The Science of BBQ - What is Cheese and Why is it so Delicious?

The Science of Barbecue is about so much more than just flame and smoke. Food is an integral part of the barbecue and a gill-centric lifestyle. And what food is more amazing than cheese? Cheese has so many flavors and kinds that there should be a whole food group dedicated to this delightful delicacy. Let’s explore what cheese is and why it’s so delicious. From the very scientific way that it is made to the chemical makeup that creates the aromas, textures, and especially flavors that we love, the making and tasting of cheese is as rich and lively as you can get.


What is Cheese?

Shred the cheese

Cheese is a dairy product that comes in so many different flavors, textures, shapes, and sizes that it could be nearly impossible to try every different creation available. Cheese itself has been around in some form or another for about 7000 years, with recorded evidence of it found in 3200-year-old Egyptian tombs.

Essentially, cheese is coagulated milk proteins from a variety of cattle animals like cow, buffalo, sheep, goat, llama, yak, bison, and even reindeer. Obviously, you will find some varieties easier to procure than others based on your location. Further to that, the breed, season, geographical location, and especially the health and diet of the animal can have a direct impact on the quality of said animal’s milk and the final cheese product.


Types of Cheese


Cow’s milk cheese is most easily available throughout North America and other heavy cattle-producing countries. It is milder and has some of the best protein structures for ease of cheesemaking, however, the larger fat molecules are harder to digest for some people. Popular cow milk cheeses include cheddar, Comtè, and Handeck.

You can also dip that burger in the cheese

Try this recipe for Burgers with Irish Cheddar Dip

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This BBQ-themed Charcuterie Board will wow guests with so many delicious cheeses including Handeck.



Goat cheese tends to be softer and tangier because their milk has more water and less lactose. The smaller fat molecules make goat’s milk easier to digest which is better for those with lactose intolerance. Popular goat cheeses include Gouda, halloumi, and unripened cheeses that are soft and spreadable.

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Enjoy some meatiness still on this Cheese Stuffed Cheese Pizza with Chorizo Goat’s cheese

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These Greek Style Wraps feature grilled halloumi for a delicious meal

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This Rotisserie Chicken pairs beautifully with flavorful goat cheese mashed potatoes



Containing twice the protein and fat than that of goat’s milk, sheep milk cheese will be creamier. It also takes less milk to make cheese with. The fat is a smaller molecule than goat’s milk and is easy to digest. It is also higher in vitamins C and B12, folate, calcium, and carbohydrates. Popular sheep cheeses include Feta, Manchego, and gouda.

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Feta really brings out the fresh flavor of this Bruschetta Pizza

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There are eight different kinds of cheese in this macaroni recipe, including Manchego


How is Cheese Made?

Most cheese starts the same way. With milk. That milk is curdled naturally or by adding rennet, an enzyme that is used to curdle milk, and a starter culture of bacteria that converts the lactose in milk into lactic acid. The milk curdles into curds containing casein - the beginnings of cheese, and whey - the soluble fluids left over. Once the milk has curdled into solids, they are cut or broken to release the whey, and the processes that create your favorite cheeses can begin.

Different varieties of cheese are made by adjusting the fat content, acidity, and temperature or by adding extra bacterial cultures, enzymes, molds, and or yeasts to cheese in the beginning or at the maturation stage of cheese making.

Some cheese does not undergo the ripening process that matures it into some of our favorites like cheddar and parmesan. These cheeses are known as fresh and varieties like queso fresco, paneer, feta, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and even some mozzarellas fall into this category.

Many kinds of cheese are ripened, a process of maturing or aging the cheese where the addition or subtraction of microorganisms, biological and chemical changes, and even the adjustment of acidity and moisture can create new tastes and textures within the cheese. The ripening process breaks down the fat in cheese into fatty acids at the same time as the remaining lactose is broken down into lactic and acetic acids.

The addition of (good) bacteria to the inside of cheese creates cheddar, gouda, swiss, and parmesan. If this (good) bacteria is added to the outside of the cheese you will find yourself with flavors like Gruyere, Comte, and Limburger. Cheese can also be ripened by adding some molds to the inside, in the case of blue, stilton, and gorgonzola, or externally like brie and camembert.




