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  • Writer's pictureSue Wharton

Embracing Tradition: Exploring the Top 5 Fermented Cheeses and Their Health Benefits

Cheese, a staple in many cultures around the world, has a rich history of being crafted through various fermentation processes. Among the diverse range of cheeses, fermented cheeses stand out for their unique flavours, textures, and health benefits. Though the probiotic content of cheese is not as high as for some other fermented foods, it never-the-less contributes to improved gut and general health, as well as providing a range of nutrients essential to health…

 


Mixed cheese platter with grapes and nuts

1. Gouda Cheese: A Dutch Delight with Rich History and Flavourful Characteristics

 

Origins:

Gouda cheese, named after the Dutch city of Gouda in South Holland, has a history dating back to the 12th century. It is one of the most popular and widely consumed cheeses globally. Traditionally made from cow's milk, Gouda has become synonymous with Dutch cheese craftsmanship.

 


Gouda cheese

Texture and Taste:

Gouda is a semi-hard cheese that undergoes a ripening process, contributing to its distinct texture and flavour. The cheese is typically smooth, with a firm yet supple consistency. Its colour can range from pale yellow to deep gold, depending on the length of aging. Young Gouda tends to be creamy and mild, with a slightly sweet and nutty taste. As it ages, Gouda develops a firmer texture, and the flavour intensifies, becoming more robust and complex. Aged Gouda often exhibits caramelized or butterscotch notes, making it a favourite among cheese enthusiasts.


How to Enjoy Gouda:

Gouda's versatility makes it suitable for various culinary applications. It can be enjoyed on its own or paired with fruits, nuts, or crackers. Melted Gouda is often used in sandwiches, burgers, and hot dishes. Aged Gouda, with its concentrated flavors, is excellent for cheese boards or as a standalone treat for those who appreciate bold and complex cheeses.

 

 2. Roquefort Cheese: A Gourmet Treasure with Historical Roots


Origins:

Roquefort is a blue cheese that hails from the south of France, specifically from the region of Aveyron. Its production is regulated by strict AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) standards, ensuring that true Roquefort can only be made with raw sheep's milk and aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

 


Roquefort cheese

Texture and Taste:

Roquefort is known for its distinctive texture and robust flavour. The cheese has a crumbly and moist interior with characteristic blue veins distributed throughout. The exterior may have a natural rind that adds to the complexity of the taste. The flavour is bold, tangy, and savoury, with a perfect balance between creaminess and the sharpness of the blue mould.


 Culinary Uses:

Roquefort is a versatile cheese that can be enjoyed in various culinary applications. It pairs exceptionally well with fruits such as pears and grapes, as well as with honey or a drizzle of balsamic glaze. It's a classic choice for cheese platters, salads, and gourmet sandwiches.

 

3. Stilton Cheese: A Quintessential English Blue Cheese

 

Origins:

Stilton cheese, often referred to as the "King of Cheeses," is a quintessential English blue cheese with a rich history. Believed to have originated in the early 18th century, Stilton is named after the village of Stilton, though it is not produced there. It has protected designation of origin (PDO) status, meaning that it must be made in one of the three counties: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, or Nottinghamshire.


Stilton cheese

 Texture and Taste:

Stilton is a semi-soft blue cheese known for its crumbly and creamy texture. The cheese is typically produced in cylindrical shapes and features a natural, crusty rind. Inside, the cheese is creamy with distinctive blue veins spread throughout, creating a marbled appearance. Stilton has a bold and complex flavour profile with notes of earthiness, nuttiness, and a slight tang. The blue veins contribute to its piquant and savoury taste.

 

Pairing and Consumption:

Stilton is often enjoyed on its own or paired with fruits like pears or apples, nuts, and crackers. It's a versatile cheese that can be crumbled over salads, melted into sauces, or simply savored with a glass of wine.

