“Why is this cheese so expensive?” said my friend Jenny, frowning as she picked up a box of Camembert cheese at Fairprice supermarket.
We were doing some grocery shopping with her one-year old son Aidan and we were faced with a wide array of different cheeses, ranging from sophisticated French cheeses to slices of Kraft.
Being the food guru I was, I proceeded to explain to her that good cheeses contained just milk, bacteria and a coagulant such as acetic acid (from vinegar) or rennet (produced in stomachs of mammals to digest milk). According to ancient stories, cheese was first created when a trader put his supply of milk into a pouch made from a sheep’s stomach and he set out across the dessert. The heat from the sun, combined with the rennet in the lining of the pouch, caused the milk to separate into curd (cheese) and whey. So cheese has a very natural beginning.
One example of a cheese made like that is gouda, which is a Dutch hard cheese.
The ingredients of gouda are milk, salt, cultures, rennet.
“I want a baby cheese,” said Jenny.
“I don’t think baby cheese is necessarily better,” I replied, “It’s probably just the packaging that looks cute.”
“No. I’m sure it’s cheese specially made for babies.”
We found some “kids sticks.”
This time, there were more ingredients, including water and skimmed milk powder. True enough, the children cheese was a more processed product than the so-called “adult cheese.”
“You can see that there are a lot of extra ingredients. So it’s always better to pay a little bit more and get the purer stuff,” I said.
Jenny was not convinced. She barely looked at the ingredients. We moved on to the next cheese, which was even cheaper. This time, we examined Kraft cheese.
Kraft singles are an example of processed cheese i.e. cheese created with additives to extend its shelf life; to be resistant to separating when cooked; and to have a uniform look and physical behaviour.
This was pretty much the worst cheese you can buy. It contains preservatives and “food conditioners.”
Jenny tossed this into her shopping basket, pleased that she found a low-priced cheese that was “hi-calcium.” She barely glanced at the ingredients list. I decided to hold my tongue rather than rail against the evils of processed food. It wasn’t so much that someone chooses to buy processed food. Once in a while, it’s okay to eat something bad for your body if it will satisfy your craving and keep you sane.
I do think it’s important to know what you’re putting into your body. It’s important to know that you’re paying $3 for 10 slices of cheese that contain preservatives and other additives. It’s crucial to be an informed consumer – one who looks at ingredients rather than packaging to choose nourishment for yourself or your child.
The takeaway from this is not: buy the most expensive cheeses or always go for organic chicken. It is: know what you are buying; understand what you’re eating. Knowledge is king.