Milk Matters: Great Milk Makes Great Cheese

Milk in glass

At its heart, cheese is about milk.  Without milk, there would be no cheese.  Sounds simplistic, but it’s anything but.  Milk is an endlessly fascinating and complex liquid and to understand it is to understand the essence of cheese.

  Without milk, there would be no cheese. To understand it is to understand the essence of cheese.

Through my experience with the cheesemaking community, I have had an incredible opportunity to observe one of the most ancient rhythms of humanity – the birth of an animal, the abundance of milk that ensues and the symbiotic relationship that has existed between humans and their livestock for countless millennia.

In cheese, I see the ultimate product of that relationship: preserving and concentrating vital nutrients in times of plenty in a tasty, long lasting and portable food.

Archaeological evidence suggests sheep were the first milk-producing animals domesticated by about 8000 BC with goats and cows following.  Early cheesemaking is shrouded in pre-recorded history, but there is evidence of cheesemaking tools as far back as 7000 years ago.

Shepherds often made and aged cheese in remote pastures in summer, returning with bounty each fall. 

Shepherding was one of the earliest service professions, as communities pooled their animals, sending them to graze in the hills, preserving close-in land for agriculture.  In many cases, shepherds were also the cheesemakers as well, making and aging cheese and tending animals in remote pastures and returning to villages in the fall with cheeses to sustain through the winter months.

Animal breeds flourished in certain climates producing milk with a true expression of place, or terrior.Over the centuries, the production of this essential food was elevated to an art form, with regional specialties emerging as animal breeds established themselves and flourished in certain areas based on geography and climate – a true expression of terroir, a French term that connotes specificity of place.

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