The history of cheese goes back as far as 6000 BCE, long before the Ancient Egyptians and Homer. There are thousands of varieties of cheese, with local flavor differences influenced by subtle factors such as the type of grass eaten by the cows. Join Active Minds as we trace this cheesy history, including an overview of how it is made and the major categories of cheese.

Key Lecture Points

  • The history of cheese goes back as far as 6000 BC.  Over the centuries, cheese has become a staple in the diet of many cultures, providing a nutritious and easily transported source of protein, calcium and vitamins.
  • The United States is the world’s largest gross producer of cheese, producing 5.5 million of the over 22 million tons produced annually worldwide. New Zealand produces more cheese on a per person basis at 66 tons per person compared to (17 tons per person in the United States). Wisconsin is the largest cheese producing state, followed by California and Idaho.
  • Americans, however, are not the largest consumers of cheese.  France, Germany, and Luxembourg are the leaders in cheese consumption per person at 58 and 53 pounds per person per year, respectively.
  • There are thousands of varieties of cheese; yet, the same basic process is used to make them all.  The factors determining the different tastes, textures and aromas include: the type of milk used, the terroir from which the milk originated, the fat content and the cutting and ripening processes.
  • There is a growing demand for artisanal cheese, fed by popular support for sustainable agriculture, farmers’ markets, organic food and buying local.  Artisanal cheese is made by individual cheese makers in small batches and not in factories.  Artisanal cheese makers emphasize purity of ingredients and an appreciation for natural variation from batch to batch and season to season.
  • Cheese enthusiasts debate the merits of cheese made from pasteurized versus raw milk.  Partisans of raw cheese contend that pasteurization destroys the natural enzymes and bacteria from the terroir that give cheese unique and complex flavors as well as beneficial nutrients.  Proponents of pasteurization point out the need to ensure the safety of the cheese we eat.

Discussion Questions

  • What factors determine the taste and texture of different cheeses?
  • What are the pros and cons in the raw versus pasteurized cheese debate?
  • What is your favorite type of cheese?
  • Have you ever travelled internationally and tasted cheese from another country? What was the experience like?
  • Do you think artisanal cheese is worth the extra cost?  Why or why not?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Caldwell, Gianclis and Jeffrey P. Roberts. The Farmstead Creamery Advisor: The Complete Guide to Building & Running a Small, Farm-Based Cheese Business (paperback). Chelsea Green Publishing Company. 2010. 226 pages. Business guide to creating a cheese making enterprise.
    Click here to order
  • Kessler, Brad. Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese (paperback). Scribner, 2010. 272 pages. A year in the life of a couple who leave New York City for a Vermont goat farm.
    Click here to order
  • Anderson, Ed and Mary Karlin. Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques and Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses. Ten Speed Press, 2011. 256 pages. A guide to making cheese at home.
    Click here to order