The heating of milk helps to break down the proteins that cause irritation in the gut and trigger allergic reactions in those susceptible, making cheese generally more easily digested than fresh milk. Cheeses that get their acidity from a bacterial culture are also lower in lactose than fresh milk, as this sugar is what the bacteria digest as they ferment the milk. Ripened firm cheeses, like cheddar, contain only about five percent of the lactose found in fresh milk.Cheeses that are fermented use a variety of cultures to obtain the specific flavor and texture of the particular variety being made. For example, the big bubbles typical of Swiss cheese are a gift from the bacteria Propionibacter shermani. This bacterium creates large amounts of carbon dioxide that are then trapped within the cheese as it firms. Cheeses made from raw milk often require no additional culture to be added - the bacterial strains particular to the place where the cheese is made are those found in the cheese of that region. Today, cheese makers can purchase commercially prepared cultures for many types of cheese without relying on what is in their milk or in the air.Regardless of the simplicity or sophistication of a particular cheese, the freshness of the milk with which it begins and the cheese maker's gentle hands are the two constants. As with many staple foods, modern cooks have lost not only the skills needed to make cheese, but the confidence that these foods can be made at home at all. While the home cook likely won't be turning out Camembert the first time out of the gate, it is not only possible to make a simple, fresh cheese easily, giving it a try may introduce a whole new world of kitchen craft.
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