For as long as humans have domesticated animals, which is around 4000 years, we have eaten cheese. Cheese is rich in protein, good fats, calcium, plus it has a longer shelf-life than other dairy products like milk.
While you can add herbs and spices to flavour cheese, the basic ingredient needed for cheese is milk. Cow’s milk is most commonly used to make cheese in New Zealand and around the world, but you can also use milk from goats, sheep or even yaks.
Once you have your milk, just add a specific set of enzymes or bacteria. With so few ingredients needed to make cheese, there are so many opportunities for experimentation and creating new varieties.
How do you make cheese?
The recipe for making cheese will vary slightly depending on what type of cheese you are trying to make, but the basic steps are universal.
To make cheese, first add a bacteria, vinegar or lemon juice to milk so it acidifies and starts to curdle. As the milk curdles it will separate into solids or curds and liquids or whey. The curds are pressed into cheese moulds with a different type of bacteria that helps it to solidify and take shape.
From there the cheese may be aged, coated with a wax rind, or in the case of blue cheese a different bacteria could be added to create a distinctive flavour or colour.
What types of cheese can you get in New Zealand?
You can find locally made, New Zealand varieties of all the cheese listed below.
1. Fresh cheese
Also called ‘unripened cheese’ because it isn’t aged at all, fresh cheese are typically soft, spreadable, creamy cheeses with mild flavours.
Because fresh cheeses have a high moisture content, they have a short shelf life. Like their name, they are best eaten fresh, and once open they should be finished in two or three days.
Cottage cheese is popular with athletes because it’s high in protein and low in calories. The soft texture and mild flavour of cottage cheese means it’s very versatile and is easily incorporated into a number of recipes.
You can use cottage cheese as a substitute for sour cream, mix it into pancake batter as a milk replacement, crumble it on top of muesli or granola, or simply spread it on toast.
Very similar to cottage cheese, cream cheese tends to be slightly more rich in flavour and higher in calories because it’s normally made using cream or full-fat milk.
The rich, slightly salty flavour of cream cheese, along with it’s spreadable texture means it’s often used in cake icing to balance out sweeter flavours.
Pronounced ma-skuh-pow-nee, mascarpone is also known as ‘Italian cream cheese.’ Mascarpone is like a more decadent version of cream cheese as it’s exclusively made from whole cream, giving it a much richer and creamier flavour and texture.
Mascarpone is most commonly used in desserts like cheesecake and tiramisu.
In Italian, ‘ricotta’ simply means ‘recooked as that’s how this cheese is made. While most cheese is made using the solid curds, ricotta is usually made using the liquid whey and the little bit of curds left behind. That whey and leftover curd is then heated with a little milk and citrus, which is the recooking part, and after it’s all strained you’re left with fluffy white ricotta.
Ricotta has a thick texture and mild, creamy, slightly salty taste which makes it well suited for savoury or sweet dishes. You can use ricotta as a yoghurt substitute or sprinkle some over pasta dishes!
Perfect Italiano Ricotta is made right here in New Zealand.