Phone

Foods

Cheese, aged (firm & grating)
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Cheddar, the most popular aged firm cheese in this country is just one of many firm aged cheeses. Robust but not pungent in flavor, firm cheeses are popular for cooking--think of macaroni & cheese, fondue, and French onion soup--and for eating with crisp apples and pears. Because cheeses dehydrate as they age, these cheeses are more concentrated sources of calcium than softer ones.

As cheeses age, they lose moisture, becoming denser in texture and more concentrated in flavor (and calcium content). A boon to the fat-conscious cook, these so-called grating cheeses, grated finely and used sparingly, can go a long way to flavor the dish. Most grating cheeses come in large, heavy wheels and are sold by the piece (an irregular chunk if the cheese is too hard for smooth slicing). To fully appreciate the flavor of grated cheese, buy a wedge and grate it yourself. The flavor is infinitely better and fresher, and usually lower in salt, than the packaged grated cheese in a jar or a cardboard shaker.

Varieties

FIRM CHEESES

Cheddar: Originally an English cheese, Cheddar has become immensely popular in the United States and Canada. In fact, it is America's favorite cheese, accounting for about a third of the total cheese consumption. It ranges from white to deep orange in color; yellow and orange Cheddars are colored with annatto, a natural coloring that does not affect the taste of the cheese. Cheddar is a very versatile cheese, good for sandwiches and snacks, as well as for cooking and grating.

Young Cheddar is mild and easily sliceable; the flavor sharpens and the texture becomes more crumbly with age. Cheddar is made in flat wheels weighing from 12 to 78 pounds, in "midget" and "peewee" wheels of five or 11 pounds, and in "longhorn" loaves that weigh about 12 pounds. The wheels are wrapped in cheesecloth and wax, so Cheddar does not develop a rind (some Cheddar is aged in plastic packages instead). In stores, Cheddar comes packaged in whole wheels, in wedges, chunks, sticks, and shredded.

Other British Cheddar-type cheeses are tart Caerphilly (originally from Wales), creamy Scottish Dunlop, crumbly Cheshire, sharp Gloucester, mild Leicester, and Derby, which comes in a popular sage-flavored version.

Colby: This cheese was developed in Wisconsin at the end of the nineteenth century. It looks like Cheddar but is blander, moister, and softer.

Gruyere: This cheese originated in Switzerland, but it is also made in France. Its winy, nutlike bouquet makes Gruyere a favorite cooking cheese, commonly used in quiche; it is also excellent for eating along with fresh fruit. Gruyere is ivory-yellow with a wrinkled rind; the cheese has tiny eyes (or none) and, if well aged, it may show small cracks.

Jarlsberg: Made in Norway, Jarlsberg is similar to true Swiss cheese (called Emmenthaler) but softer and milder in flavor. Conversely, it is more flavorful and firmer than American Swiss. Jarlsberg is made in 20-pound wheels and sold in wedges.

Manchego:Spain's most famous cheese. This sheep's milk cheese is aged anywhere from under three weeks (fresco), to upwards of a year (en aciete). Manchego has a delicious nutty flavor that pairs well with savory dishes (such as grilled portobellos) and sweet dishes alike. Silken in texture when young, it becomes drier when aged and is suitable for grating. Manchego is firm, ivory to golden and sometimes dotted with tiny eyes.

Monterey Jack: A mildly flavored white California cheese, Monterey Jack was developed from the local cheeses made by Spanish missionaries in the eighteenth century. It is made in six- to 12-pound wheels and usually sold in sticks, bricks, or wedges. Somewhat softer than colby when young, it is sometimes made with bits of jalapeno peppers and sold as "Pepper Jack."

Swiss: The true "Swiss cheese" is Emmenthaler (or Emmentaler), a glossy, moist, golden yellow cheese with large "eyes" and a smooth brown rind stamped with the word Switzerland. (The familiar holes, or eyes, of Swiss cheese are caused by gas pockets that develop as the cheese ripens.) It has a sweet, nutlike tang and is a favorite for sandwiches and cooking. This "Switzerland Swiss" is made in 200-pound wheels and usually aged for 10 months to a year. It is sold in wedges or sliced. Appenzeller is another Swiss cheese that resembles Emmenthaler.

Versions of "Swiss" cheese are made in the United States, Finland, the Netherlands, Austria, and Denmark. Most are blander than the ones made in Switzerland, and also less expensive.

GRATING CHEESES

Asiago: An Italian cheese now also made in the United States, asiago is most commonly sold aged for grating. Aged asiago is granular, like Parmesan, but somewhat more pungent in flavor.

