The topic for today is how cheese makes you happy! That’s right. There is evidence that the nutrition in cheese can actually affect your mood among other things. I’m pleased to bring you this great news today!
- Homestead Life Updates
- Cheese and Nutrition
- Nutritional content
- Cheese tastes good
- Facts about fat content
- Lactose intolerance
- Why cheese makes people happy
- Cheese Fondue Recipe
Homestead Life Updates
Scott is working hard on getting the creamery built. Every day that does not bring adverse weather sees him out there building the walls. There are also lots of other odds and ends and details he adds in there that breaks up the monotony. I’m am so blessed to have such a wonderful life here with him. Our life has purpose and meaning as we both work hard to bring you the benefits of traditional hand-made artisan cheese.
The winter drags on. Seems like a long one this year doesn’t it? Every year winter is the same 13 weeks on the calendar but the weather conditions during that period of time alters our perception of time, I think.
There is a common winter ailment called seasonal affective disorder. I’m sure some of you know of what I speak. It’s a type of depression that’s related to changes in the seasons. Symptoms can begin as early as the fall and continue into the winter months. Occasionally, SAD causes depression into the spring or early summer, but that is rarer. Spring usually brings a rush of relief.
I experience SAD every year. This year is different. I’ve significantly changed my diet and it shows. While I can still feel the effects of this winter season, it is muted compared to previous years. I feel kind of heavy sometimes; slightly weighted down by life in general.
As an aside, I generally just suffer through it. However, there are things you can do. Light therapy or phototherapy is the most common treatment. Some schools of thought attribute the issue to reduced vitamin D from the sun as there is less light due to the length of the day. More severe cases may require medication or psychotherapy.
The symptoms may start as a minor issue such as having trouble sleeping or a general loss of interest in doing anything. Low energy, feeling sluggish or maybe agitated for no reason. As the season progresses, the symptoms get worse and worse. In the past it has seemed overwhelming to me. And then, poof, spring arrives and it all evaporates like mist.
Let’s talk about how cheese might help with that. Did you know that cheese has nutritional properties that stimulate our happy hormones? First, let’s cover the basic nutrition in cheese.
Cheese and Nutrition
Cheese is a delicious and tremendously efficient source of nutrition. It supplies many valuable nutrients, including proteins, sugars, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. A 4-ounce piece of solid farmhouse cheese, for example, supplies more than half the adult nutritional requirements for protein, fat, calcium, and phosphorus as well as significant portions of vitamins A, B2, and B12. If you compare the nutritional content of a 3.5-ounce chunk of a hard, aged cheese such as Cheddar or Emmental to an equivalent amount of chicken eggs (two eggs are about 3.5 ounces), the cheese contains about twice as much protein and one quarter the cholesterol.
The miracle of evolution has ensured that milk is an extremely nutritious food. After all, without it how would mothers, down through the eons, have guaranteed the survival of their babies? Cheese concentrates the nutrients in milk. It’s a highly efficient method of getting vital nutrients for our bodies.
Another advantage to cheese is that its nutrients are “predigested” by bacteria and enzymes during cheesemaking and aging. That means the process of breaking down the proteins, fats, and sugars began before it was savored on our palette and began the journey to our tummy.
Plants in the pasture have absorbed nutrients from the soil; the dairy animals have extracted those nutrients, packaging them in the form of milk. That’s another place that a lot of gathering nutrients has already been done for you. Your body has to devote less effort to processing cheese than it does with many other comparably nutritious foods.
Cheese Tastes Good
Cheese tastes good and satisfies us. A big reason for that is the fat. There are beneficial fats available in milk. Many of them work as antioxidants and also provide fat-soluble vitamins good for our skin and other organs. In cheese, milk fats undergo lipolysis, which breaks them down into more easily absorbed and beneficial fatty acids, some of which in turn enable us to metabolize the fats from other foods.
Cheeses, especially those made from the milk of grass-fed animals, are a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, a highly beneficial nutrient. In small studies involving animals, CLA has been shown to prevent heart disease and several types of cancer. It also appears to enhance the immune system. CLA is considered a fat-reducing fat. You heard that right. There are studies on this. Let me give you some info from one study. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Jean-Michel Gaullier, PhD with the Scandinavian Clinical Research Group did the study. It was a relatively small number of participants. 180 men and women were followed for a year. A third got a typical off-the-shelf pill of 80% CLA. Another third got a 76% CLA syrup formula, disguised in a capsule. The last third took a placebo capsule of olive oil.
No one had to change their diet or exercise habits. All reduced their calorie intake a little bit during the study. Likely that was due to tracking with a food diary. That can really wake you up to what you are actually consuming. As far as exercise, all got about the same amount.
The results were:
- Both CLA groups lost weight – about 4 pounds; the placebo group stayed the same.
- The CLA syrup group had a 9% body fat loss; the CLA pill group had 7% body fat loss; the placebo group had no body fat loss.
- Both CLA groups had similar improvements in muscle mass.
Good news ay? Losing weight was good, but I found the conversion of fat to muscle mass to be the most interesting to me.
CLA is found naturally in beef, lamb, goat and dairy products.
