Cheese is made through a curdling process from the milk of different animals, including cows, goats and sheep. After the milk has turned into curds and whey, the naturally occurring bacteria and enzymes then work to properly turn the liquid into a solid mass that we know as cheese. Through this ageing process, cheeses of hard, soft and semi-soft varieties are produced according to different temperatures, length of time and other factors. Because cheese contains an abundance of bacterias, it is highly susceptible to growing mould.
The amount of time it takes for mould to grow on cheese depends on a few factors, including what kind of cheese, how hard the cheese is and how much moisture is present in the cheese. Generally, the harder a cheese is the longer it will be able to withstand mould growth. This is because of its low water content and pH level. Conversely, the softest of the cheese, including ricotta, tend to grow mould quickly if allowed to go bad.
In order for mould to grow the cheese must be introduced to spores. Mold is a type of fungus, along with mushrooms, and as such, reproduces through spores. Depending on whether or not a spore was allowed to slip into a particular package of cheese, the rate of time before mould is visible can be faster. That is why, even among cheeses of the same variety, one package may produce mould before the other. Additionally, mould thrives in warmer temperatures, and the warmer the environment around the cheese is, the faster mould will appear.
Mold manifests in many different forms. The visible portions of the mould are the spores, and these can be coloured streaks in green and blue, fuzzy white clumps, or even black. Black mould is actually highly toxic and if inhaled can cause almost immediate illness. Toxins, or mycotoxins, are not killed when cooked, and because they are air-born are known to particularly affect anyone with mould allergies, making them susceptible to certain lung diseases. It is always best to be aware of what type of mould is on your cheese, and if it is toxic or not.
While mould is generally thought of as an indication that a particular food has gone bad or spoiled, some cheeses actually are made promoting the growth of mould on them. This is the case in Blue cheese, with the blue colour being mould itself. This mould adds flavour to the cheese, and enhances its palette appeal. Stilton, Roquefort, and Gorgonzola cheeses are also example of varieties intended to have mould, and they are produced with specially cultured moulds being fostered to grow and thrive.
As previously noted, it is the softest of the cheeses that are prone to growing mould in the shortest amounts of time. Cheese in this category can grow mould even in only a week if not kept refrigerated and their packages have been opened. Semi-soft cheeses include Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and Feta, and they can go bad after about three weeks. The next variety is firm cheeses, such as Cheddar, Colby, and Swiss, and they can produce mould if left in a warmer climate after five weeks. Finally, the hard cheeses like Parmesan can withstand mould growth for up to ten months.
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