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Cheese, aged (soft-ripened)
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Brie, Camembert, and other "soft-ripened" cheeses are sprayed on the surface with different strains of penicillin and then aged, during which time they develop soft, edible rinds. Despite their luxuriously creamy texture and delicious flavor, these soft-ripened cheeses are actually somewhat lower in calories than hard cheeses such as Cheddar. (Camembert and Brie have about 90 calories and 7 grams of fat per ounce, while Cheddar has about 110 calories and 9 grams of fat.) The soft-ripened cheeses get 60% to 75% of their calories from fat; those known as double- and triple-cremes have extra cream added and are higher in fat. Explorateur, Boursault, and Boursin are in this category.

Like all dairy products, cheese has calcium; although the amount of fat makes it difficult to consume enough cheese to get a decent amount. To get as much calcium as a glass of milk, you'd have to consume 230 calories worth of soft-ripened cheese, along with a hefty 19 grams of fat.

Varieties

Brie: This cheese is made in northern France and comes with a downy white coat in wheels that range in size from about 5" to 10" in diameter. It is often sold cut into wedges. Brie has a rich, buttery flavor with an underlying tang. You can also buy American-made versions of Brie, which tend to be blander in taste.

Camembert: Like Brie, this soft cow's-milk cheese also has a velvety white rind; it may be slightly reddened in spots when the cheese is fully ripe. The interior is soft and creamy yellow. Camembert is made in Normandy in flat disks about 5" in diameter, and is often sold paper-wrapped and enclosed in a thin wooden box. American cheesemakers produce their own versions of Camembert.

Availability

These cheeses are available year-round and can generally be found in the dairy or cheese section of your supermarket. If your supermarket doesn't have a good supply of soft-ripened cheese, look for a specialty store near you.

Shopping

Soft-ripened cheese should feel plump and full, and look fresh and white, not sunken, dry, or browned; there should be no sharp, ammonialike smell. A properly ripe cheese will feel soft if you squeeze it gently. A knowledgeable salesperson will help you choose a soft-ripened cheese you can serve immediately, or one that will ripen in a few days.

If you buy a whole cheese, do not cut it until serving time. Once cut, such a cheese is unlikely to ripen properly. The cheese should appear to be melting slowly, but not runny and liquid. An underripe cheese will have a chalky, hard center layer.

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. A cut piece of Brie will keep for just a few days; a whole cheese will keep longer.

After serving cheese, rewrap any leftover portions, 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.

A slightly underripe Brie or other soft-ripened cheese can be wrapped in foil or plastic and left at cool room temperature for a day or two to bring it to perfect eating condition. Once ripe, keep it wrapped and refrigerated. It should keep for three to four weeks.

Preparation

Soft-ripened 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 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.

Nutrition Chart

Camembert/1 ounce

85
Total fat (g)
6.9
Saturated fat (g)
4.3
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0
6
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
20
Sodium (mg)
178


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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