637: The Science of Cheese by Michael Tunick

by Gerard


637.3: Tunick, Michael H. The Science of Cheese. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014. 242 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-992230-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 630: Agriculture and related technologies
  • 637: Processing dairy and related products
  • 637.3: Cheese processing

Cheese has existed in some form or another since the eighth millennium BCE. Over the last ten thousand years, the technique has been the same. Separate the curd (milk solids) from the whey (remaining liquids) and form into a block to eat. How you separate the two, what kind of milk you start with, and what you do to the curd after separation govern the cheese you get. There are cows cheeses, sheep cheese, goat cheese, yak cheeses, stained cheeses, blue cheeses, stretched cheeses, and even brined cheeses. Michael Tunick’s The Science of Cheese is exactly that—a look at the all the wonderful and intricate science behind the making of a single piece of cheese.

A word to the wise: this book is a woefully science-heavy. There are no tours of cheese countries, no tasting notes, and no luxurious food passages. Tunick goes through all the chemicals, processes, techniques, facts, and figures that make up the world cheese making industry. He does, however, talk about a lot of cheeses, how they’re made, and the history behind certain techniques. You learn about caseins (milk proteins), ketones, curd processing, and everything in between. Here’s a couple of fun facts to whet your appetite:

  • Limburger cheese smells like feet because the bacteria used in the smear-rinse of the cheese is in the same genus as one that causes the odor (Brevibacterium linens on the cheeses, B. epidermidis on the feet).
  • The wonderful, brown crispy patches on broiled cheese come from Maillard reactions, which involves the amino acids and sugars in the cheese.
  • Swiss cheeses are actually classified by the size of the hole, ranging from tiny (“partridge eye”) to large (“walnut”).

This book is a fun excursion into the chemistry surrounding cheese. Its near total ubiquity makes it another one of those things that people tend not to think too much about, but there are myriad scientists, testers, and artisans all trying to ensure that what they make is both tasty and safe. A technical but interesting book.