World's Most Icky Cheeses

Or are they? Food for Thought.
Cheese made from dolphin milk - decorative fictional image
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Ever wonder why there’s no pig milk cheese, or maybe the milk of a dolphin or - gulp - human breast milk cheese? Sure you have. So, why aren't these, um, unique cheeses being made or even available in stores, and is anyone daring enough to venture into such unconventional dairy realms?

Turns out milk contains a mix of two types of milk proteins: casein and albumin (also sometimes known as “whey”).

The presence of casein, derived from the Latin word "caseus," meaning "cheese," characterizes milk from ruminant mammals like cows, goats, sheep, yaks and buffalo. Casein constitutes roughly 80% of the protein in this mammalian milk, and plays a pivotal role in coagulating the milk, making the formation of cheese possible. But not all mammals have enough casein in their milk to make producing curd possible.

The milks from dolphins, humans and pigs, while all being mammals, have lower levels of casein. For instance, in humans, casein typically ranges from 20-60% of the proteins, while cow milk is around 80%. Because of that, these milks don’t coagulate as effectively, posing a challenge in cheese production.

But there is also cheese made by the albuminous proteins in milk. Essentially, these are cheeses made from whey, like ricotta. Ricotta means “recooked.”

Ricotta is produced from the residual whey left after making another type of cheese. While the original cheesemaking process eliminates most of the casein from the milk, the leftover whey is then reheated to make ricotta.  Sometimes acid (like vinegar) is added to help its creation.

Now…let’s talk about pig's milk. While you might be able to make cheese from pig milk, there are a few unique challenges there as well. Pigs have 12-14 nipples—yup!—and they produce limited amounts of milk in brief bursts, and, wouldn’t you know it, pigs can be very testy while lactating.

Yet, despite all the roadblocks, people have tried to make pig milk cheese. It took hours to get the milk from the pig. And at least one farmer was able to make ricotta, which he deemed “delicious.” A firmer cheese, made by others, was noted to be “rather unpalatable,” which might have been influenced by the pig’s distinctive diet. (They’re voracious omnivores: better not to ask.)

As for dolphins, they eat fish, squid, shrimps, jellyfish and octopuses. Their milk, no surprise, is said to taste kind of fishy. Maybe not good cheese raw material even if you could manage to milk a mommy dolphin’s mammary slits.

And then, dare it be mentioned, there is human breast milk cheese. Well, besides the minimal amount of casein,  it turns out there are a lot of legal hoops in order to sell human breast milk. Side note: There was one attempt made by a British chef to create cheese from human milk, but success only came when it was blended with cow milk.

Since I make no claim to being a scientist, delving into the intricacies of this scientific conundrum may spark your curiosity enough to set you on your own exploration of the subject. I say, “Go for it!”  Feel free to report back.


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