Dry Jack (Dry Monterey Jack): An aged skim- or part-skim-milk version of the American cheese of the same name, Dry Jack is similar in flavor and uses to Parmesan.

Parmesan: The real thing is produced in a restricted area around Parma, Italy. It is marked "Parmigiano-Reggiano"; versions made in other parts of Italy are simply called granas (grainy or granular cheeses). Parmesan-type cheeses are made in the United States as well. A fine, aged Parmesan is straw-colored and has a uniquely flaky, crystalline texture. Its flavor is nutty-sweet and complex. American Parmesan is softer, paler in color, and tends to be saltier.

Romano: Sometimes made from sheep's milk (and called pecorino romano), this is another Italian cheese that is also made in America. It is cream-colored with a thin brown rind. Romano is saltier than Parmesan, but can be used in many of the same ways.

Sapsago: A Swiss product, Sapsago is a rock-hard grating cheese made from skim milk; it has less than 3 grams of fat per ounce. Flavored with a special type of clover (which also colors it green), it is used as a seasoning. Sapsago comes in a 3-ounce, foil-wrapped, short cone shape.

Availability

These cheeses are available year round and can be found in the dairy or cheese section of your supermarket. If your supermarket does not keep a well-stocked cheese section, look for a specialty store near you.

Shopping

Use four of your five senses when choosing cheese: In addition to tasting the cheese if possible, sniff it, feel it, and, above all, take a close look at it. Firm cheeses should look moist but not oily on the surface, and should feel resilient. Cheeses with holes should show a slight gleam (but not an oily slick) in their eyes. Purchase cheese in chunks or logs. While pre-shredded cheeses may seem appealing because of the ease of preparation, they are generally not as flavorful or of as good quality as chunks of cheese.

Storage

Cheese must be well wrapped to protect it from picking up other aromas in the refrigerator, and also to prevent its flavor from migrating to other foods. Foil is the best wrapping; plastic wrap traps moisture that may cause cheese to mold more quickly. Placing the wrapped cheese in a covered container provides an extra measure of protection for strong-smelling cheese.

Generally, the softer the cheese, the more perishable it is. Firm cheeses such as Cheddar will keep for a month or more, and hard grating cheese such as Parmesan can be stored for several months.

These cheeses can be frozen if wrapped well, and will grate easily without thawing, so you can always keep them on hand.

Preparation

All cheeses (except the soft, unripened fresh cheeses) taste best at room temperature. As with wine, the subtleties of their flavor are "numbed" by cold. When serving cheese, remove it from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving time (but keep it wrapped so the cut surfaces will not dry out). It is best to take out only the amount you think you will need to avoid warming and chilling the cheese repeatedly.

Cheese grates (or shreds) better when cold; if you're cooking with cheese, you might even put the cheese in the freezer for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour before grating or shredding it.

High heat will toughen cheese: Warm or melt it gently, preferably in combination with other ingredients. Use shredded or grated cheese for melting into sauces or soups, and stir it in after you turn off the heat; the residual heat of the food will melt the cheese. Well-aged cheese usually melts more smoothly than young cheese.

To make serving and cooking cheese easier, you might try a few inexpensive gadgets. A cheese plane, which looks like a pie server with a slit cut in it, shaves thin slices from Cheddar, Swiss, and the like. You can also buy a wire cheese cutter that adjusts for slices of different thicknesses. A rotary (drum) grater is very effective for finely grating hard cheeses; some have interchangeable drums for varying the coarseness of the shreds. There are several new types of graters or microplanes available that make grating cheese a snap--no more grated knuckles. If you need to grate a large amount of hard cheese, such as Parmesan, it can be grated in a food processor fitted with a steel blade; firm cheese, such as Cheddar, can be shredded with a shredding blade.

Nutrition Chart

Swiss/1 ounce shredded

107
Total fat (g)
7.8
Saturated fat (g)
5.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
0
8
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
26
Sodium (mg)
74
Calcium (mg)
272
Phosphorus (mg)
172

Monterey Jack/1 ounce diced

106
Total fat (g)
8.6
Saturated fat (g)
5.4
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.5
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
0
7
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
25
Sodium (mg)
152
Calcium (mg)
212

Parmesan/1-ounce cube

111
Total fat (g)
7.3
Saturated fat (g)
4.7
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0
10
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
19
Sodium (mg)
454
Calcium (mg)
335
Phosphorus (mg)
197


Date Published: 04/20/2005
Previous  |  Next
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top