How to Choose Cheese

Cheese is a favorite food. Whether we enjoy it on our pizzas, burgers, or sandwiches or enjoy snacking on cheese, it’s a popular and healthy food choice. What many food fans and even cooks don’t know is that cheese comes in five basic categories, each suitable for a particular use.

To understand the five categories – not flavors (there are hundreds of those!) – of cheese, it’s important to understand how cheese is made. Cheese begins as milk. It can be milk from a cow, goat, or sheep. The milk is heated then natural enzymes and good bacteria are added. This causes the milk mixture to seperate into liquids and solids or curds and whey. Little Miss Muffit was eating cheese when that spider scared her away. Curds are the semi-solids and whey is the liquid part. Once the whey is removed, the semi-solids or curds are pressed into different shapes. As the cheese begins to solidify, the cheese is then seasoned and in some cases, it is aged. The five categories of cheese are actually cheese at five different stages.

Fresh cheese is nothing more than drained curds and often still have a milk like taste. Cream cheese is a fresh cheese and many goat cheeses are sold fresh. Fresh cheese can be flavored with herbs or seasonings too. One of the most common way that fresh cheese is served is on a cracker or spread on bread. Fresh cheeses have no rind and are always spreadable.

Soft cheeses have been ripened but not aged. These cheeses usually have a soft, easy to eat rind and a smooth taste. Texture is also smooth. Some of the best known soft cheeses include Brie and Camembert; these are tasty when used in an omelet or baked inside pastries. They are also delicious spread on crackers. Another soft cheese is called feta and is often used in salads, added to pastas, and with chicken dishes.

Semi-soft cheese are smooth and melt well. These can be seasoned or unseasoned, ripened or unripened. Most semi-soft cheeses have no rind but are known for their mild, smooth taste and consistency. Monterary Jack is a semi-soft cheese and so is Havrati. Both work well melted on sandwiches, as an addition to salads, or melted in a favorite casserole. Bleu cheese is another semi-soft and it is best known for its’ use in salad dressings.

Firm cheese is ripened as well as aged. Most are rindless and have a distintive salty flavor. These cheeses are easy to slice for use on a sandwich, burger, or crumbled into a salad. Fondue cheeses are normally firm cheeses and firm cheeses like Cheddars are a favorite in many casseroles. In addition to Cheddar, both Swiss and Gouda fall into the firm cheese category.

Hard cheeses are the final cateogory of cheese. Hard cheeses are both aged and ripened. Their texture is coarser and these cheeses grate or shred easily. Grated, hard cheeses often make a rich addition to soups, pastas, and casseroles.
Parmesean is the best known hard cheese but other hard cheeses growing in popularity include Asiago and Pecorino.

With more than one hundred different varities of cheese within the five groups, there are cheeses to suit every taste. Cheese fans can choose from sharp or mellow or mild tastes. Smoky cheeses are popular and so are cheeses with peppers to give a satisfying zing of flavor. A visit to the supermarket cheese display or a deli can yield a wide variety of cheeses to try in recipes and just for fun.

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