 

4. Feta Cheese: A Culinary Treasure with Historical Roots

 

Origins:

Feta cheese, a beloved staple in Mediterranean cuisine, has a rich history that dates back to ancient Greece. Its name, "feta," is derived from the Greek word "fetta," meaning slice. Traditionally made from sheep's milk or a combination of sheep's and goat's milk, Feta has become synonymous with Greek culinary traditions. Over the years, the production of Feta has expanded beyond Greece, and it is now produced in various regions worldwide.


Feta cheese

 

Texture and Taste:

Feta cheese is renowned for its unique texture and tangy flavour. The cheese is crumbly and soft, with a slightly grainy texture. The curds are typically cut into small pieces during the cheese-making process, contributing to its characteristic crumbly nature. Feta has a bold and tangy taste, accompanied by a salty undertone. Its versatile profile makes it suitable for both savoury and sweet dishes, adding a delightful creaminess to salads, pastries, and more.

 

 

Enjoying Feta in Moderation:

While Feta cheese offers a range of health benefits, it's important to consume it in moderation, especially considering its salt content. The distinctive flavour of Feta can enhance a variety of dishes, from salads to pastas, giving them a Mediterranean flair.

 

5. Swiss Emmental Cheese: A Delectable Journey into Swiss Culinary Heritage

 

Origins:

Swiss Emmental cheese, often referred to as simply Emmental, originates from the Emmental region in Switzerland. It has a rich history dating back to the 13th century, and its production is governed by strict regulations to maintain its authenticity and quality.


Swiss Emmental Cheese

 

Texture and Taste:

Emmental is renowned for its distinctive characteristics in both texture and taste. The cheese features a pale yellow interior with characteristic, walnut-sized holes (known as "eyes"). The texture is semi-firm and supple, making it easy to slice or melt. Emmental has a mild, nutty flavour with sweet undertones, creating a well-balanced and versatile profile that makes it suitable for various culinary applications.

  

Pairing and Culinary Uses:

Swiss Emmental's versatile flavour and meltability make it a favourite for a variety of culinary applications. It's commonly used in fondues, sandwiches, and salads. Pair it with crusty bread, fresh fruit like apples or grapes, and a glass of white wine for a classic Swiss experience.

 

 

Health Benefits of Eating Fermented Cheeses


  • Nutrient Density: Cheese is a good source of essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, phosphorus and B vitamins. Stilton and Feta are particularly good for vitamin B12, which is essential for nerve function and the production of red blood cells.

  • Nutrient Absorption: Fermented cheeses contain enzymes produced during the fermentation process, aiding in the breakdown of nutrients and improving their absorption in the digestive system.

  • Protein and Satiety: The protein content in cheese contributes to muscle and bone health, and a feeling of satiety, making it a satisfying snack or addition to meals.

  • Calcium for Bone Health: The calcium in cheese supports bone health and plays a crucial role in various bodily functions.

  • Antioxidant Properties: Some studies suggest that certain components in cheese, such as moulds, may possess antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals in the body, which are associated with various health issues.

  • Lactose Content: Aged cheeses relatively low in lactose due to the fermentation process. This makes it potentially more digestible for individuals who are lactose intolerant compared to fresh dairy products.

  • Moderate Fat Content: The fat content of cheeses contribute to a feeling of satiety and enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Recent studies have shown that dietary fats from dairy products such as cheese are associated with a reduction in heart disease.


Benefits of Probiotics From Fermented Cheeses:

NOTE: The specific probiotic strains present in cheeses can vary based on factors such as the production process, fermentation, and aging conditions. However, it's important to note that most traditional cheeses are not intentionally inoculated with probiotic strains for health benefits, unlike certain types of yogurt or supplements.


However, many probiotics strains do develop during maturation of fermented cheeses and remain in the finished product, providing it has not been pasteurised. Thus, regular consumption of fermented cheeses is a useful addition to a diet rich in a variety of fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut and may contribute to conferring the following health benefits:


  • Improved Gut Health: The probiotics in fermented cheeses contribute to a balanced gut microbiome, promoting digestion and nutrient absorption.

