The big cheese
Cheese is big Business: Despite being eaten for 10,000 years, it is still not a mature market. But it`s growing strongly.
In 1962, President Charles de Gaulle famously said of France: “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”
Two hundred and forty-six? Some estimates suggest that there could be closer to 1,000 varieties of French cheese together with at least 400 Italian cheeses, more than 600 German varieties, and hundreds of others produced in the Netherlands, Poland and the UK.
It is not only the multitude of varieties that is remarkable, but also the scale of production. In 2010 the world made an estimated 20.4 million tonnes of cheese – or almost three kilograms for every person on Earth.
The EU as a whole is far and away the largest producer of cheese. It is also the largest exporter and the largest consumer, with individual European countries topping each of these tables. France is the largest exporter by value and Germany the biggest by volume. Greece has the highest per capita consumption. Total EU exports in 2012 are expected to reach 640,000 tonnes with Russia and the US the main destinations.
Cheese is a key industry in Europe and in countries – such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand – that have been strongly influenced by European cultures and farming practises.
But the dominance of Europe in cheese production is now being challenged by the emerging markets. Between 2005 and 2010, the combined share of global production taken by the EU and the US fell from 62 per cent to 57 per cent, and around 70 per cent of the ‘new’ cheese production over the same period took place outside of the traditional areas.
Furthermore, the cheese being produced in emerging markets is being consumed in those markets. In Russia, Brazil and Argentina, for example, consumption is rising on average by between five and seven per cent a year – and in Mexico and South Korea by around three per cent. Other countries have even higher growth rates because they are starting from lower bases. China, for example, where the market doubled between 2005 and 2010.
Historically cheese hasn’t featured in East Asian diets – and indeed up to 90 per cent of Chinese are said to be lactose-intolerant. But with increasing affluence and the influence of Western foods, the market is growing for spreadable cheeses, pizza mozzarella and processed cheese slices for burgers.
Cheese has been eaten in the Middle East and Central Asia for centuries – possibly since sheep were first domesticated 10,000 years ago – and it remains an important food in many parts of the world. It tastes delicious: but cheese is also a way of concentrating the nutritional value of milk and extending its shelflif– as well as making it easier to transport.
A 30-gram serving of Cheddar cheese, for example, contains about seven grams of protein and 200 milligrams of calcium. It would take about 200 grams of milk to provide that much protein, and 150 grams to equal the calcium. It is also high in saturated fat.
Manufacture typically involves the acidification of the milk – normally through addition of the enzyme rennet – which causes coagulation. The solids are separated and pressed into final form.
The huge variety of cheeses – their styles, textures and flavors – depends on the origin of the milk (including the animal’s diet), whether the milk has been pasteurized, its fat content, the bacteria and mold on the rind or in the cheese, the processing and aging. Herbs, spices, or smoke are also used to change the flavor.
Most of the world’s cheese is made from cow’s milk, though the milk of other ruminants such as sheep, goats and buffalo is also widely used. Ruminants’ milk contains high levels of the protein casein which is needed for coagulation.
But cheese can be – and is – made from the milk of many other mammals including reindeer (in Finland), camels (in Mauritania), horses (in Mongolia), even llama and zebra. The Dairy Development Corporation of Nepal commercially manufactures cheese from yak milk.
However, the world’s rarest and most exotic cheeses are made in single locations. One farm in north eastern Sweden is believed to be the world’s only supplier of elk (moose) cheese. While the world’s most expensive cheese, priced at EUR 1,000 per kilo, is a variety called Pule – made of donkey milk in a nature reserve in Serbia!
How to do it: Accurate slicing of cheese with holes