Cheese is one of the oldest food sources. It came into being when it was discovered that domesticated animals could be milked. Most historians agree that cheese was first made in the Middle East. A legendary story has it that cheese was discovered by an unknown Arab nomad, who filled a saddlebag with milk to sustain him on a journey across the desert by horse. After riding for several hours, he stopped to quench his thirst, only to find that the milk had separated into a pale watery liquid and solid white lumps.
However cheese began, all cheeses (except imitation cheese which is made from vegetable oil) are made from milk. Natural cheese is a general classification for cheese that is made directly from milk. In fresh, unripened cheese, the curd (solids), separated from the whey (liquid), can be formed into cheese immediately; whereas in matured or ripened cheese, the curd may be further treated by adding select strains of bacteria, mold, yeast or a combination of these ripening agents. The bacteria, yeast and mold continue to ripen the cheese over time, changing the cheese flavor and texture as it ages.
Natural cheeses are often categorized according to their moisture or degree of softness or hardness. Soft natural cheeses include Brie, Camembert, ricotta and cottage cheese. Semisoft cheeses include blue, brick, feta, Havarti, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Muenster and provolone. Hard cheeses include Cheddar, Colby, Edam, Gouda and Swiss. Very hard cheese varieties include Parmesan and Romano.