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Cheese

Tuesday, 14 October 2008 | Tags:

With more than 400 kinds of cheese carrying over 2000 different names, weíre on a mission to expand our cheese palates. We talk to cheese makers, importers and nutritionists to find out more about cheese, what to look for on the label, and how to match a variety of cheeses to create the perfect cheese plate.

The Basics

  • Cheese is most often made from cow’s milk. Sheep and goat milk are also used to make some varieties.

  • Cheese has much of milk’s nutritional value (proteins, minerals, and vitamins in concentrated form) but it lasts much longer.

    • Cheese contains vitamins A, D, and some Bs and E, phosphorous, and calcium (about 20-25% of the daily amount needed to build bone mass, and it’s also good for your hair and fingernails).

    • It also contains fats that are good for your health, and are good for delivering vitamins A and D to your body, both of which are fat-soluble.

    • Cheese also contains casein, the most important milk protein, in high amounts in a form that is usable by the body, at around 70 percent.

    • While 8 ounces of cheddar cheese has as much protein and calcium as 1.4 litres of milk, moderation is best.

    • As a general rule, the harder the cheese, the greater the concentration of minerals.

  • The flavour of a cheese depends on the type of milk, the environment it comes from, the cheese-making process, the length of curing, and the moisture content.

    • Differences in water, fat and salt amounts affect the firmness and taste.

    • Differences in curing length, temperature storage, as well as the active bactiera, yeast or mold used affects the flavour and appearance.

  • Cheeses are loosely classified into one of five categories:

    • Fresh cheeses are non-fermented, unripened, mild-tasting, rindless and bright white in colour. They are soft, smooth or granular, creamy and velvety, depending on the cheese. They spread easily and mix well with other ingredients, but don’t last very long and have a high moisture content so cannot be frozen. Fresh cheeses include cottage cheese, cream cheese, Neufchatel, and ricotta.

    • Soft cheeses are not pressed or cooked during manufacturing. Surface-ripened, they usually include a “bloomy” rind as a result of being sprayed with a good bacterium called “penicillium candidum”. The rinds are perfectly edible and contribute to the taste of the cheese. Soft cheeses are easily spreadable, melt well, and include feta (rindless), brie, Camembert, Emereur, and Le Saint-Damase.

    • Semi-soft cheeses have a more firm and compact texture, and offer the largest variety and range in flavour, from mild to sharp. There are three sub-categories:

      • Unripened semi-soft cheese is curdled, drained, then plunged into tubs of warm water instead of air-ripening, and then cut, stretched, and molded to shape. These rindless, usually Italian cheeses include bocconcini and mozzarella and tends to melt well.

      • Interior-ripened semi-soft cheese is curdled, pressed, cooked, and interior-ripened. Some types develop a firm rind in this process, but the rind is removed and the cheese is then protected by thin plastic or a paraffin coating. These quick-melting cheeses include Gruyere, Monterrey Jack, Havarti, and Munster.

      • Surface-ripened semi-soft cheeses are ripened in a refrigerated room and periodically washed in a saltwater solution. They have a slightly sticky rind, melt quickly, spread easily, and include Oka, Tomme, and Noyan.

    • Firm cheeses are put under pressure to remove the maximum amount of whey. Varying in colour from ivory to yellow, these cheeses are soft with an elastic texture and can be stored for up to several months. All are rindless include cheddar, provolone, gouda (a rind exception), Swiss, and brick.

    • Hard cheeses have been aged for months or years, with up to 70% of their moisture removed. Usually grated, these cheese have a sharp flavour, granular texture, and a dry yellow rind, but they melt in your mouth. If stored properly, hard cheeses, including Parmesan, last several months with the flavour intensifying over time.

