In a health conscious age (or perhaps a return to sanity is more accurate) that has seen every possible strategy employed to help Americans keep their collective weight down without having to give up the foods that they love, there is one American favorite that is determined not to play along. Walking down the grocery isle today, once can see low-fat and low-sodium versions of everything: ice cream, hot dogs, ranch dressing–even bacon! Each of these traditionally fatty foods has found a way to be viable in the American market in its aspiring, slimmer, trimmer form. But cheese remains a stubborn holdout in a land that has never lacked creative use for it, from slathering it on beds of tortilla chips to placing it on one’s head to cheer on a favorite football team. This resistance to slimming down lies in the very nature of cheese itself; salt and fat are essential ingredients in the chemical processes that form the delicious mold we love so well. Salt controls moisture content and bacterial development–the latter of which is the main determinant of what flavor the cheese will take on as it ages. The fat content affects moisture retention as well (less fat generally means more water, meaning quicker spoilage), but is also responsible for giving cheese its texture and mouthfeel, without which it quickly becomes a tasteless lump of protein.
While food scientists puzzle out this billion-dollar fat-salt conundrum, Americans may have to reckon with the heinous thought that being healthy may require us to actually make an effort. If the cheese won’t budge, maybe it is we who will have to adjust–and consume it in the smaller, more reasonable quantities in which it is enjoyed in other, slimmer parts of the world. // Patrick Barrett