Cheese is a solid food item prepared from the milk of cows, goats, buffalos, sheep, camels and yaks. There are hundreds of varieties of cheese and they are classified according to their texture, method of making, length of aging and the kind of milk used. Cheeses can be fresh or aged and the texture may range from soft to semi-soft to hard. The color of the cheese also varies from pure white to yellow or orange. Cheese also offers other health benefits as it contains essential nutrients such as calcium and protein. In fact, those who are lactose intolerant can easily consume cheese, as many varieties like Cheddar cheese and Swiss cheese are low in lactose content.
Cheese is made by curdling the milk using bacteria and rennet. Some cheese also sports a mold on the outer rind or throughout. Cheddaring, brining, pulling and mold washing are some of the common processing methods. Flavoring agents such as herbs, spices, sesame seeds and wood smoke are added to impart special taste and texture. Gourmet cheese can be made from both pasteurized as well as unpasteurized milk. Cheeses can be consumed raw or can be used to prepare various dishes. Check out more on different types of cheese such as feta cheese, goat cheese and cottage cheese. Learn how ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese are intrinsic to many an Italian recipe.
Gourmet Cheese varieties
While vintage cheese is one that has been matured for anywhere from 1 - 3 years, mild cheese varieties are matured for a few months. Different strains of mold and the way that curd is treated and stored accounts for the bluish tinge on some varieties of cheese.
American cheese, made out of cow’s milk, is light yellow in color and has a smooth texture and is mild and delicate to taste. It is one of the most favored cheeses for sandwiches and with crackers or pretzels. This cheese is usually pre-cut into square pieces.
Camembert cheese has a delicate, salty taste and is made from cow’s milk. It is soft in texture and gets creamier with time. Each layer of this cheese reveals a different flavor, unique to this variety. Camembert is a great accompaniment to melons, grapes, sweet berries and sun dried tomatoes and can be spread on croissants and crackers.
Cheddar cheese is the most widely purchased and consumed cheese in the world and the fact that over 3 billion pounds of cheddar is made every year vouches for its undying popularity. This cheese was originally produced in England but now it is made worldwide. It is made of cow’s milk and has a slightly crumbly texture. It is usually white or pale yellow in color and is matured for over a year. The longer the age of the cheese, the sharper its taste.
Soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, casseroles – cheddar cheese can be mixed with any of these or can be had on its own. Cheddar cheese blends well with other types of cheese. Colby cheese is a softer and milder version of Cheddar cheese as it has a shorter curing process.
Mozzarella cheese, a product of Italy, is another popular variety of cheese made of buffalo’s milk. It has a soft, creamy texture, is white in color and has a mild taste. It has two variants – the fresh mozzarella cheese stored in water and the string variety used in pizzas. Fresh mozzarella is great to eat with tomatoes, mushrooms, olives and pasta while the string variety is best suited for pizzas. Mozzarella cheese works well for cooking since it absorbs flavors of other ingredients well. With its lower fat content, it is a dieter’s choice. Mozzarella is a young cheese that is made by heating and stretching.
Parmesan cheese is a product of Parma, Italy and is one of the most popular varieties. It is made of cow’s milk and is hard and granular in texture. It is pale yellow in color when young and attains a deep straw color when aged. It has a very long aging period; of about 3-4 years. Original Italian parmesan is nutty and goes well with a bottle of wine. It can be served with pears, red grapes, walnuts, figs and raisins. Grated Parmesan cheese can be added to pizzas, pasta, risotto and salad to enhance flavor of these dishes. Parmesan is crumbly in texture as its proteins have broken down due to the longer curing process.
Swiss cheese, famous for its holes, is another variety which is a favorite with cheese lovers. There are two varieties, Swiss and Baby Swiss. Swiss cheese is shiny and pale yellow in color and sports big holes while baby Swiss is ivory in color and has small holes. Swiss cheese ranges from sweet to sharp and is nutty and semi-hard and has a mellow flavor. Baby Swiss is buttery, sweet, creamy and semi-soft. Swiss cheese is great for making sandwiches and also goes well with cherries, pears, apples and almonds. Baby Swiss is great with croissants and muffins. The holes in the Swiss cheese occur due to the formation of air pockets when the cheese ripens.
Brie cheese is famous for its delicate creamy texture. This cheese lends a sweet rich taste and can be made with whole or skim milk.
Blue cheese has a white interior but veins on its outside. Its texture can vary from firm and hard crust to soft and sweet. Blue cheeses such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola attain this color due to mold spores. The Scottish Lanark Blue is yet another popular blue cheese that is highly sought after. These strongly flavored blue cheese varieties are considered one of the best in the world.
Feta cheese is often referred to as pickled cheese, as it is stored in brine. With its low fat content, feta cheese is a hot favorite for low fat cooking. Feta cheese dates back to ancient Greek culture where it was made with unpasteurized milk. Feta cheese is found in square cakes. It is an essential ingredient with many a Greek salad and puff pastries.
Brick cheese is a reddish brown in appearance and yellowish white on the inside. This brick-shaped cheese is semi-soft and mildly pungent.
Mascarpone cheese is often used in dips, sauces and filings. This soft cheese is vital to the making of Tiramisu. Mascarpone cheese is prepared with cream instead of whole milk. This lends it a smooth texture much like that of whipped cream. Obviously mascarpone cheese has a high fat content.
Ricotta cheese is an essential ingredient with Italian dishes, from lasagna to risotto. Ricotta cheese is not really a cheese in the strictest sense, but instead a cheese making process. With its low fat content ranging from 4 – 10%, ricotta cheese is used in cooking.
Gorgonzola cheese is a stronger cheese variety that has an obvious pungent flavor. Manchego cheese is a Spanish cheese variety that has a characteristic crosshatch pattern across it. It is made with sheep milk and has a salty nutty taste.
Cottage cheese is lumpy and creamy and is easily perishable. This soft cheese is a favorite with weight watchers on account of its lower fat content. Use it in salads and baking. Cottage cheese is used in lasagna and savory dishes. Use low-fat cottage cheese as an alternative to richer cheeses in recipes to make for healthier recipes.
Fact file about cheese
- Cheese can be stored for a number of months depending on the texture. Soft cheeses are best eaten within 1 -3 weeks of purchase while hard cheese can be stored for a while. It is better to store large pieces of cheese rather than grated ones. The storing temperature of the cheese should be in between 35 – 40 degree Fahrenheit.
- Cheese is best preserved in its original wrapping. Alternatively, wax paper, transparent wrap, foil or tight-lid containers may be used to store cheese.
- Cheese should not be stored with other strong smelling foods as it may absorb the flavor and get spoiled.
- It is best to cut cheeses in to small pieces or shred it before melting. Cheese should be melted on low heat while stirring constantly. High heat will make the cheese tough and stringy.
- Cheese taste best when consumed at room temperature. Hence it is best to take it out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before serving. Soft cheeses take a comparatively shorter time than hard cheese.
- Some cheese may tend to break when they are shredded. It is best to place them in the freezer for about 30 minutes before shredding. Unpasteurized cheese should not be sliced until you are ready to eat it as it tends to lose its aroma quickly when cut.
Get ready to prepare your favorite dish with cheese toppings or simple nibble on any of them. A full fledged gourmet meal or a simple sandwich, cheese is a sure fire add to add pizzazz to a simple dish.