ELI5 How do you end up with different varieties of cheese like cheddar, mozza and Gouda?

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You process the cheese differently. Use different molds, or hold them at different conditions, or use different additives in the curdling process.


Cheese variety is based on the bacteria culture that is added and the processing method. Cheese’s like parmesan are aged, others like Gouda are waxed, some are salted. But the main difference is the bacteria culture.


As far as i know it’s regional for the most part. Most European cheeses are named for the cities they originated in. Since there was no standardized way of making cheese and people in medieval Europe rarely travelled or communicated outside their regions, everyone ended up with a different end product. This end product is affected by the fermentation process which is dependant on temperature and humidity and whatever native microbes you have in that region. For example parmesan comes from Northern Italy in the mountains where it’s cold and dry and it ferments slowly into a hard, brittle, and strong tasting cheese. Mozzarella comes from Southern Italy where it’s warm and humid and ferments very quickly making soft, squishy, milder tasting cheese.


Cheese is what you get when you curdle milk and let it sit. You can change the flavors by the type of milk you use, the temperature you make it at, and the enzymes or microorganisms used. Mozzarella uses a bit of vinegar or citric acid and rennet (an enzyme originally from a cow’s stomach) in very warm milk and is stretched and folded to get the texture. Gouda adds several species of lactococcus bacteria to warm milk, then rennet and salt. The curds are cut and squeezed to get excess moisture out, and then it’s left to ripen (for several months) while the remaining water evaporates and the bacteria continue to digest some of the materials in the curds. Cheddar is similar to gouda, but different mix of bacteria, you use a bit more salt, and you chop and press the curds several times to get the characteristic texture.


There are many steps in the process of making cheese. But they can be broken roughly into three stages. The milk that is produced itself, the process of separating out the curds from the whey, and the process of aging the cheese( if it is aged at all). Within these stages, there are literally thousands of variations that can affect the outcome of the cheese. In the first stages, there is the type of cow breed which can affect the fat and protein content. If the cow is eating grass versus silage. Even the time of year can affect the milk. Whether the milk is pasteurized or not plays a huge role. In the second stage, there are different cultures that can be added to the milk. There is the temperature of the milk as you separate the curds and the whey. There is the size of the curds that you cut as they begin to form and the way you press the whey out of the curds. There is the mold that the cheese is formed into and the size and shape. In the third stage, the young cheese is aged. The outside of the cheese may be washed with a brine. It could have had a mold introduced to make it bloom a rind like brie. Or it could have had blue cheese molds introduced. And each of these different molds prefer different temperatures and humidities in the environment they are aged in. The cheese may just be aged wrapped in wax or cloth, and the process of enzymes breaking down the proteins and sugars will create some desired flavor. In Europe many of the cheeses have a protected designation of origin so they can only be made in that region and according to a set of rules(what type of cows, how long they are aged, etc.). In the U.S., there is a set of rules about what can be called a cheddar, or mozzarella, or a number of other common cheeses, along with the guidelines of how they should be made (what type of milk, fat content, etc.)