    • Blue cheeses (Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola) are distinctive from the others, though are considered a semi-soft cheese. They were probably an accident, stored by ancient cheese makers in natural caves, stone cellars and barns, perfect breeding grounds for wild moulds and yeasts. Present day cheese makers use penicillium Roquefortii to make blue cheeses, which are never pressed in order to leave space for the mould to grow and spread. The mould turns blue only when in contact with air.

  • Light cheeses are a relatively late development in the cheese realm and were created to satisfy consumer desires for lower-fat products. But if you’re a real cheese lover, don’t bother with light since they aren’t as flavourful as their regular counterparts. With at least 25% less butterfat, light cheeses tend to be more rubbery in texture and have short shelf lives because of higher moisture contents.

  • With so many cheeses to choose from, it can be hard to decide what to buy. Cheese shopping tips:

    • Always buy quality cheese.

    • Use your eyes and nose to help you find a good one. If it smells strongly of ammonia, it is likely over-ripe. It should look fresh. If it appears sweaty, cracking or has hard spots, it’s likely drying out (hard cheeses). Soft cheeses should feel springy and evenly soft from centre to edge.

    • If you’re buying from a specialty shop, ask for a sample.

    • Buy from shops or supermarkets with high turnover to ensure freshness.

    • For the best flavour, buy cheese that has been freshly cut from a whole round. Pre-cut or vacuum-packed cheeses may not taste the same as freshly cut.

    • Avoid pre-grated cheeses since they have additives that affect flavour.

Other Considerations

  • Store your cheese properly to keep it fresh and long-lasting:

    • Don’t buy a large quantity unless you can eat it within a few days. It begins to spoil as soon as you open the package.

    • Store it around 10ºC or 50ºF. Avoid extreme temperatures.

    • Keep strongly-flavoured varieties away from other foods.

    • If mould develops, cut it off. It won’t affect the flavour of the rest of the cheese.

    • Harder cheeses can be frozen, but it’s not recommended since the texture changes once it’s thawed.

  • Serve cheese at room temperature, which means remove it from the fridge 1-2 hours before guests arrive.

  • When you’re choosing a type of cheese, consider other foods you’ll be serving. If you’re at a specialty shop, ask the clerk to make recommendations for your menu.

  • If you’re serving a variety of cheeses, start with the mildest and end with the strongest.

  • The ideal cheese plate includes a firm, a semi-soft, a very soft, and a mild blue cheese.

Types of Cheese

Cantal

  • The oldest of all French cheeses.

  • A well-ripened Cantal has a vigorous taste, whereas a young cheese has the sweetness of raw milk.

  • Its texture is firm and homogeneous, with a thick, smooth, dry, grayish-brown rind.

  • Cantal smells of the earth and rich pasture lands and offers a tangy butter taste.

Cheddar

  • A good source of vitamin B12 and calcium, cheddar is made from cow’s milk.

  • Touch the cheddar to feel its texture. Choose a cheese with a flaky and hard surface. A fine-grained rather than coarse-grained texture is also preferable.

  • Consider the age of the cheese. Cheddar is aged between 9 and 24 months. Younger cheeses are milder, while older cheeses are stronger. “Aged” cheddar is aged even longer.

  • The longer a cheddar ages, the more crumbly and dry the texture, the sharper the taste.
  • Check the amount of protein it contains – cheddars with higher protein content taste better as it means the maker used a premium quality milk.

  • Aim for a sharp, nutty, full-flavoured taste. Inferior cheddars taste flat and lack “bite”.

Comté

  • A Gruyère-style cheese from France, Comté is a traditional, hard cow’s milk cheese that is very creamy and has a rich yet sweet flavour. It requires a long aging period during which its rind hardens and become golden yellow to brown in colour.
  • According to French agricultural law, French Gruyère-style cheeses like Comté must contain holes that are pea- to nut-sized, whereas Swiss Gruyère has very few, or no holes at all.
  • Once you get it home, wrap Comté in waxed or butcher paper to prevent any moisture from getting trapped around the cheese and making it soggy.
  • Store it around 7-12 degrees C – temperatures that are too low will dry out the cheese.

