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One of our most versatile and popular foods, cheese is used for everything from snacks and appetizers to main courses and desserts. It's an ancient food that can be made from the milk of almost any animal cows, sheep, goats, yaks, camels, and buffaloes.


Most cheeses are made by adding a mixture of enzymes, known as rennet, to milk to curdle it  The main enzyme in rennet, which traditionally has been isolated from the stomach lining of calves, is chymosin. Today, it can also be produced by inserting the gene that codes for its production into bacteria. This allows for a more ready production of chymosin and can also cater to consumers who do not favor the idea of an animal extract in their cheese. The liquid that remains after the curds have formed is known as whey. When it is drained away, we are left with cottage or farmer's cheese. Or the curds may be mixed with other ingredients, injected with special molds or bacteria, soaked in wine or beer, pressed or molded, or smoked or aged to make any of hundreds of different cheeses.


On average, it takes about 4 qt (3.8 liters) of milk to make 1 lb (450 g) of Cheddar, Muenster, Swiss, or other firm cheese. A typical 1-oz (30-g) serving of cheese contains 115 calories, about 200 mg of calcium, and 9 g of fat. Cottage cheese has the fewest calories about 90 in a half-cup serving, but it has only half the calcium of milk. Cream cheese, Brie, and other soft cheeses are comparable to hard cheeses in calories and fat, but have less calcium.


Eat in Moderation

Cheese is rich in calcium and protein, making it a staple for vegetarians. But it's also high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Most people especially those with a weight or cholesterol problem should use it moderately, as an occasional treat or garnish rather than as a staple food. Exceptions include adolescents going through a growth spurt, vegetarians, and thin older women threatened by osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones. 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).


Health Hazards

Doctors often advise patients with heart disease, elevated blood cholesterol, or high blood pressure to reduce the amount of cheese they consume. Because most cheese is high in cholesterol and its fat is highly saturated, it increases the risk of atherosclerosis, the clogging of arteries with fatty deposits. And the sodium it contains can be a hazard for people with high blood pressure.


Aged cheese can trigger a migraine headache in some susceptible people. The likely culprit is tyramine, a naturally occurring chemical in Cheddar, blue cheese, Camembert, and certain other ripe cheeses. Tyramine also interacts with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, drugs sometimes used to treat depression, and can cause a life-threatening rise in blood pressure. People taking MAO inhibitors should get a list of foods to avoid from their doctor.


People who are allergic to penicillin may react to blue cheese and other soft cheeses that are made with penicillin molds. Also those who are allergic to cow's milk may react to cheese, especially cottage and other fresh cheeses. Cheeses made from goat's or sheep's milk are less likely to be allergenic.


Pasteurized milk must be used to make commercial cheese in both the United States and Canada. Occasionally, however, health-food stores and specialty shops sell imported or homemade unpasteurized cheese. Such cheeses can harbor dangerous salmonella and other bacteria; a case in point involved several food-poisoning deaths in the United States that were later traced to imported cheese made from raw milk.


Low-fat Cheeses

Fat gives cheese its rich texture and delicious taste, but it also adds calories and cholesterol. About 70 to 80 percent of the calories in cheese comes from fat. Even reduced-fat or part-skim milk cheeses can be high in fat; more than 50 percent of the calories in part-skim milk mozzarella come from fat. Historically, low-fat cheeses often lacked flavor, and tended to be high in salt to improve flavor; sodium phosphate may be used to create a smoother texture. today, there is a broader range of tasty low-fat cheeses on the market. Cholesterol-free imitation cheeses are often made of soy, or tofu; they still can be high in fat and sodium.


Fresh cheeses made from skim milk for example, nonfat ricotta and cottage cheese are low in fat and calories. Whipped or blended versions of these cheeses can be substituted for regular cream cheese, which is 90 percent fat. Nonfat yogurt, strained through cheesecloth, is another possible alternative.











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