  •  Enhanced Immune Function: Certain probiotics found in fermented cheeses may support the immune system, potentially reducing the risk of infections and illnesses.

  •  Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Studies suggest that the probiotics in fermented cheeses may have anti-inflammatory properties, which could benefit individuals with inflammatory conditions.

  •  Regulation of Metabolism: Probiotics in fermented cheeses may play a role in regulating metabolism, potentially contributing to weight management and overall metabolic health.

Does your cheese still contain live probiotics?

Determining whether a fermented cheese still contains live probiotics can be a bit challenging, as the production and storage conditions significantly affect the viability of probiotic cultures. However, there are a few general guidelines and tips you can consider to make an informed assessment:

 

1. Check the Label:

 Look for information on the cheese label regarding live or active cultures. Some cheeses, especially those marketed as probiotic-rich, may explicitly mention the presence of live cultures.

 

2. Research the Cheese-Making Process:

Different cheeses undergo various fermentation processes. Cheeses that involve shorter fermentation times or higher heat during production are less likely to retain live probiotics. Research the traditional methods used to make the specific type of cheese to understand how it may impact probiotic content.

 

3. Look for Raw or Unpasteurised Cheeses:

 Probiotics are heat-sensitive, and pasteurisation can kill these beneficial microorganisms. Therefore, cheeses that are made from raw or unpasteurised milk are more likely to contain live probiotics. Keep in mind that consuming raw or unpasteurised products may have additional safety considerations, so be sure to choose high-quality, reputable sources.

 

4. Check the Expiry Date:

Probiotics have a limited lifespan, and their viability decreases over time. Check the expiration or best-by date on the cheese packaging. Ideally, choose cheeses that are as fresh as possible to maximize the chances of live probiotic content.

 

5. Storage Conditions:

Proper storage conditions play a crucial role in maintaining the viability of probiotics. Refrigeration helps slow down the degradation of live cultures. Ensure that the cheese has been stored and transported under proper temperature conditions.

 

6. Consult the Cheesemaker or Supplier:

 If in doubt, don't hesitate to reach out to the cheesemaker or supplier. They may have information about the probiotic content of their products and can provide insights into the cheese-making process.

 

7. Choose Fermented Cheeses with Active Cultures:

Some manufacturers deliberately add probiotic cultures to their cheese and may highlight this on the label. Choosing cheeses labelled as having "active cultures" or "live probiotics" increases the likelihood of beneficial microorganisms being present.

 

Remember that the probiotic content in fermented cheeses can vary, and not all fermented cheeses will necessarily contain live probiotics. Additionally, the primary purpose of consuming cheese is not solely for probiotic intake, but rather for its rich flavour and texture. If you are specifically seeking probiotics, it may be more reliable to incorporate other fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, or kimchi into your diet.


Some UK stockists of fermented unpasteurised/raw milk cheeses

  1. Paxton and Whitfield. Buy online or at shops in London, Bath and Canterbury. https://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/shop/raw-milk

  2. The Real Food Company. Buy online or at their shop in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire https://therealfoodcompany.org.uk/collections/raw-cheeses

  3. The Cheese Society. Buy online or from their shop in Lincoln

  4. Westcombe. Buy online, from thier dairy shop in Somerset or from their list of stockists around the UK. https://westcombedairy.com/

  5. The Good Shed. Buy from their farmers market at Canterbury https://thegoodsshed.co.uk/unpasteurised-cheese/

  6. The Fine Cheese Company. Buy online or from their shop in Bath. https://www.finecheese.co.uk/cheese/raw-milk


In conclusion, the world of fermented cheeses is a fascinating journey into diverse flavours, textures, and health benefits. From the creamy Gouda to the tangy Roquefort, each cheese offers a unique experience for the palate and contributes to overall well-being through the introduction of probiotics. Embracing these traditional fermented cheeses can be a delicious way to enhance gut health, support the immune system, and indulge in the rich heritage of cheese-making.


Mixed cheese platter on wooden tray

 


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