Facts About Fat Content
Because cheese contains fat, naturally, it raises concerns. There are some valid concerns there. Not for the fat, but for the calories. A little bit of cheese goes a long way. Real cheese delivers a lot of nutritional bang for your buck and a lot of caloric bang for your buck. The fat is the culprit there. The key is to eat moderate amounts along with your other dietary choices. Let’s talk about the fat content of various cheeses.
Contrary to appearances, hard, grainy cheeses such as Parmesan may actually contain more fat than creamy, luxurious ones such as any triple cream cheese. The rich triple cream types are labeled “75% butterfat” while a Parmigiana–Reggiano claims around 35% butterfat. The trick is that cheeses are labeled by percentage of fat in their solid materials, not in their total weight.
Cheeses retain water, even after much of it is extracted during cheesemaking. The less water a cheese retains, the harder or denser it will be. A dense cheese with, say, 50% butterfat, could actually deliver more fat per serving than a soft, gooey one with 70% butterfat.
Let’s talk about lactose intolerance. Well–made, aged cheeses are actually one of the few dairy products that will not cause problems for many people with this difficulty. The first and most important step of cheesemaking, alongside protein coagulation, is the conversion of lactose into lactic acid – the souring or fermentation action of lactic acid bacteria on milk. The small amount of lactose left over after active cheesemaking ends is further broken down by glycolysis during aging.
What this means is that for people who have trouble digesting lactose, it’s not a problem because the digestion has already been done for them by the cheesemaking and aging process. Give it a try. You, too, can be a happy cheese eater. Speaking of cheese making your happy. Why is that?
Why cheese makes people happy
A wonderful piece of info I ran across wherein a neurologist talks about how cheese literally makes you happy. Dr. Thomas C Morell is the neurologist. Link to the article will be in the show notes. The title of the piece is Nutritional Neuroscience. The central core of the article is using nutrition to help heal TBI or traumatic brain injury.
There is some really good information about how the brain functions along with how and why nutrition is important to maximize brain function. Later in the article he gets specifically to cheese as “the first food that will help your brain.” He cites cheese as an extraordinarily rich source of proteins and amino acids. One of those amino acids is Tyrosine. Dr. Morell’s comments on the relation of tyrosine to neurotransmitters in the brain are noted in the article.
Some quotes from the article: (again, reference in the show notes) “The body does not produce Tyrosine so it must be obtained from outside sources, of which cheese contains very high concentrations. We quickly began to realize that cheese is one of nature’s perfect foods for the body and for brain functioning! Furthermore, the pleasure of eating cheese in its multitude of varieties is not just for the sensuous pleasure of taste and smell, but actually has nutritional importance that will help the neurotransmitters in your brain. Cheese not only supplies calories for metabolism as well as being an excellent source of Calcium, but contains proteins and amino acids that are intricately associated with manufacturing many important brain chemicals.”
Then he talks about how cheese makes people happy.
“Cheese can make people happy. Why? It starts with Tyrosine which is a building block for many of the neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. It can improve mood and well-being particularly during times of stress. Tyrosine is a substrate of many well-known neurotransmitters including adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Cheese may be one of the basic primordial foods that improved the performance of our brain, with deep connections from the olfactory bulb to the parts of our brain responsible for memory and emotions. Cheese may just be the perfect food to capture the nutritional-emotional duality that our bodies and brains need!”
I find it so refreshing that our medical profession is starting to look at food as nutrition for building, maintaining, and healing the body.
“Cheese contains high levels of casein which is the primary protein found in milk. As casein is broken down and digested it is converted into Tyrosine. Casein is also broken down into the chemical casomorphin, an opioid molecule in the same family as morphine. This may explain some of cheese’s addicting qualities!”
I can relate to the addicting quality of cheese. As my diet has improved, my urge for eating too much food is strongly diminished. However, once I start eating cheese, I may overeat if I don’t pay attention.
“There are many receptors for the Tyrosine molecule in the olfactory bulb where our sense of smell courses through the Central Nervous System. The Tyrosine in cheese is broken down into several chemicals. One of them is epinephrine (adrenaline) which has many positive physical and mental effects to make us more alert. Epinephrine also increases the flow of oxygen and glucose to the brain and muscles which elicits the “Fight or Flight” response to stressful or dangerous situations. Norepinephrine helps fight off depression and can improve our attention and concentration skills. Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter involved in mood stability and accounts for pleasurable feelings and activation of the brain’s reward systems. Tyrosine is also a precursor to levodopa which is used to replace deficiency of Dopamine in Parkinson’s disease. Finally, Tyrosine is also a precursor to Melatonin, the skin pigment that protects us from ultraviolet sunlight damage but is also associated with insulin production which regulates blood sugar levels.”
How perfect is cheese? It makes you feel good with the neurotransmitter action and supplies energy and protein. All are critical for brain performance and memory retention.
As a final note on the topic, have you ever wondered what those little crunchy pockets that develop in the paste of well-made aged cheeses are? Those are crystals of tyrosine embedded in the long chains of amino acids of the casein molecules. When they make your mouth water, they are not only providing cheese eating pleasure but they’re also setting into motion a series of very real and tangible benefits to your body and brain.
