Monday, December 12, 2011

Cheese, a Wisconsin Love Affair

Close your eyes and imagine cheese. Cheese on a burger, on pizza, in macaroni and cheese, in sandwiches, on crackers for times when you watch the football game. Cheese is milk gone to heaven. The website for dairy products producer Organic Valley calls it “milk’s attempt at immortality.”

Cheese is ancient and modern. It is made from milk. It lasts a lot longer than milk. Today we can find many kinds of cheeses in our grocery stores, including natural, process, artisanal and artificial cheeses (I think these are called cheese foods). It gives us cheeseheads. It is a large part of Wisconsin’s economy. I have heard that Wisconsin produces more mozzarella than any other state, and that the only, or almost only, producer of limburger is a factory in Monroe, Wisconsin.

I like cheese, but my taste for it is not very broad. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about pizza, but focus primarily on cheddar and Swiss cheese. Writers of cookbooks seem to focus on these, too.  Cookbooks for gourmets might be an exception. I use cookbooks for what I call plain cooking.

A plain cook can make many entrees and side dishes with natural cheddar cheese.  A good basic cheese sauce will dress up macaroni, potatoes, broccoli, omelets and many other foods. It’s easy to make. Simply direct your browser to , where there is a video called “How to make cheddar cheese sauce.” That recipe is a bit fussier than mine, but it gives the essentials. That website also gives a lot of interesting information about cheese. Interestingly, while I was watching the video about cheese sauce, a notice appeared at the bottom of the video screen, which said, “Four heart attack signs,” compliments of ads by Google. Wonderful pairing.

Not everyone is in favor of cheese.  Some people don’t tolerate milk products, and some are vegans. Some are doctors, like Dr. Neal Barnard, who states in his writings that people should get control of their health, and that means not yielding to the seduction of cheese. Dr. Barnard wrote a book called Breaking the Food Seduction: the Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (St. Martin’s Press, 2003). He devotes a chapter to cheese, called “Opiates on a Cracker.” Yes, opiates.

Dr. Barnard says that researchers found in cow’s milk traces of morphine, codeine and other opiates. That’s an eye opener. It’s just enough to create desire to go back for more (p.50-51). He suggests that cheese, among other things, is making our nation fat. “…a typical 2-ounce serving has at least 15 grams of fat and about 200 calories—before it even touches your sandwich” (P. 53). “If just one of those pounds of fat lingered on your waistline, adding an extra pound to your weight year after year, you could explain nearly the entire weight problem the country is experiencing—that is, the average American is now gaining about 1.5 pounds per year, and our collective cheese fetish may be a big part of the explanation. If you’re looking for a simple way to trim your waistline, breaking a love affair with cheese can help enormously” (p.53-54).

According to Dr. Barnard, dairy products and cheese seem to be triggers for arthritis and migraines, and   avoiding dairy products can reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. Need I say more? That’s the health story. I don’t know if it is true.

Then there is the economic story. Wisconsin is about cheese. Government boards promote cheese. I don’t know if the government pays farmers to bring their milk to the cheese factory, as it pays farmers to grow corn and soybeans without considering health ramifications.

People continue to enjoy cheese. Take a look at the dairy section of your grocery store. It has shredded, grated, sliced, chunk cheese. The freezer section has pizza and cheesecake. Cheese is big business. Cheese is delicious. Thanks, Dr. Barnard. I still respect your ideas. Have another slice of cheese. But don’t overdo it. 

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