Learn about cheese's history, nutrition, plus cheese FAQs.

Cheese Origin & History 

Throughout history, cheese has been used as a source of nutrition and a perfect complement for various meals. Its origins date back to ancient times when travelers from Asia are believed to have brought the art of cheese making to Europe. According to an ancient legend, the first cheese was accidentally made by an Arabian merchant who carried his milk in a pouch made from an animal’s stomach. The rennet in the lining of the pouch combined with the heat of the sun and caused the milk to separate into curd and whey. That night he found that the whey satisfied his thirst, and the cheese (curd) satisfied his hunger. 

Cheese making was common in the Roman Empire and the Romans passed on their knowledge to the rest of Europe. The Pilgrims included cheese in the Mayflower’s supplies for their voyage to America in 1620. Once in the New World, the craft of cheese making spread quickly. 

How is Cheese Made?

The cheese making process starts with milk. Much of the cheese we eat in the United States starts with cow’s milk, but there are other varieties whether from a goat, sheep, or buffalo. 

There is not one way to make cheese. Instead, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to make cheese. provides a helpful overview of most common steps in the process.   

Health Benefits of Cheese

With nearly 2,000 types of cheese available worldwide, it’s no wonder that the average American consumes about 40 pounds of cheese per year (about 1.5 ounces per day). Cheese, however, is more than just a delicious part of our favorite meals and snacks – cheese makes significant contributions to a healthy diet. 

Cheese is a good source of high-quality protein and contributes other essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and vitamin A to the U.S. diet. Cheese is the second leading food source of dietary calcium in the U.S. diet (after milk) for Americans 2 years and older. Cheese calories range depending on the type and fat content, but a 1 oz serving of cheese contains around 100 calories.  

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recognizes that dairy foods, including cheese, play an important role in healthy eating patterns from infancy through adulthood. Healthy eating patterns that include low-fat or fat-free dairy foods are associated with reduced risk for several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type 2 diabetes (T2D). In addition, dairy foods provide calcium and protein, which are particularly important for accruing peak bone mass in early adulthood. 

Dairy foods help people thrive across the lifespan – including the earliest stages. The DGA recommends providing small amounts of cheese and yogurt as complementary foods to infants beginning around 6 months of age, depending on developmental readiness.  

The DGA recommends 2 daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods for children 2-3 years, 2½ for children 4-8 years and 3 for those 9 years and older in the Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern. While the DGA recommends low-fat or fat-free dairy foods for Americans ages 2 years and older, most of the cheese eaten in the U.S. is not low-fat or fat-free. Food pattern modeling, however, indicates that one serving of whole- or reduced-fat cheese can be incorporated into healthy dietary patterns while staying within recommended calorie and saturated fat levels. 

Salt is a vital part of the cheese-making process, as it controls moisture, texture, taste, functionality, and food safety — salt cannot be completely eliminated and some cheeses require less than others. Some cheeses like Swiss and ricotta cheese tend to be made with less sodium and are naturally low-sodium choices. Ninety-two percent of sodium in the U.S. diet comes from sources other than cheese. 

If you are lactose intolerant, cheese can still be a part of your diet. Natural and aged cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Parmesan and Swiss contain minimal amounts of lactose, because most of the lactose is removed when the curds are separated from the whey in the cheese making process. The minimal lactose left in the curd breaks down considerably as the cheese ages. 

What Does the Research Say?

While the 2020-2025 DGA recommends choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, emerging evidence suggests that full fat dairy foods can fit within healthy eating patterns. Additionally, the DGA recommends limiting intake of saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories per day, so full-fat dairy foods, like cheese, can fit into a healthy eating pattern within saturated fat intake limits.  

Eating cheese has been linked with health benefits. A 2016 systematic review indicated no association between cheese consumption and CVD risk, and concluded that eating cheese may be associated with a lower risk for stroke and T2D. The same review also concluded that high-quality evidence indicates no link between cheese consumption and the risk for hypertension.  

Additional studies concluded that eating cheese was linked to a lower risk of CVD, including stroke, reduced blood pressure, as well as an 8 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure. The health benefits of cheese may be linked to the cheese matrix, or unique physical structure of cheese. More research is needed to understand the dairy matrix and its promising impact on health. 

8 Ways Cheese Can Help Your Body

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Types of Cheese

While there are nearly 2,000 types of cheese available worldwide, cheese can be classified into eight categories: 

Blue: A characteristic of varieties that develop blue or green streaks of harmless, flavor-producing mold throughout the interior. Generally, veining gives cheese a bold and pungent flavor. Examples: Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Danish blue. 

Hard: Well-aged, easily grated and primarily used in cooking. Examples: Parmesan, Romano and Asiago. 

Pasta Filata: Curds are heated and stretched or kneaded before being molded into shape. Stretches when melted. Examples: mozzarella, string and provolone. 

Processed: A blend of fresh and aged natural cheeses that have been shredded, mixed and heated with an addition of an emulsifier salt, after which no further ripening occurs. Examples: American cheese and process cheese spreads. 

Semi-hard: A classification of cheese based upon texture. Examples: Colby, Cheddar, Edam and Gouda. 

Semi-soft: A wide variety of cheeses made with whole milk that melt well when cooked. Examples: Monterey Jack, Fontina, Havarti and Muenster. 

Soft and Fresh: Have high moisture content, typically made with the addition of lactic acid cultures. Examples: cottage cheese, cream cheese, Feta, Mascarpone, ricotta and queso blanco. 

Soft-ripened: Classification of cheese based upon texture. Examples: Brie and Camembert. 

Learn more about different types of cheese.

Cheeses of New England

Vermont is known to be the epicenter of artisan cheesemaking in New England, but new creameries and cheeses are emerging from other states in the region. It’s exciting to see several cheeses made in our region are taking top honors at the World Cheese Championships. Get to know these New England-based cheesemakers who are making a name for themselves on the national and international cheese scene. 

Cheese FAQs

Does cheese have protein?

Cheese is a good source of high-quality protein, which helps to build and repair muscles. One serving of cheese contains 14% of your Daily Value* of protein. Cheese is a nutrient-rich option for those looking to increase their protein intake. 

*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice. 

Is cheese high in calories?

Cheese provides only 5 percent of the calories in the U.S. diet. Cheese calories range depending on the type and fat content, but a 1 oz serving of cheese contains around 100 calories. 

What is the healthiest type of cheese?

Cheese is a good source of high-quality protein and contributes other essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and vitamin A to the U.S. diet. Eating cheese has been linked with health benefits including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and blood pressure. 

Choose the type of cheese that best fits your diet, lifestyle and taste preferences. 

How many types of cheese are there?

While there are nearly 2,000 types of cheese available worldwide, cheese can be classified into eight categories including blue, hard, pasta filata, processed, semi-hard, semi-soft, soft and fresh, and soft-ripened.

Can you freeze cheese?

 Yes, you can freeze cheese. Benefits of freezing cheese include: 

  • Free up refrigerator space.     
  • Save money by buying cheese in larger sizes.    
  • Wasting less by freezing before the sell-by date (instead of throwing it away).    
  • Getting the most out of your dollars spent; when you throw food away you throw money away.   

Visit New England Dairy’s blog to learn more about freezing cheese and other dairy products. 

Further Reading

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