Ruminants Make Good Cheese

Where does cheese come from? The answer is milk.

Some people think cheese only comes from cow’s milk. The reality is that there is a heck of  a lot of cheese made from other ruminants. In fact, the best cheese comes from ruminants.

You ask – What the heck is a ruminant?

A ruminant has a four compartment stomach which is capable of efficiently digesting grass and fiber. Ruminants can subsist by grazing. Cows, sheep and goats are ruminants.

When a ruminant has finished eating, the food is brought back up and rechewed. This is called chewing the cud or rumination. Ruminants make a lot of gas in their stomachs and belch about once every minute. If the belching stops the stomach swells with gas.

A non-ruminant mammal has a single chamber stomach and are called monogastrics. Examples of non-ruminants are humans, dogs, cats and pigs. Non-ruminants do NOT make good cheese.

There are about 150 species of ruminant. The population of domestic ruminants is greater than 3.5 billion, with cattle, sheep, and goats accounting for about 95% of the total population. I guess that’s why 95% of cheese is cow, sheep or goat.

Canada has 13,945,000 cattle. No I didn’t count them. That statistic comes from wikipedia. Canada has the 9th highest cattle population in the world. Canada is also ranked in the top ten countries of consumers of cow’s milk and cow’s milk products per capita (2006).

Sheep – Google Images

Stats Canada estimated that there were 825,300 sheep and lambs on farms in Canada as of January 1, 2008. While less than 2% of the world’s milk output comes from sheep, its composition makes it more nutritious than cow’s milk, and easier to digest.

Goat – Google Images

In 2001, Statistics Canada reported the Canadian goat population at 182,151. That was a 45% increase since 1996 in goat population. Goats produce approximately 2% of the world’s total annual milk supply.

Water buffalo, Reindeer, yaks, and even camels are other ruminants that provide milk for cheese in some regions of the world.

So there you have it. It is probably more than you wanted to know about ruminants but it does help explain why pig cheese is so unpopular.

Greek Kasseri Cheese

I decided to try some Macedonia Greek Kasseri Cheese today. I saw it while shopping at Michael-Angelo’s Market Place in Mississauga.

Greek Kasseri Cheese

This is a Greek cheese made from ewe’s (female sheep) milk or a blend of sheep and goat milk. When blended, the cheese can contain no more than 20% goat’s milk by weight.

This cheese is semi-hard, mild, slightly salty with a faint buttery taste. It is pale yellow with no rind. It would make a nice table or snacking cheese. One website I researched referred to Kasseri as “Greek Mozzarella”. Evidently it is a good melting cheese and could be used on pizza, in sandwiches or with eggs. I have not experimented with that yet.

The mean composition of Kasseri is : moisture 42.2%, fat 25.2%, protein 25.8%, salt 3.1% and pH 5.7.

Kasseri is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product. It is one of twenty Greek cheeses that has been certified by the European Union. PDO cheese must meet standards regarding the origin, the animals and the production methods.

Kasseri is consistantly rich since it is made only in the months when the milk is creamy and sweet. It is hand stretched, kneaded and put into special molds. The cheese rounds are aged in special rooms for six months. The flavor continues to develop and improve even after it has been packaged. Like most traditional Greek cheeses Kasseri is “organic” since it is produced from the milk of Sheep and Goats that graze in regions free from fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides.

Kasseri is the cheese used in the famous Greek dish Saganaki in which cheese is fried then flambéed.

I liked this cheese. It is not the kind of cheese that makes me want to tell people they must try it. But it was pleasant, affordable and a bit different. I don’t know if I’ve ever had sheep’s milk cheese before. Maybe that was a first. I’m paying a lot more attention to the cheeses I encounter and trying to figure them out and understand them better. It seems every cheese has a story behind it and this one took me to Greece. Opa!