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Animal milk is used to create over 1,700 distinct varieties of cheese; creamy Brie, buttery Gouda, crumbly Parmesan, stringy mozzarella, sharp Cheddar, to name a few.
The staggering variety of cheeses is testimony to cheesemakers' creativity throughout the ages, but the real stars of the show are the microbes.
All cheeses start from animal milk, including cow, buffalo, goat, sheep, and even camel.
Over the months of ripening, smelly parts can interact in new ways to produce more flavour-carrying molecules, such as a hint of nutty, spicy, woody, grassy, or burnt oats. More fat in the cheese generally makes it tastier.
Flavour compounds typically dissolve well in oils, fats, and alcohol, but poorly in water. Fat-rich foods will therefore cover your tongue with a flavour that lingers.
Some microorganisms digest more than proteins, they also digest fat, such as the Penicillium moulds found in blue cheese. The broken-down molecules may have a peppery taste, while others create an off-putting stink.
One of the substances, known as mushroom alcohol, has a mouldy smell, also found in breath and sweat. The really stinky cheeses, such as Munster and Limburger, contain molecules identical to those given off from old socks.
Our food-obsessed minds crave novelty. When we have a new flavour offered, the desire to try something novel is irresistible.
There are also some scientific-sounding claims that cheese is as addictive as cocaine because it contains opium-like chemicals called casomorphin peptides.
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