Let’s move on to today’s cheese fondue recipe.
Cheese Fondue Recipe
Cheese fondue can be fancy or it can be a quaint and close tradition in any family or group of friends. As an added bonus, it’s easy to make. The only skill needed is the ability to stand at a stove and stir.
Cheese fondue is a Swiss invention which became popular in the US in the 1960’s. I’m looking to revive that tradition. As its core fondue is melted cheese served in a pot over a portable heating device and enjoyed communally. It can be made with or without the official fondue set. A double boiler set up will work just fine. Using a crock pot is also an option. The key is low, slow heat. Add some wooden skewers and your homemade fondue set is complete.
How to Make the Perfect Cheese Fondue at Home
The perfect cheese fondue is rich and smooth. First, I want to go over a few tips to make it easy for that to happen for you. Stick to them and your family and guests will be transported to the Alps from their first bite.
- Use Good-Quality Cheese. It will be more expensive but worth it. Even if you ignore all of the other tips, keep this one. Fondue truly is all about the cheese, and the quality and types of cheeses you use will have an enormous impact on the final product.
- For classic Swiss cheese fondue (meaning one like what you would find in Switzerland), a mix of traditional, firm alpine mountain-style cheeses is best. Gruyere and Emmental come to mind.
- We make a cheese called Pinnacle that will serve you well. There are lots of other cheeses that will also work. No need to be bound by the “Swiss” label.
- You want a buttery, creamy cheese that melts smoothly. Cheddar cheese would work. Even though the flavor would be less traditional, it would still taste fantastic. I’ve used our Clau d’ ville Cheddar mixed with alpine-style Pinnacle and the blend warms the heart.
- Grate – do not chop – the Cheese. Grated cheese will melt much quicker.
- Toss the Cheese with Cornstarch Thoroughly. Cornstarch helps thicken the fondue and prevents the cheese from clumping. You don’t want lumpy cheese!
- Classic cheese fondue does call for white wine. Use a good wine. Choose something dry and high acid, such as Sauvignon Blanc.
- The taste of the wine directly impacts the taste of the fondue. The acid in the wine helps keep the cheese smooth and gives it an even texture. Again, we don’t want lumpy fondue.
- You can substitute unsalted chicken or vegetable stock if you do not want to use wine.
- For beer cheese fondue, swap out the wine with your favorite beer. Beer works really well in a cheddar cheese fondue.
- Add the Cheese Slowly and Stir Constantly. This is SO important to make sure the cheese fondue is buttery smooth.
- Grab a small handful and sprinkle it into the pot. Stir constantly and wait for each addition to melt before adding the next.
- Don’t try to rush it—you won’t win. Just enjoy the moment at the stove at peace with yourself, the cheese, and the promise of a luscious fondue.
What Should You Dip?
- Bread. Always delicious. French or sourdough cut into 1-inch cubes so that it can be easily skewered.
- Apples. Tart apples like Granny Smith are fantastic dipped with cheese fondue. Cut the apples into cubes.
- Cherry Tomatoes. One of my absolute favorites!
- Roasted Baby Potatoes.
- Steamed Broccoli. Reminds me of broccoli cheese soup.
- Game Day Delights:
- Potato or tortilla chips
- Soft or hard pretzels
- Ham, Turkey or Beef
- Bacon. Even better than you think it’s going to taste. Make sure the bacon isn’t too crisp or it will break off in the pot.
- Shrimp or mussels
- Kielbasa or hot dogs
The choices are up to you. There are no rules there. Anything that tastes good with cheese it going to be heaven. It takes about 25 minutes to make the fondue.
What You Need
- 1 pound (4 cups) of 2 or more cheeses of your choice – Gruyere, Emmental, Appenzeller and of course our Pinnacle
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup dry white wine — such as Sauvignon Blanc
- 1 clove garlic — minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon kirsch – Kirsch is a clear colorless fruit brandy. You may substitute a brandy of your choice
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg – ground
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
- Assorted Fondue dippers
What to do
- Grate all of the cheeses. In a medium bowl, combine the cheeses with the cornstarch, tossing thoroughly to coat all pieces.
- In a stove-safe fondue pot or large heavy saucepan, bring the wine, garlic, and lemon juice to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add the cheeses to the simmering liquid a little at a time, stirring well between each addition to ensure a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in the brandy, nutmeg, and mustard.
- Arrange an assortment of bite-size dipping foods on a platter. Carefully pour the fondue into a fondue pot. Serve with fondue forks or wooden skewers.
- Dip and enjoy!
If using a crock pot, no need to wait for the wine and lemon to simmer. Put it all in there and stir as needed until the desired consistency is achieved.
I’ve run out of words for today. I hope if you have the winter blues you are taking time out of the day to pamper yourself. And remember, this too shall pass. Enjoy some cheese to get that tyrosine going and get happy.
I hope you’ll try the fondue. You can let me know what creative ideas you used and traditions you started by commenting on the Facebook post @peacefulheartfarm.
As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”
Thank you so much for listening and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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