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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Quick Guide to Cheese

Cheese. It's a wonderfully versatile food. We use it to top pizzas, to sprinkle on our spaghetti, to spread on crackers. And without cheese, a grilled cheese sandwich would be nothing but buttered toast.

Cheese is produced in many parts of the world, two of the most well known countries being France and Italy. There are many varieties of cheese, but they are all made in a similar fashion. Milk and cream consist of two parts, the solid milk fats, and the whey. Cheese is produced by causing the fats to come together, forming curds. This is done by either adding acid or various bacteria to the milk or cream, causing it to curdle. The curds are then processed in different ways to form different cheeses. The type of cheese made depends on the type of milk used, the percentage of fats in the milk, and the process used to make the cheese. Most cheeses come from cow's milk, but cheeses are also made from goat's milk, sheep's milk, and real mozzerella cheese is made from water buffalo milk. Cheese is generally categorized by it's texture, hard, semi-firm, semi-soft, or fresh.

Hard cheeses are generally aged for 12 months or more. They usually have a sharp salty taste, and are excellent for grating over pasta or salads. Parmesan, Asiago, and Romano are examples of hard cheeses.

Semi-hard cheeses may or may not be aged. In general, the longer the cheese ages, the sharper the flavor will be. A taleggio, which only ages for about 6 weeks will have a milder flavor than a cheddar that has aged for months. Semi-firm cheeses are good melting cheeses, or good to eat on their own.

Semi-soft cheeses like Camembert are good cheeses for spreading on crackers or crusty bread.

Fresh cheeses range from a mild cream cheese, to a rich creamy marscapone. These cheeses can be eaten spread on crackers, but are also commonly used for cooking desserts. Marscapone is an essential ingredient in tiramisu.

While talking about cheese, we can't forget to mention blue cheese, which is a cheese, with blue-green veins of mold, which gives the cheese a sharp flavor and aroma. Blue cheeses include gorgonzola, roquefort, and stilton.

If you are going to be serving cheese as part of a cheese course, hard, semi-firm, and semi-soft cheeses shoud be allowed to stand at room temperature for an hour before serving. Fresh cheeses, should be served chilled. Choose three or four types of cheese, either cheeses with similar characteristics and flavors, or contrasting cheeses. If you like, you can serve the cheese with crackers or crusty bread. Also some people serve their cheeses with a variety of fruits, apples, pears, figs, and seedless grapes would be good choices, as well as shelled walnuts.

Whether you like using cheese for cooking, or eating on it's own, cheese delivers it's own goodness and flavor.

By Tim Sousa

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