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Cheese, fresh
Why Eat It
Varieties
Shopping
Storage
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

To turn milk into natural cheese, it is first cultured (like buttermilk or yogurt) with bacteria, then curdled--broken into curds (solids) and whey (liquid)--by the use of a culturing agent such as the enzyme rennin. The whey is drained from the curds, which, depending on the type of cheese being made, may be pressed to remove more moisture. This fresh cheese may then be sold as is or aged, or ripened, to further dry it and develop its flavor.

If you are looking for "real" cheese that is low in fat and sodium, fresh cheese is a good place to start. Just a few steps from fresh milk, foods such as cottage cheese and farmer cheese do not have the concentration of fat and sodium that hard cheeses do. They can be made from skim milk and are easy to find in low-fat and even nonfat versions. And part-skim ricotta cheese packs a very respectable calcium punch.

Varieties

Cottage cheese: The traditional "dieter's delight," and certainly a healthful food in its low-fat form, cottage cheese exhibits the first stage of all cheesemaking: the separation of milk or cream into curds and whey. To make cottage cheese, the curds are drained and sometimes pressed to form a soft, white, spoonable cheese. You'll find creamed cottage cheese (which has small curds and added cream), reduced-fat (2%) cottage cheese, low-fat (1%) cottage cheese, and dry curd cottage cheese. As with milk, however, the percentage of fat is a percentage by weight and does not give an accurate picture of the percentage of calories from fat. For example, creamed cottage cheese derives 39% of its calories from fat (as opposed to 4% to 5% fat by weight). On the other hand, low-fat (1%) cottage cheese derives 13% of its calories from fat.

Cottage cheese is usually slightly salted, but is also available in unsalted and there are even lactose-free versions.

Cream cheese: This is the familiar creamy white cheese liberally spread on toast and bagels. It comes in a range of fat contents: from 90% calories from fat for full-fat cream cheese to no fat in nonfat cream cheese. In between are reduced-fat cream cheese (also called Neufchatel cheese or "1/3-Less Fat" cream cheese) and low-fat cream cheese.

Farmer cheese (also called hoop, pot, or bakers' cheese): If cottage cheese is placed in a form and the liquid pressed out, it produces a firm, rather grainy white loaf, very low in fat with a mildly tart flavor. Farmer cheese can be sliced or crumbled, and is a good baking ingredient. Sometimes farmer cheese is combined with chopped chives or with fruit to make a savory or sweet cheese.

Mascarpone: This Italian curd cheese is like the thickest whipped cream and is usually served as a dessert topping. It is made from cream, so it is very high in fat.

Mozzarella: The familiar pizza cheese is fresh in that it is not aged, but it undergoes a process that differentiates it from other fresh cheeses. The warmed curds are kneaded, and the resulting cheese can be separated into layers or strips. Freshly made mozzarella, sold in Italian grocery stores and now available in many supermarkets, is a soft, bland, delicate cheese. Factory-made mozzarella, which is drier and has more salt in it (for longer shelflife), can be sliced or shredded and used as a topping for pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches.

Fresh mozzarella only comes in whole-milk form. Factory-made mozzarella comes in several versions: Whole-milk, part-skim, low-moisture (both whole-milk and skim), reduced-fat, low-fat, and fat-free. Part-skim mozzarella may sound like a low-fat product, but it gets about 55% of its calories from fat (compared with 71% for whole-milk mozzarella). Still, part-skim mozzarella is lower in fat than cheese such as Cheddar and Swiss. The lowest-fat forms of mozzarella do not melt as smoothly as whole-milk or even part-skim mozzarella, but they can have 20% to 50% fewer calories than the full-fat version. Low-moisture mozzarella is slightly higher in calories and fat (and in protein and calcium) than regular mozzarella, simply because it contains less water.

Ricotta: Whey remaining from making other types of cheese was originally the sole ingredient in ricotta, but American ricotta is now made from a combination of whey and whole or skim milk. Ricotta is like a fine-textured cottage cheese and can be eaten by itself, although it is more commonly used in Italian pasta dishes and desserts. It comes in whole-milk, part-skim, and fat-free forms. The part-skim version has about 40% less fat than the whole-milk cheese. Ricotta has, ounce for ounce, four times more calcium than cottage cheese, which it closely resembles.

String cheese: Although snack-size sticks of mozzarella are now sold under this name, true string cheese originated in Syria, and often comes in a braided rope. The flavor is similar to mozzarella, but saltier. Soaking string cheese in water before serving it will remove some of the salt.

Shopping

When buying fresh cheeses like cottage cheese, the freshness date and physical appearance of the cheese and the package are your best clues. Be sure the package is tightly sealed.

Storage

Keep cottage cheese and ricotta tightly covered in the original container; they should be good for about one week after the marked date. Storing the carton upside down--make sure it is tightly closed--will help seal out air and keep the contents fresh longer. Farmer' cheese and cream cheese should keep for about two weeks.

Nutrition Chart

Cottage Cheese (2%)/1/4 cup

51
Total fat (g)
1.1
Saturated fat (g)
0.7
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
0
8
Carbohydrate (g)
2
Cholesterol (mg)
5
Sodium (mg)
229

Cream Cheese (full fat)/1 ounce

99
Total fat (g)
9.9
Saturated fat (g)
6.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.8
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.4
Dietary fiber (g)
0
2
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
31
Sodium (mg)
84

Neufchatel/1 ounce

74
Total fat (g)
6.6
Saturated fat (g)
4.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1.9
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0
3
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
22
Sodium (mg)
113

Farmers Cheese/1 ounce

101
Total fat (g)
8.1
Saturated fat (g)
6.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
0
6
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
25
Sodium (mg)
192

Part-Skim Mozzarella/1 ounce

72
Total fat (g)
4.5
Saturated fat (g)
2.9
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1.3
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
0
7
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
16
Sodium (mg)
132
Calcium (mg)
183

Part-Skim Ricotta/1/4 cup

85
Total fat (g)
4.9
Saturated fat (g)
3
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1.4
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0
7
Carbohydrate (g)
3
Cholesterol (mg)
19
Sodium (mg)
77
Calcium (mg)
167
Selenium (mcg)
10


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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