Are you like me, when you pass the cheese display at the grocery or specialty store? Do you always opt for the safe choice, like cheddar, jack, brie, or gouda? Would you like to at least pretend to know something about cheese? The wine is easy enough to fake, just ask the waiter or waitress for their favorite. I would hate to pay $10 or more per pound and end up with Velveeta.
So, today, I bring you Cheese Tasting 101. Please understand that your cheese palate is just as peculiarly individualistic as wine tasting.
10. Mascarpone (Italy)
This is a tasty triple cream cheese, with at least 75% butter fat. It is quite spreadable, and comes in a rather thick, ivory color. I know you like it, since it is one of the main ingredients of tiramisu. It is easily overpowered by other flavors, so use it with some sugar or like the Greeks, with their loukoumades. First, spread a little mascarpone, then dip into some fresh fruit preserves (other than fig, quince or rhubarb).
9. Camembert (France)
OK, the French can do cheese, other than brie. Camembert and brie are like family (brothers to be exact). Both are made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, then curdled, placed in molds to set, and turned without pressing. This process results in a rather soft cheese. Molds then ripen the cheese for a few weeks, giving the characteristic hard white coating, and soft cheese on the inside. Camembert is a little softer than brie.
8. Pecorino (Italy)
This is a thousand-year old cheese from the Roman countryside. It is made exclusively from Sardinian sheep milk. It is curdled, salted, then pressed into molds. The pressing removes the moisture, resulting in a very hard cheese. The result is a flavorful cheese that can enhance a meal or be eaten alone. The Sardinians also grate the cheese onto pasta, or eat it in small cubes.
7. Gruyere (Switzerland)
Could it be named after the town of Gruyere, Switzerland? First made back in the 12th century, it is another curdled cheese, then cooked at a low temperature to remove more moisture. The bacteria in the cheese releases carbon dioxide producing the trademark holes. The result is a hard texture, a nutty flavor, and holes. Leave it to the French to create a cheese controversy, by naming a similarly styled French cheese using the Gruyere name.
6. Stilton (England)
At place called Stilton, England, 1730, a man named Cooper Thornhill was a cheese lover who sold his cheese to travelers from his inn. A real cheese lover, he acquired the rights to market Stilton cheese. As a protected cheese, it must be made according to strict guidelines. Stilton is made from pasteurized milk, then curdled with rennet, and then drying the resulting curds. The curds are salted, then placed in a cylindrical mold, and periodically turned. The cheese is then pierced with needles, impregnating the cheese with mold, producing the blue veins inside the white flaky cheese. The resulting Stilton is rich and creamy, flavored like blue cheese, but not too strong. It is best with crackers, or on salads or soup. Some people say a Stilton cheeseburger is primo! Right, Chrissie?
5. Red Windsor Cheese (England)
Really, Louise, a red cheese? The process is similar to regular cheddar, then curdled, and sliced into small cubes. After some sitting, the cubes are cooked and stirred for 20 to 40 minutes before draining. The curbs become lumpy, then salted and mixed. Usually a Bordeaux or Port is splashed onto the curds, then pressed and left to mature. The cheese forms a firmness, with pink marbling throughout. The taste is strong and slight hint of wine, mostly as an aftertaste. Most people are shocked by “red” cheese.
Wow, it is really a red cheese!
4. Danablu (Denmark)
This Danish Blue from Denmark is the strongest flavored of the blue cheese family. The blue veins of mold lace the cheese and its rich soft texture. It is almost spreadable and quite crumbly. It was invented in the 20th century by Marius Boel, who was just trying to replicate Roquefort by those snooty French. Happily, Danablu has eclipsed Roquefort in popularity, as well as availability. The aging period is two to three months, leaving a cheese that is too strong to eat alone. It is known as the butyric tang!
3. Nettle Cheese (England)
I have some new-found respect for those bloody Brits, they are really cheese masters, or at least cheese artisans. Nettle cheese is rather obscure, and originally from Cornwall. It is made like normal cheese but wrapped tightly in nettle leaves. The nettle leaves begin to grow mold, resulting in a mild taste, but a strong aftertaste in the mouth. The mold also leaves a hard but edible rind which has its own sharpness. It is best served as a snack, with crackers or bread, and great with Alfredo sauces.
2. Emmental (Switzerland)
This is actually the real Swiss cheese. Often the Swiss cheese in the store is an inferior cheese, not emmental. First made in 1293, near Berne, it is the oldest of cheese from Switzerland. The large holes (also called eyes) produce very interesting slices when cut. The texture is firm with a yellow color and strong flavor. The holes are from bacteria that metabolizes the lactic acid in the cheese. The resulting carbon dioxide releases into the cheese, forming the bubbles that expand and produce the eyes. Experts say the larger the eyes, the stronger the flavor. After emmental, you will never go back to inferior Swiss cheese.
1. Halloumi (Cyprus)
Could it be that the strangest cheese is the best cheese? Best of all, it does not melt, making it perfect to pair in kebabs with fruit and vegetables. Simply, the curd is heated before it has been placed in brine. The heating denatures the proteins in the cheese, resulting in long fibers that are resistant to melting. Halloumi originated from Middle Eastern Bedoiins, or nomads. It is a cheese that keeps well, and made from either goat or sheep milk. Turns out one of the best ways to eat it is to slice it thinly and fry it in a pan. The outside becomes crispy, the inside is melted, giving it a strong salty taste. But I have had it on the grill, skewered with fresh cherries, making an absolutely fine appetizer.
My new favorite, halloumi