Cheese

Cheese

By
From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

There are hundreds of varieties of cheese, and it is infinitely versatile. It can appear on the menu at any time of day and in any course; it makes a splendid snack and is one of the most useful ‘emergency’ foods; it is a good companion to drinks from coffee and beer to fine wine. Cheese is remarkable in its ability to complement other foods and plays a vital part in the cuisines of many countries. Cheese can be made from cow, sheep, buffalo or goat milk, each with its own character.

Types of cheese: All natural cheeses, no matter how they may vary in individual character, can be divided into four basic types: soft unripened, soft ripened, firm and hard. Processed cheeses are usually treated to resemble one of these types, and can be used in the same way.

Soft unripened cheeses: These include fresh cottage cheese and ricotta and processed creamed cottage cheese, all low in fat. Cream cheese and Neufchâtel, usually in processed form, are rich and smooth. Fresh mascarpone is luscious and creamy.

Store these cheeses, closely covered, in the refrigerator. Use fresh varieties within a day or two of purchase, processed varieties within a week or two. They are used in salads, for savouries and desserts, as spreads, and in cooking both savoury and sweet dishes.

Salty feta, although firm in texture, is classified in the group because of its high moisture content. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within a week or so. Feta is sliced or diced and served with black olives as an appetiser, or in a salad.

Soft ripened cheeses: These vary from richly flowing camembert and brie to the great blue cheeses, namely, stilton, Roquefort, gorgonzola and dolcelatte, and buttery Danish blues. Tangy port salut, mild bel paese and chevre (made with goat’s milk) are others. Mozzarella, an Italian soft cheese, melts readily in cooking and is used in such well-known Italian dishes as pizza and lasagne.

Many manufacturers produce soft cheeses combined with walnuts, Kirsch, pepper, herbs and other flavourings.

Serve these cheeses as part of the cheese board, as a snack or with drinks, or with fruit and nuts for dessert. Small whole camemberts may be dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and quickly crisped in hot oil as a first course.

Store soft cheeses loosely wrapped in foil in the refrigerator and use within a week or so of purchase. If you are lucky enough to have a whole Stilton, give it special care. Store it covered with a damp cloth wrung out in salt water in the refrigerator. If it is going to be used fairly quickly, the cheese may be cut in half horizontally, one half wrapped round with a napkin and scooped from the centre to serve. There is a tradition of pouring a little port into the centre, but purists disapprove of this. If the cheese is to be used slowly, cut slices across the face as this lessens the risk of drying out.

Firm cheeses: These are the all-rounders, and every cheese-making country has its specialties. cheddar, originally from the west of England, is probably the most famous of all; cheddar-style cheeses are not made in many countries. Salty cheshire, leicester, sage derby (so-named because it is flecked with sage) and sharp, white caerphilly from Wales or Somerset are other well-known British cheeses.

Holland produces smooth-bodied gouda (shaped like a yellow wheel) and edam (shaped like a red ball); Denmark makes mild havarti (formerly called tilsit) and fuller flavoured samsöe. Swiss emmenthal (smooth and nutty, with large holes) and gruyère (stronger, with smaller holes) are the originals on which Swiss cheeses around the world are styled.

Firm cheeses are excellent for snacks, savouries, sandwiches, for toasting, for the cheese board and for cooking. Store them in the refrigerator in a covered container, cut sides covered with foil, or use within a few weeks of purchase.

Hard cheeses: These are strong-flavoured and dry, perfect for grating over pasta, rice, vegetables or soups, or for cooking with. For best flavour, buy in the piece and grate off as you need it. This is practical as these cheeses, low in moisture, do not need refrigeration and keep for a long time provided they have good air circulation. Cheese sellers simply hang them from hooks in a cool, airy place. The great names in hard cheeses are parmesan, pecorino and romano, all originally produced in Italy but now much-copied elsewhere.

Serving cheese: Always bring cheese to room temperature before serving, so that it can release its flavour. Cheese which should be buttery or melting-soft may be hard or rubbery if served too cold.

Put flowing cheeses, such as brie and camembert, onto the board uncut if possible. French bread, water biscuits or other crisp, thin crackers, crispbreads or oatcakes (Scottish or Irish) are good accompaniments. Serve with butter or not, as you prefer.

Serve cheese, as the French do, after the main course so that diners can finish their red wine with it, or serve at the end of the meal.

There is no need to serve a great variety of types on a cheese board or platter. One beautiful brie, or 2 generous wedges of different types are far more tempting than an array of little pieces. Cooking with cheese: Cooking for too long or at too high a heat makes cheese tough and stringy. Always add it at the end of cooking and heat gently for no longer than it takes to melt. Grate hard cheese finely so that it will melt readily; shred firm or soft cheese, or chop it finely.

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