Why Does Cheese Taste So Good?

We all know cheese tastes good. We all have our preferences about the type of cheese that we enjoy. But, did you know there are scientific and chemical reasons for this phenomenon as well? Many kinds of cheese possess glutamate, a salty savory taste, and one of the trifecta of the Umami bomb and an integral part of the acronym MSG. Cheese can also be soft and creamy like brie and cream cheeses, supremely salty and briny like feta and halloumi, or sweet like the nutty and sweet Swiss cheese. There is no end to the delightful tastes that cheese can have. It is up to you to find the flavors that speak to you more than others. Your local cheese monger will be able to help you with that as their passion for cheese knows no bounds.

Unsurprisingly it is the chemical reactions that produce the cheesy flavors that we love, in a similar way that chemical reactions occur during the Maillard reaction and the process of smoking food. As mentioned above, it is the bacteria and mold, breaking down the lactose and fat into flavorful compounds. Lactic acid is responsible for the buttery and creamy flavors and for cheese’s ability to melt and stretch the way it does.


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Smoky and savory, topped with sweet and nutty Gruyere cheese, this Smoked French Onion Soup recipe is perfect for a chilly day.


Enzymes formed at the beginning of the cheese-making process, thanks to the bacterial cultures added, will break down the proteins in the milk to produce peptides which are then broken down further into amino acids. There are thousands of varieties of peptides and amino acids and each one has a different flavor and aromatic properties. The processes that finish the cheese, ripening, will also introduce new enzymes which will help to create new flavors as well. And any bacteria, yeast, and molds on the rind (outside) of the cheese, either present already or introduced during ripening, will break down the proteins left on the outside of the cheese. This produces ammonia and water, removes acidity, and creates that gooey and luxurious mouthfeel.

All of these factors unite to create the cheese of your dreams, depending on your personal preferences. That is why cheese tastes so good.

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Release your inner cheese fanatic with this easy and crispy Chicken Parmesan recipe.


Is Cheese Actually Addictive?

Cheese is an amazing source of protein and calcium even though it is high in fat. When you find it, cheese made from 100% grass-fed animals will also contain higher amounts of healthy compounds like omegas 3 and 6, vitamins A and B12, and even zinc and riboflavin. That being said, cheese should be consumed in moderation, no matter how delightful.

Casein, a protein in cheese, breaks down into a compound known as casomorphins, an amino acid that tickles the pleasure receptors in the brain. The casein protein is found in all dairy and when milk is turned into cheese, that protein concentrates and multiplies. Casomorphins cross the blood-brain barrier and attach themselves to receptors that produce dopamine. Research studies performed by many notable sources including the University of Michigan and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai suggest that eating cheese can have a similar effect on the brain as taking opiates. Further, the higher the concentration of casein, the more pleasure you will gain from eating cheese.

There could be more at play than just the casein-producing pleasure chemicals. Cheese produces pleasure when we eat it through scent, texture, and taste as well. Many foods that contain fatty acids are usually present in foods that bring us comfort, which may explain, not only why you find cheese as the central figure in many comfort foods, but why we reach for the after-dinner cheese board even after eating a large and satisfying meal.


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Not just for savory dishes, cheese can go in desserts too. Try this Cheesecake Tart recipe today.


Time to Cheese the Day

Cheese is an essential part of many peoples’ diets. It’s delightful on its own and becomes mind-blowing when paired with the perfect drink, cracker, fruit, or other treats. When it is baked, roasted, grilled, or melted even more magical things can happen to its flavor. You can learn so much about cheese and pairings from your local cheese merchant, they will be happy to answer questions. You can also explore on your own by adding new cheeses to the recipes you try. Apply heat and smoke to find exciting new ways of enjoying cheese by trying one of the recipes in this article or in our Recipe section of the website. How do you enjoy cheese, on the grill or not? What is your favorite cheese? Share your cheesy stories, recipes, and photos with us on social like our Facebook and Tiktok pages using the hashtags #NapoleonEats and #NapoleonGrills.

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