Cheese, glorious cheese. One of humanity’s oldest culinary creations, cheese has been around for nearly 4,000 years and comes in more than 1,800 varieties. Here’s a sampler platter of facts about everybody’s favorite dairy product.
Surprisingly, nobody really knows for sure. The longstanding theory was that bacteria in the cheese emits carbon dioxide, creating bubbles — or “eyes” — that burst as the cheese matures. (Cheese varieties without these eyes are referred to as “blind.”) While this has been the leading hypothesis for the past century, there are other theories. A 2015 study suggests that small particles of hay in milk may cause the famous holes. There’s evidence that these small specks weaken the cheese’s internal structure, causing gas bubbles to emerge.
There’s a reason the scent of certain cheeses smells like feet, armpits, or sweat: The bacteria that make human beings stinky are closely related to the bacteria responsible for stinky cheeses, such as Limburger. In fact, some cheeses are so human-like that mosquitoes can mistake them for flesh.
In parts of medieval England, it was traditional for a father to buy a cheese — called “groaning cheese” — when his wife gave birth. The cheese was hollowed out and pieces presented to everyone present around the birth. At the child’s christening, the baby would be passed through the wheel of cheese for good luck.