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Cheese - Immortal Milk

The word cheese brings in mouth-watering desires. Vivid pictures of cheese toppings on pizza make way into our thoughts. The hot melting cheese just makes us want more, forgetting our struggle to keep away the bulging waist line. Everything becomes abstract, and we devour the cheese, be it any form. Clifton Fadiman describes cheese as 'Milk's leap towards immortality' in his book Any Number Can Play.

Cheese is used for everything from snacks and appetizers to main courses and desserts. It’s an ancient accompaniment that can be made from the milk of almost any of these animals – cows, sheep, goats, yaks, camels and buffaloes.

Cheese is rich in calcium and protein, but it’s also high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Hence doctors often advise patients with heart disease, elevated blood cholesterol, or high blood pressure to reduce the amount of cheese they consume. It is also a good source of vitamin B12.  Cheddar and other aged cheeses may fight tooth decay.  All cheese contains casein, which provides a natural tooth protectant. And finally, the calcium and phosphorus found in cheese help remineralise tooth enamel.  Many people who cannot digest milk because of lactose intolerance can eat cheese, especially the hard ones; the bacteria and enzymes used to make cheese also break down some of the lactose (milk sugar).

While many countries boast of excellent cheese, France is unequivocally the world’s premier cheese-producing nation.  In France, almost every province produces a cheese of exquisite quality, distinctive texture and unique flavour. There are soft cheeses (Brie, Camembert), semi-hard cheeses (Cantal, Comte), herb cheeses (varieties of Boursin), one-of-a-kind cheeses (Grape Cheese) and blue – veined cheeses (including the King of Cheeses, Roquefort)

Like France, Italy is a leading cheese-making nation, blessed with an abundance of milk. With over a thousand years of tradition behind it, the country is justifiably proud of the excellence of its cheese.  From the hard Parmesan to the malleable Provolone to the creamy Bel Pease, Italy boasts of an array of cheeses matched by just a handful of other countries.  More important, Italian cheeses have craved a permanent niche among the miniscule list of international favourites. 

A good cheese is often compared with good wine. Not only is it delectable by itself, but also improves the flavour of other foods. That the Italians cannot conceive a menu without cheese- sprinkled on soups and salads, cooked with pasta or meat or vegetables, served at the end of a meal or as a simple accompaniment with wine and – is a proof of how highly they regard the product. The Italian cheese can be divided into categories: Grating Cheese, Table Cheese and Cooking Cheese.

However, there is no Western or Oriental equivalent of Cottage Cheese; which is called Paneer in India. The cottage cheese available on the shelves of supermarkets elsewhere is quite different. Paneer is an extraordinary source of protein in a largely vegetarian subcontinent diet. It is no exaggeration to say that what meat is to non-vegetarians, Paneer is to vegetarians.  The spin-off in terms of the number of delicacies that can be conceived with our indigenous cheese matches that of the meats. Strangely, it is the easiest cheese to make and requires no curing time or expertise.

Say ‘Cheese’.

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