Utah is home to several artisan cheese making companies that ship their products all across the country.
Beehive Cheese Company near Ogden produces cheese, mostly by hand, in the artisan tradition.
There are both scientific and technological components behind the production of artisan cheese.
The origin of cheese can be traced back millennia. Even in Homer’s “Odyssey,” written composed nearly 3000 years ago, mentions the art of cheese making.
In the “Travels of Marco Polo,” there are references to fermented milk being made in the thirteenth century. The best guess is that cheese originated somewhere in the Middle-East sometime before the development of writing and historic recording.
Cheese is crafted in many different forms: soft cheeses, like brie; firm cheese, like cheddar, and hard cheese like parmigiano.
Beehive Cheese near Ogden makes cheddar cheese, which is classified as a firm-texture cheese with a distinctive flavor, ranging from mild to sharp.
“Pasteurize the milk, heat it, inoculate with rennet and cultures, cut the curd, cook, drain, cheddar the curd, mill, hoop, press, and age. In a nutshell, that’s all there is to the process,” Pat Ford, one of the founders of Beehive Cheese, said of the process of making cheese.
According to Ford, the first nine steps in that process take about eight hours to complete and can produce upwards of 1,500 pounds of cheese from 13,400 pounds of milk. Step ten, pressing, can take up to twelve hours, said Ford.
The final step of the cheese-making process, aging, is a variable that depends entirely on the type of cheese being made.
Buchanan said, “Softer cheeses can be ready to eat in less than a week while the harder, sharper cheeses may be aged for as long as 15 to 20 years.”
Aging is a critical step in cheese making that depends entirely on the cultures — also called bugs — added to the milk early in the process, Buchanan said.
The bugs live on the natural sugars in the milk, the cultures multiply, they produce acids that flavor the cheese and assist in the coagulation process.
The most important part the bugs play in aging cheese is modifying milk proteins. That is what produces the flavors of all cheeses by cutting long milk protein chains into shorter and shorter protein chains.
Cheese can be made in small batches or in batches weighing thousands of pounds in large commercial plants. The ingredients and the science needed to make cheese are fairly uniform: milk, rennet, cultures and flavorings.
The equipment list is fairly simple, too: pots, a heat source, something to cut the curd with, cheese cloth, molds, weights to press the curd and a place to age the cheese.
In the simplest description, cheese is milk in a more compact form. It is easier to transport than milk, it has a longer shelf-life, it is easier to store and it includes most of the proteins, sugars and butter fat from the milk.