Emmenthal (Emmenthaler)

  • Considered Switzerland’s oldest and most prestigious cheese, it is a traditional, unpasteurized, hard cheese made from partly-skimmed cow’s milk.
  • It has a sweet aroma with tones of fresh-cut hay. Its flavour is very fruity, not without a tone of acidity.

  • It is aged from four months to over a year. The older it is, the more flavourful.
  • Emmenthal has walnut-sized holes and is considered to be one of the most difficult cheeses to manufacture because of its complicated hole-forming fermentation process.

  • True Emmenthal is made in giant wheels up to 220lbs in size. Look for the name of its hometown stamped on its hard, thin rind.

Feta

  • Feta comes plain or flavoured with herbs & spices. If you’re cooking/baking with it, buy plain. If you using it for appies or salad, try a flavoured variety.

  • When buying feta, choose one made from sheep or goat milk, or a combination of the two. Feta made from cow’s milk falls far short on taste.

  • Feta should always be protected from exposure to air which will cause it to dry, and will cause the taste to sharpen or sour.

  • Choose whole blocks of cheese instead of bricks, slices, or crumbled. Whole blocks will retain their all-important moisture better than smaller pieces.

  • Feta is often sold in blocks packed in a brine solution (heavily salted water). It can be kept refrigerated, covered with the brine, for quite a long time.

  • More about Feta cheese

Goat Cheese

Grana Cheese

  • Also known as Grana Padano, grana cheese is a hard Italian cheese that has been aged for one year.

  • It has a finely-grained texture, pale yellow colour, delicate flavour, and a very hard, thick rind.

  • It is very similar to parmigiano-reggiano, but that cheese has been aged at least 3 years, has a stronger flavour, and is more expensive.

  • Grana is made from top quality milk from cows that have been fed and raised under strict guidelines.

  • Grana padano is actually a registered trademark name given to cheese made in certain geographical regions of Italy. It was granted PDO or “Protected Designation of Origin” status by the European Union in 1996.

  • When shopping for grana, look for a cheese that has a pale yellow interior and a hard, grainy, crumbly texture.

  • Quality grana should taste fresh, fruity, and sweet, with a hint of pineapple.

Gruyère

  • A traditional, creamery, unpasteurized, semi-soft cheese.

  • The cheese is darker yellow than Emmenthal but the texture is more dense and compact.

  • It is a bit sweeter than Emmenthal since it’s made from higher fat cow’s milk. Slightly grainy, the cheese has a wonderful complexity of flavors – at first fruity, later becomes more earthy and nutty

  • It is aged at least 10 months and has a firm, golden-brown rind.

  • Unlike Emmenthal, the Gruyere name is not protected. Be sure to read the label carefully to ensure you’re purchasing true Gruyere.

Gorgonzola

  • Authentic Italian Gorgonzola comes in two varieties: Dolce Gorgonzola is slightly piquant, soft and creamy in texture; and Gorgonzola Piccante is a more aged variety with more mold, which makes it quite robust, firm, and crumbly.

  • Authentic Italian Gorgonzola is classified as DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), which means that the origins of the cheese are controlled and only milk from certain herds may be used in the production of Gorgonzola.

  • To ensure you’re buying authentic Italian Gorgonzola, look for foil-wrapped wedges marked with “DOC” and a lower-case “g”.

  • When shopping for Gorgonzola, look for creamy yellow blocks with delicate green veining.

  • Gorgonzola will develop a very strong taste as it ages, so purchase it in small quantities to keep it at its freshest and best taste.

  • Avoid hard or discolored cheese that has a smell verging on bitter.

  • Once home, remove any crust, wrap the cheese in foil and refrigerate in an airtight container.

  • For the best flavor, take Gorgonzola out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before serving.

Halloumi

  • Originating in Cyprus, Halloumi is a semi-hard, rindless cheese made from sheep, cow, or goat’s milk.

