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Cheese, aged (semisoft)
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Semisoft cheese is by far the largest category of cheese, comprising many of the best-known cheeses from all over the world. Semisoft cheeses slice well, making them favorites for sandwiches, and they also melt smoothly for cooking. Aged for just a few weeks, they remain relatively moist and delicate in taste--although if left to age further, they will become denser and stronger in flavor.

Unlike hard cheeses, which develop a tough rind, semisoft cheeses often have a wax or plastic coating applied to them. Brick, Limburger, and Liederkranz are actually "washed" cheeses--they are aged in rooms where they pick up natural molds to form a soft rind, then rinsed with salt water (or beer or brandy) to further sharpen their flavors, which are considerably more assertive than those of other cheeses in this category. Softer than other semisoft cheeses, they are almost more spreadable than sliceable.

Varieties

Bel Paese: Bel Paese ("beautiful country") is a smooth, creamy cheese with a mild flavor. It is made in Italy and in the United States. It melts well and is also good to serve with fruit as a dessert cheese.

Brick: A truly American cheese, brick is made in rectangular loaves and has numerous holes. When young, brick cheese is sweet and mild, after aging, it tastes somewhat like a mild Limburger or Cheddar. Brick slices well and its shape makes it ideal for sandwiches.

Edam: A noted Dutch cheese, Edam is made of part-skim milk and comes in two- and four-pound balls and five-pound blocks covered in red wax (or red cellophane). Unaged Edam is very mild and buttery-tasting; the aged version is rarely sold in the United States.

Fontina: Although it originated in Italy, fontina is today made in Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and Argentina as well. This ivory-colored cheese is mild and buttery in flavor, excellent for melting in fondues and sauces. Imported Italian fontina has a light brown rind, but American versions--quite different in flavor and texture--often have a red rind.

Gouda: One of the best-known Dutch cheeses, Gouda is coated with red or yellow wax. This whole-milk cheese has a rich, mild flavor that sharpens with age. Although Dutch Gouda is made in large wheels and usually sold cut, American versions come in "baby" wheels weighing less than a pound.

Liederkranz: Despite its German name, Liederkranz was first created in New York State and today is manufactured in Ohio. The small blocks of cheese with a rust-colored rind have a pungent aroma but a mellow flavor. With time, however, the flavor becomes quite strong, so pay attention to the date on the package.

Limburger: Unwrap a block of Limburger and you're greeted with the pungent aroma for which it is famed. Limburger has a velvety coating of strong-smelling mold, and the foil wrapping holds in the striking bouquet. The flavor is quite robust as well.

Muenster or Munster (American): Virtually unrelated to the German monastery-made cheese of the same name, American muenster is a rather bland, ivory-colored cheese with pin-sized holes. It combines well with more flavorful ingredients.

Port Salut: Originally made in a Trappist monastery in France, Port Salut is a strongly flavored, pale yellow cheese with an orange skin. Danish esrom is a similar cheese.

Provolone: Once made from water-buffalo milk, provolone is today made from cow's milk. The flavor is mild and the cheese ivory-colored and elastic when young; it can be used like mozzarella at this stage. After aging, provolone deepens in color and flavor and develops a drier texture. Smoked provolone is made by natural smoking or by adding a smoke-flavored liquid. Although it is commonly made in sausage-shaped loaves or spheres and sold in slabs or slices, provolone is sometimes formed into whimsical small shapes.

Tilsit: This Dutch cheese (also made in Finland, Norway and the United States) has an assertive taste and aroma. It is made in loaves that are sold wrapped in foil. Danish havarti is similar to tilsit.

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. Semisoft 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.

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. Wax-coated cheeses need no further wrapping until they are cut. They will lose moisture, however, becoming more dense and flavorful with time. Check cheese for mold from time to time.

Whole cheeses keep longer than cut ones: A whole Edam or Gouda can be stored in the refrigerator for a year or more.

After serving, rewrap any leftover cheese individually, and refrigerate or freeze them. If they have not survived in a presentable form, use them for cooking.

Most cheeses can be frozen. Although they may lose some moisture and become rather brittle and difficult to slice, they will be fine for melting or cooking. Thaw the cheese in the refrigerator for about 24 hours before using.

Preparation

All cheeses (except the soft, unripened fresh cheeses) taste best at room temperature. When serving cheese, remove it from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving time (but keep it wrapped so the cut surfaces don't dry out). It's best to take out only the amount you think you'll need, so you don't end up repeatedly warming and chilling the cheese.

Cheese grates 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.

Nutrition Chart

Gouda/1 ounce diced

101
Total fat (g)
7.8
Saturated fat (g)
5
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0
7
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
32
Sodium (mg)
232
Calcium (mg)
199
Phosphorus (mg)
155

Provolone/1 ounce diced

100
Total fat (g)
7.5
Saturated fat (g)
4.9
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0
7
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
20
Sodium (mg)
248
Calcium (mg)
214
Phosphorus (mg)
141

Muenster/1 ounce shredded

104
Total fat (g)
8.5
Saturated fat (g)
5.4
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.5
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0
7
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
27
Sodium (mg)
178
Calcium (mg)
203


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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