Cheese is a concentrated dairy food made from milk. Cheese is defined as the fresh or matured product obtained by draining the whey (moisture or serum of original milk) after coagulation of casein, the major milk protein. Casein is coagulated by acid, which is produced through the addition of select microorganisms and/or by coagulating enzymes, resulting in curd formation. Milk may also be acidified by adding food-grade acidulants, which is the process often used in the manufacture of fresh cheese.

Cheese can be made from whole, 2% reduced-fat, 1% low-fat or fat-free milk or combinations of these milks. About one-third of all milk produced each year in the United States is used to make cheese. Washington is a major producer of cheese.

Different ingredients and processes employed during the making and aging of cheese result in a wide variety of available cheeses, each with its own distinct texture and flavor profile. There are more than 200 varieties of cheese produced in the United States; more than 1,400 varieties are catalogued in the World Cheese Exchange Database.

Nutrition Information

Cheese is basically a concentrated source of the many nutrients found in the milk from which it was made. Milk itself is regarded as a nearly complete food. It is extremely difficult to present average nutrient values for cheese as a whole due to the differences in manufacturing processes and standards of identity. Even within one variety of cheese, variations in the type of milk, processing, season and locality can lead to marked fluctuations in nutritional composition.

Considering that it takes about 10 pounds (5 quarts) of milk to make 1 pound of whole milk cheese, cheese is a nutrient-dense food. Cheese provides calories; high-quality protein; vitamins; and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus and zinc. The chart below gives the nutritional profile of some popular cheeses in common servings.

Cheese By the Numbers

Serving Size








American, pasteurized process, 1 oz.




Cheddar, 1 oz.




Cottage, 1/2 cup




Cream cheese, 1 oz.




Mozzarella, part-skim (low moisture), 1 oz.




Source: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

The fat content of cheese varies by type. For healthy people, cheese can be a part of the everyday diet when consumed in moderation, like any other food. Fat is necessary in the human diet to transport fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K into the body. Many cheeses are an excellent source of calcium and a good source of protein and phosphorus while being low in trans fatty acids.

For individuals wishing to lower their calorie or fat intake, a variety of lowfat cheeses are also available. These include the following:

  • Low-fat cheese: 3 grams or less of fat per reference amount (1 ounce for most cheeses, 4 ounces for cottage cheese).
  • Reduced-fat cheese: 25% less fat per reference amount than its full fat counterpart.
  • Fat-free cheese: Less than 0.5 grams of fat per reference amount.

Recent research indicates that cheese, like all fat-containing dairy foods, is a significant source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), the conjugated dienoic fatty acid isomer of the essential fatty acid linoleic acid. CLA is highly concentrated in the fat of ruminant animals, such as cows. The enzymes in a cow’s digestive tract and mammary tissue convert linoleic and linolenic acid from the diet to CLA; CLA is passed on to consumers when they consume dairy products such as cheese.

Numerous studies over the past 25 years in several carcinogenic animal models have demonstrated that dietary CLA inhibits a variety of cancers including skin tumor initiation, forestomach neoplasis as well as mammary and colon tumorigenesis. Indeed, a National Academy of Sciences report has pointed out that “CLA is the only fatty acid shown unequivocally to inhibit carcinogenesis in experimental animals.”

Other research has discovered that CLA reduces the development and regression of atherosclerosis in experimental animals and may offer cardio-protective benefits. Research suggests that CLA may act to channel energy away from adipose tissue and toward oxidation in skeletal muscle.

Cheese is also defined as a source of high-quality protein. This means that cheese contains the essential amino acids in amounts proportional to the body’s need for them. When proteins are consumed, they assist with building and repairing body tissue; form antibodies, hormones and enzymes; and provide energy.

Cavity fighter

Consuming certain cheeses — including aged Cheddar, Swiss, blue, Monterey Jack, Brie, Gouda and processed American cheese — immediately after meals or as a between-meal snack has been shown to help prevent tooth decay. Calcium, phosphorus and other components in cheese may contribute to this beneficial effect.