  • With a flavour similar to Mozzarella, chopped mint is often added to the curd, which adds some life to an otherwise milky-bland taste.

  • Halloumi cheese does not melt when heated.

  • The curd is cooked in whey at very high temperatures, which changes the protein structure and allows it to withstand heat.

  • Rather than melting, it develops a delicious crust that surrounds a slightly springy, mild interior that squeaks when you chew it.

  • Although it can be eaten fresh, this cheese is traditionally preserved in brine, which gives it a salty flavour.

  • Halloumi cheese can be found in small loafs at most middle Eastern or specialty grocery stores at an average cost of $2.99 per 100 grams.

Manouri Cheese

  • Pronounced “man-oo-ri”, this Mediterranean cheese is a semi-soft, rindless, unripened cheese made from the whey of sheep or goat milk feta to which cream is added. This is a unique technique since most cheese are made using curds, not whey.

  • Manouri cheese has a mild, slightly sweet and tangy flavour with citrusy notes. It doesn’t taste very salty compared to feta.

  • Manouri is often used in traditional Greek recipes like spanakopita, salads, and sweet pastries.

  • When buying manouri cheese, look for the DOC label (Controlled Denomination of Origin) since it is produced exclusively in two Greek provinces: Thessalia and central/western Macedonia.

  • It is usually sold in log-shaped rolls, or in pieces cut from these rolls.

  • Look for it in  your local Mediterranean specialty shop. If you can’t find it, you can try substituting another soft, fresh cheese like goat cheese, cream cheese, or farmer’s cheese.

Mizithra

  • Also spelled mythizra, this cheese has a pungent aroma but a mild flavor, andis available in three varieties – fresh (sweet), sour, and aged.

  • Fresh mizithra is unsalted and soft, similar to farmer’s cheese and ricotta, and is generally sold in egg-shaped balls.

  • Sour mizithra is made with goat or sheep milk, yeast, and salt.

  • Aged mizithra is a hard, salty cheese.

  • Fresh and sour mizithra are wonderful in baked desserts like Greek cheesecake and Sweet Cheese Pastries, and can also be added to cooked dishes that call for cheese.

  • Aged mizithra is used as a cheese grating for pasta dishes, soups, and vegetable casserole dishes, and is also used as an ingredient in pasta sauces.

  • If you can’t find fresh mizithra, mascarpone or ricotta cheese is a good substitute.

  • For aged mizithra, you can substitute parmesan or pecorino romano cheese.

Mozzarella

  • Mozzarella cheese falls into two main categories: regular and fresh.

  • Most regular mozzarellas are factory produced and have a semi-soft, elastic texture that is drier and not as delicately-flavoured as fresh mozzarella.

    • Regular mozzarella is best used for cooking and is popular for pizza because of its excellent melting qualities.

  • Fresh mozzarella comes in large, white balls and is usually packaged in containers in whey, brine, or water to prevent it from drying out.

    • It has a much softer texture than regular mozzarella, and a sweet, delicate flavour.

  • Buffalo mozzarella is the most prized of all fresh mozzarellas. Most North American buffalo mozzarellas are made from a combination of water buffalo and cow’s milk and are found at most grocery stores.

    • Authentic buffalo mozzarellas made in Italy are created entirely or mostly of buffalo milk which has a sweeter flavour and zestier scent than cow’s milk.

    • For authentic buffalo mozzarella, shop at an Italian deli or market, and look for one labeled “Italian style” or “mozzarella di bufala”.

    • Quality buffalo mozzarella should be shiny, pure white, plump, and spongy to the touch.

Pecorino Romano

  • Pecorino is the name of all Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk; Romano is the name given to cheeses from the Rome area.

  • Pecorino romano is the most popular of the aged pecorino cheeses. It has a hard yellow rind with a yellowish white interior and is typically aged around 8-12 months.

