Sunday, January 27, 2013


French people are supposed to be the most healthy in Europe and this phenomenon has been extrapolated so far to their prolific consumption of Red Wine which is supposed to contain that magical organic substance Resveratrol. The anti-aging properties of this chemical has been well documented though there is no unanimity about such claims. To add to this confusion another group of scientists now claim that it is not the Red Wine alone that is responsible for the good health of French population but prolific consumption of specialty cheeses like Roquefort and Camembert may also be a factor that has to be reckoned with for this phenomenon. Here is a take on this new findings which need to be confirmed with more intensive and focused studies.

Blue cheese which are famous include Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Blue Stilton which are produced extensively in Europe though France and Italy have their own branded blue cheese products popular locally. why is that blue cheese is called so, though all cheeses are made from white milk? Obviously because of the distinct ble or bluish grey or bluish green tint appearing on the surface of these varieties as a result of growth of the mold Pencillium Roqueferti introduced either before curdling or after cheese is made. Incidentally Roquerfort is a town in France where this product originated and abundance caves in this area with high density of the mold had helped the people there to ripen cheese in an atmosphere containing the natural mold. Though products made here are still considered as genuine, modern technology has enabled the dairy industry to make blue cheese under controlled temperature and humidity conditions optimal for the growth of this mold.

For those uninitiated to eating of cheese, blue cheese can be a disaster because of its putrid like sharp smell, caused by the metabolites of the mold as well as the bacterial species present. Brevibacterium  linens commonly present also contributes to the characteristic flavor and taste of blue cheese. World production of all types of cheese is estimated to be around 20 million tons with the US accounting for more than 30% of the production. Interestingly the US is not the top consumer of cheese and countries like Greece and France boast of annual per capita consumption rates of 32 kg and 27 kg respectively. Compare this with the wine consumption rate in these countries to get a clearer picture of the effect of high cheese consumption and wine drinking. While France's per capita annual consumption of wine is a whopping 8 liters, that in Greece or America is way down compared to that of France.

The so called French paradox refers to the unusually healthy status of French population in spite of very high consumption of Cheese, a rich source of saturated fat supposed to a deciding factor in cardiac disease and in contrast America has the highest obesity and other food related disorders among all countries in the world! Whether the high consumption of cheese and wine is responsible for the sound health of the population there is a matter of deduction. Probably more studies are required to come to any meaningful conclusion to this surmise. There is no doubt that Cheese is a healthy food viewed from any angle being rich in Calcium and Protein of very high quality though the high saturated fat content may be a negative trait. Whether cheese fat really is atherosclerogenic is a disputable issue because the milk fat, called Ghee in India is extensively consumed for centuries without much damage to the consumers.

According to some scientists the process that occurs as the cheese ripens into blue cheese is considered good for a healthy gut, slowing arthritis, and arresting the ageing process. Interestingly blue cheese exerted its effect most efficiently in acidic environments, such as the lining of the stomach. As the cheese has significant anti-inflammatory properties, its regular consumption suggests regular consumption can potentially ward off heart diseases that are so common these days. Compared to regular cheese, mold ripened versions like Roquefort, Camembert and other fermented cheeses seemed to have some metabolites possessing the unique ability to counteract the debilitating factors that lead to such diseases. It is a fact that France has the lowest rate of cardiovascular mortality in the developed world. The empirical observation correlating heart disease incidences with blue cheese consumption may spur future research efforts to isolate, identify and extract active principles excreted by the Pencillium species in products like blue veined cheeses.


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