When you really stop and think about it, cheese is a downright bizarre food. From the way it’s made to the thousands of varieties out there to the ways it is eaten across the globe, cheese is unlike any other food on earth. But even if no day is complete without some night cheese, we bet that there’s a lot you didn’t know about this ancient and odd food.
While nobody knows for sure who invented cheese or when it first came into being, archaeologists have found evidence of cheesemaking dating back more than 7,000 years. Nowadays, cheesemakers have it down to a science, and there are more than 2,000 varieties in existence, with more cheese produced than tobacco, tea, cocoa, and coffee combined (20 million metric tons, to be exact). As you may have guessed, mozzarella is the world’s most commonly-consumed cheese, largely thanks to the popularity of pizza; Pizza Hut alone uses more than 300 million pounds of the stuff annually, more than any other restaurant chain.
The cheesemaking process is actually quite simple at its core: Milk is heated, acid and enzymes are added, and the milk is separated into solid curds and liquid whey. The whey is drained out, and the curds are salted and placed into molds, where they turn into the cheese we know and love. Nearly all cheeses start out this way, but the way it’s treated during the ripening process, an art called affinage, is largely responsible for the finished product.
Because cheese is so nutrient-dense, long-lasting, and versatile, just about every culture on earth (except for some Asian cultures, which tend to be lactose intolerant) has found a way to make it their own. But even though it’s been around for thousands of years, it’s still one of the most mysterious and intriguing foods on earth, and even the most experienced cheesemongers will tell you that there’s always more to learn about it. Read on for 10 things we bet you didn’t know about cheese.