  • Pecorino romano has a tendency to become very dry and salty as it ages, so choose a young or year-old cheese and make sure it isn’t too dry or cracked.

  • You will know that a pecorino is made from good quality milk by its price – the better the milk used, the more expensive the cheese will be.

  • Pecorino romano cheese should be wrapped well in waxed paper, plastic wrap, or tinfoil and stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator to maintain its aroma and flavour, and prevent it from drying out.

Parmesan

  • Best purchased whole with the rind for optimum flavour, rather than pre-grated.

  • Look for cheese that has an even colour from the outer edge to the center. 

  • Avoid any sold without the rind, that are cracking, or that are whitish in colour. These are likely dried out.

  • Pre-grated Parmesan can be economical and convenient, but there’s a significant loss in flavour.

  • Parmesan (whole) can be stored in the fridge for up to four weeks. It’s best to wrap it in a layer of wax paper, then foil. Re-wrap in a clean sheet of wax paper each time you use it.

  • Parmesan may also be frozen, whole or shaved. To freeze, double wrap it, and keep it for up to six months. Thaw it in the fridge and use within a few days.

Raclette

  • Raclette is a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese indigenous to Switzerland and most commonly used for melting. It resembles Swiss cheese but without the holes, and with a milder flavour.

  • Traditionally, the round slab of cheese would be heated and the melted cheese then scraped off onto diners’ plates. The French word “raclette” means “to scrape”, and this is where the cheese got its name.

  • When purchasing raclette cheese, look for one that has been made in the alpine villages of the Swiss Alps. It is known to have a distinct flavour and excellent melting qualities.

  • Once wrapped, raclette cheese can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. It also freezes exceptionally well and can be heated up and melted right from its frozen state.

Ricotta

  • Fresh ricotta is a white, creamy, mild cow’s milk cheese that is unsalted and unripened.

  • When buying ricotta, look for one that is firm and wet but not sticky, with a very light, almost sweet smell.

  • Avoid any that smell or taste sharp and fruity as this indicates that the cheese is no longer fresh.

  • Quality ricotta should be sweet and mild, ready to eat as it comes out of the package.

  • Fresh ricotta is fairly perishable and can be kept refrigerated only about a week.

Dry Curd Cottage Cheese

  • Low in lactose, this cheese is a soft, unripened cheese with white, dry curds. It is made from skim milk that is curdled with an acid or rennet.

  • Other cottage cheeses have milk added after they have been curdled, but dry curd cheese doesn’t, so its moisture content is a maximum of 80%.

  • Unlike other cottage cheeses, dry curd freezes well, though its consistency is a bit lighter and drier after thawing.

  • If you can’t find dry curd cottage cheese, you can substitute ricotta cheese.

Cotija Cheese (Mexican)

  • Cotija (pronounced co-TEE-yah) cheese is a dry, crumbly, goat or cow’s milk cheese originally from Mexico.

  • Too salty as a snacking cheese, this cheese is used as a garnish on top of many dishes.

  • Informally known as “Mexican Parmesan”, in Mexican markets, Cotija is also referred to as queso añejo (aged cheese) and queso seco (dry cheese).

  • When shopping for Cotija, look for chunks with a notably granular texture, a white or off-white colour, and a slight aroma of sour milk.

OUR TOP PICK

How can we pick just one? Cheese is a matter of personal taste. Try out all different kinds (over 2000!), expand your horizons and you will find that cheese can add a lot to every meal. It’s a great way to get your daily recommended dairy too.

 

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  • Jackie

    I love this list! Its so hard to find a comprehensive list with the information arranged in bullets so its easy to skim and read. Thank you!

    • http://www.annaandkristina.com annaandkristina

      Thanks Jackie! We keep adding to it when we learn about new cheeses for different episodes, so keep checking back.

  • KikiMa17

    This is a great list! So easy to read. Especially if you are going cheese shopping for a platter! Thanks!