Saturday, April 9, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Mold.

Asian cultures have a problem with cheese. Not just milk - cheese. As we said in the dragon bone entry, their diets are often deficient in calcium. Milk is one thing (again, why is groping a cow a good idea?), but cheese is essentially rotten milk. It is also delicious for many, many people in the Western world.

Approved by some dinosaurs, too.

If you live in the Western world, we have a task for you: Go to your fridge. Look for some cheese. Then look at something that you haven't touched in days, all slimy and covered in a veritable rainbow of fungi.

Go on. We'll wait. 

Guess what? Unless you have not checked your fridge in a LONG time, that cheese is more rotten than the thing covered with black, white, and red. If you were observant, you may have noticed that some cheeses are "aged" with certain dates. That is how long it takes for the bacteria and fungi to turn milk into certain types of cheese.

So, what makes one bucket of rotten milk different from the next? It depends on what molds, bacteria, and other microbes are hanging out in the milk. Milk intended to be cheese is taken into caves and humid basements for the pleasure of the same organisms that make bread rot.

Many different types of cheese are made with various microbes (and, in some cases, larvae) to create their unique flavors, but European cheese takes the cake when it comes to utilizing mold. Blue cheese and cheese such as Camembert and brie use different Penicillium molds to create the white rind around their creamy middles. Roquefort and other blue cheeses utilize a different sort of Penicillium to manifest their colorful veins. These Penicillium varieties are sometimes named for the cheese they produce, e.g. Penicillium roqueforti.

On your plate...

Yes, the Penicillium molds used in making expensive cheese are relatives of the mold used to make penicillin, a very common antibiotic. If one is sick with something Gram-positive, penicillin is the fabulous cure-all. The thought process was the same: Bacteria does not grow on things with Penicillium on/in them. Mold was used as a preservative long before it was a processed medication.

Beneath the microscope...IT HAS CHICKEN LEGS!

Thank blue cheese next time you get a prescribed antibiotic. Then remember that antibiotics are slowly leading to resistant bacteria. Shooot.

Next week: A use for fungus as common as sea monkeys.

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