Holy Cheese

There are some questions I don’t recall ever asking myself but when I hear an answer for them I get the feeling that the question has always been floating around somewhere in the back of my subconscious.

One such question is why Swiss cheese has holes.  I’m fairly sure it’s not a subject I’ve ever particularly thought about until today when I came across an article on the BBC news website about some research that gives an answer to that very question.

In case the link to that article should become invalid within the lifetime of this post, I’ll repeat the answer here.  A group of Swiss scientists believe that the holes are caused by microscopic particles of hay that get into the milk during the milking process.

Only some Swiss cheeses, such as Emmenthal (one of my favourite cheeses, incidentally), are affected by this phenomenon and apparently such cheeses have been coming out with fewer holes over the past few years, which is believed to be due to changes in milking techniques that lead to less hay contamination in the milk.  The research was done by adding small amounts of hay dust to milk before turning it into cheese, so I suppose that if a traditional hole-filled cheese was wanted without reverting to traditional milking techniques they could probably add some hay dust to their milk for production purposes.

(Another interesting point from the article is that the cheese industry refers to holes in cheese as “eyes” and calls cheese without holes “blind”.)

The article noted that this research has not been peer reviewed, which indicates that it’s not yet quite ready to be considered a scientific fact.

As quite often happens, the answer to one question brings forth several new questions.  The ones that immediately spring to my mind are whether the same explanation would hold for non-Swiss cheeses with holes (such as Jarlsberg – another of my favourite cheeses, this one from Norway), why only relatively few varieties of cheese seem to experience this phenomenon given that hay contamination of milk must presumably be fairly common with traditional milking techniques (presumably there’s something about the cheese recipes that make them more or less susceptible to it) and whether you could get some interesting results by introducing hay particles (or other things) to other cheeses.  Also, the research indicated that the holes are caused by hay particles but didn’t seem to offer an explanation for the mechanism by which this works; this would seem to be an obvious follow-up question.

 

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