richness and creaminess. Gouda is always good on a charcuterie board. Mozzarella is perfect for a lovely Italian meatball sandwich, and of course, on pizza. Macaroni and cheese is a popular dish to bake for holidays or celebrations.
The ways to eat and enjoy the gooey treat are limitless. There are at least 2,000 types worldwide, all with different flavors, fat contents, and nutritional values. Many cheesemakers keep their recipes a secret, passed down through generations.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. produced 13.3 billion pounds of cheese in 2020. You read that correctly: 13.3 billion pounds! It’s safe to say America loves the stuff.
What if you are lactose intolerant? Have no fear because the bacteria in cheese breaks down lactose, so it’s unlikely to hurt your stomach.
If you don’t want to take the risk, several vegan nut-based varieties made from cashews are available. Food science has ensured everyone can enjoy it in some capacity.
A Cheesy Celebration
Here are some fun ways to celebrate the national observance. Have a tasting party where everyone brings a specialty version. Leave the plain cheddar at home and pick up something new and unique. Make fondue, perhaps one of the best and most social dishes. It combines fun and melty goodness.
If you’re feeling up for a challenge, try making your own cheese. All the ingredients can be purchased at the grocery store. It doesn’t have to harden; you could make something simple like ricotta.
Be sure you dive into the deliciousness on Jan. 20. The cheesiest holiday only comes around once a year.