Why is cheese not more extensively used for food in this country? There are two chief reasons. One is that people do not appreciate its value as a food material. If they realized that twenty-eight per cent, of cheese is protein, and thirty-five per cent, is fat, they would question the advisability of looking elsewhere for a cheaper muscle-forming and heat-producing food. A pound of cheese and a pound and a half of the best sirloin steak represent about the same amount of food value. The cheese has a little more nutriment in it. The other reason for using so little cheese may be found in the prevalent belief that cheese is indigestible. Experiments prove that people are mistaken in this. Cheese is slow of digestion, but very nearly all is digested. According to Konig, cheese is beneficial in the diet not only on account of the amount of digestible nutrients it contains, but because it aids in the digestion of some other foods.
As to the digestibility of raw cheese there seems to be still a difference of opinion. The Scotch and Swiss people are known to experience no difficulty in digesting it. Probably Americans would have less trouble if they knew that it contains more protein than almost any other food, and would take small amounts of it in the place of meat, instead of in addition to meat or eggs. It is often eaten at the end of a meal, when the stomach is already overloaded, and must rid itself of the great amount of protein which has been forced into it. Cheese should be eaten often, rather than in large quantities at one time.
All protein foods, if eaten cooked, give best results when subjected for a long time to a gentle heat while cooking. Experience hitherto leads to the belief that this statement is true. In the case of egg cookery, a high heat hardens the albumen, and evaporates much of the liquid, leaving a shrunken, leathery mass. In cooking meat (boiling, for instance), the albumen is hardened, the connective tissue softened and dissolved, so that there are simply long, practically tasteless fibres, instead of juicy, palatable, tender lean meat.
Vegetable casein, such as is found in beans, peas and lentils, is subject to the same general rule. In order to be most palatable, and furnish the greatest amount of nutrition to the body, such foods must be cooked slowly, and for a long time.
Cheese is a highly concentrated protein food, manufactured from milk. Raw cheese is very generally slow in digestion, often causing serious disturbance and distress. When cheese is cooked with eggs or milk, and the general rule for cooking protein foods is followed, it is found agreeable in flavor, and much more easily assimilated. Cheese should not be exposed directly to the heat, as it is when toasted on crackers, etc., as this renders it hard and leathery. When mixed with eggs or milk before cooking, it is soft and creamy, and a portion of it apparently dissolved. In this case, the heat is a medium one and cannot rise so high as it otherwise would. Success in cheese cookery depends somewhat on the kind of cheese used. A skim-milk cheese is tough when raw, and very difficult to use successfully in cooked dishes. Such cheese contains much nutritive material, but the nutrients are not very valuable unless they can be put into digestible form. When one is compelled to use a stringy cheese a little baking soda thrown into the dish just as the cheese begins to melt will obviate the difficulty somewhat, but the product is never quite so nice as with a full-cream cheese. A little baking soda (an amount equal to half the size of a pea) added to a cup of grated cheese, or to the ingredients of any cooked cheese dish, is believed by some to divide the cheese into finer particles, and thus render it easier of digestion. A filled cheese is never satisfactory for cooked dishes, and is less valuable as a food than a properly made cheese. Brick cheese, though a whole milk cheese, as found in some markets, is very unsatisfactory for cooking. This may not be true of all brick cheese. Some persons prefer to use imported cheese, rather than risk a mistake by using American cheese. The Double Gloucester, a cheese mild in flavor and rich in fat, is excellent in cooked dishes. Parmesan is a skim-milk cheese of Italian manufacture, and is, contrary to the general rule, highly prized in some cooked dishes. The absence of stringiness is probably due to a difference in ripening.
Grated cheese beaten into eggs, as in making omelets, makes a palatable and wholesome dish. The cheese, surrounded by the egg and slowly cooked, is soft and palatable. Of a dish similar to the cheese omelet, Mattieu Williams says: "I have made many a hearty dinner on one of these, plus a lump of black bread," etc. His meal consisted of nothing in addition to the omelet and bread except a beverage, and he adds: "I have tested the sustaining power of such a meal by doing some very stiff mountain climbing and long fasting after it. It is rather too good - over nutritious - for a man doing sedentary work." He further states that the cost of such a meal was about six cents.
At ordinary prices, cheese and eggs will give us muscle-forming and fat-producing food in a very cheap form in this country also.
One can easily test the difference in digestibility, or ease with which the food is assimilated, by eating a goodly amount of raw cheese for supper one evening, and taking a dish of cooked cheese another time. Macaroni with cheese is a highly nutritious and very generally liked cooked cheese dish.
When milk, eggs, and cheese are used together, the dish containing the mixture should be set in a pan of water in the oven, and cooked the same as a custard. A similar dish may be made by mixing grated cheese and bread crumbs in equal parts in a dish, and pouring the custard over them, and baking in the same way. Toasted bread or toasted crackers may be eaten with cooked cheese dishes.