Since last week’s post was about sauces and toppings, I thought I would continue with my favorite food additive- cheese. Adding cheese is a great way to add flavor, calcium, and even a little color to your favorite foods.
Cheese was a treat when I was a child. It wasn’t something we could often afford, and what we did buy was usually eaten in small quantities and savored. Sometimes we bought sliced cheese for sandwiches. Gran bought blocks of Velveeta for homemade mac and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches. As an adult I’ve tried many different types of cheese and I have yet to find one I couldn’t eat. Like might be a strong word for my judgment of brie or Swiss, but I could manage to eat them if the occasion arose.
I love horseradish flavored cheese, sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, and provolone. At Cheese there are 670 cheeses listed! Wow! You can search for them by name, texture, milk source, or country of origin. They even have a list of vegetarian cheeses! I have no idea what the criterion is for vegetarian cheese.
When we lived in Iowa the children were amazed by how much cheese was eaten by our relatives. One couple had a 3lb block of cheese they brought out and sliced at every meal, even breakfast. For a few months we lived down the street from a cheese factory. What a horrible, horrible smell!! Have you ever burned cheese? Imagine that smell wafting down the road each day. Yuk! However, we did get to watch cheese being made and it is a fascinating process.
We aren’t sure who invented cheese but it has been around since prehistoric times. I’m guessing it was simply discovered by a kid who saw some curdled milk and gave it a try! Kids will eat anything.
Cheese is made from the milk of almost any animal- cow, goat, buffalo, camel, sheep, reindeer, even horse. I might have to take back my earlier statement about eating any cheese if I was offered horse cheese. Something about that just doesn’t seem right. In case you need to know, mare’s milk cheese is called Airag and is eaten in Turkey. I don’t plan to visit soon, so I think I’m safe.
There are hard cheeses, soft cheeses and everything in between. There are white cheeses and yellow cheeses and orange cheeses. There are cheeses suitable for any dish and palate. However, for our discussion we only need to consider two things- fat and sodium. Wouldn’t you know that in order to reduce the fat content in cheese they ADD sodium. Lower fat cheese may have as much as 300-400mg of sodium compared to its 100mg full-fat counterpart. The exception to this seems to be cottage cheese- the fat stuff has over 900mg of sodium, while the non-fat varies from 20-400.
There are three types of cheese to watch for if you want less fat:
· Low-fat cheese- three grams or less of fat per one-ounce serving
· Reduced-fat cheese- 25 percent less fat than the same full-fat cheese
· Fat-free cheese- less than 0.5 gram of fat per one-ounce serving.
Keep in mind that the less fat a cheese has the more difficult it is to cook with because it doesn’t melt as well. Taste also varies wildly by brand so you may have to experiment to find one you enjoy. I prefer to just use regular cheese and eat less of it.
Be careful, too, about buying “processed” cheese like American slices. Processed cheese has added stabilizers, emulsifiers, and flavor enhancers to give it a longer shelf life. It generally has a high sodium content too. Velveeta? Not really cheese, so we will discuss it another day. :)
As always, the key is to read the label, find a cheese that seems to be a good balance of fat vs. sodium, and use it wisely. Enjoy!