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10 things you never knew about cheese

How much do we really know about cheese?

It’s delightful nibbled with a glass of pinot noir, essential for that tasty crust on a lasagne and one of the most important parts of a pizza. 

Whether your number-one choice is cheddar or you think feta is better, we sort the curds from the whey with these cheesy facts.

1. It isn’t naturally yellow

All cheese is naturally white or off-white. Darker yellow or orange cheeses, such as red Leicester, get their colour from flavourless annatto seeds, derived from the achiote tree.

2. It makes a beautiful broth

Frugal Italians save up parmesan rinds to make rich, creamy stock or to drop into stews, sauces and soups for added depth of flavour. Save them up in the freezer until you have enough to simmer up with herbs, onion and peppercorns. They are also delicious in risottos.

3. Queen Victoria received a cheesy wedding gift

Forget bottles of champagne or his ‘n’ hers spa vouchers. When she married Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840, Queen Victoria was treated to a giant wheel of cheddar, weighing in at 1,250 pounds and with a diameter of nine feet.

4. You can freeze it

Bought too much cheese in a three-for-two deal or, like Queen Vic, been gifted with more than you can handle? You can freeze cheese quite safely, but this is a better option for cheese you plan to use in cooking, rather than for a fancy cheeseboard, because it tends to change texture and becomes rather crumbly once thawed.

5. Don’t blame the mice

Those little holes in Swiss cheese are not down to nibbles from naughty mice. As milk turns into cheese, carbon dioxide bubbles are formed, creating little air pockets that result in those distinctive holes.

6. Mice don’t like it...

Speaking of the squeakers, a 2006 study found mice actually prefer sweet, sugary foods to cubes of cheese. They might eat it if they’re feeling peckish, but they’d probably go for a doughnut or bar of chocolate given the choice.

7. It’s older than recorded history

Historians believe people were making cheese 7,500 years ago, based on residual fats found in pottery shards. The legend is that our favourite wine accompaniment was created accidentally by an Arabian merchant. The oldest cheese still in existence was found preserved on 3,800-year-old Chinese mummies in 2014.

8. There’s a reason they invented the wheel

Most cheeses are produced in wheels. Not because they look impressive perched on the counters of tiny Parisian wine bars, but for practical reasons. That shape made it easy to transport in industrial times, and wheels can be easily piled on top of one another to save space.

9. It doesn’t give you nightmares

Cheese contains tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sound sleep. However, studies also suggest that tryptophan may make you dream more vividly.

10. It has health benefits

Cheese is a good source of calcium, vitamins A, B2, B12 and D, zinc andphosphorus. Bonus points if you nibble it with grapes and a couple of celery sticks.