Cheese is the integral ingredient in many dishes, its use spreads across cultures, countries, and continents, and it is basically as old as history itself. Cheesemaking is an art unto itself which goes back 4,000 years, and with unknown origins, cheesemaking actually predates written history. Cheese is said to have been introduced to the Roman Empire and Europe from Western Asia, and from there, the Romans brought cheesemaking to England. Cheesemaking flourished in Europe for centuries, particularly in Italy in the 10th century, before being brought over to the New World during colonization, included in the supplies of the iconic ship the Mayflower.
With over 2,000 varieties of cheeses to choose from, do you know which type of cheese is best suited to be melted, grilled, eaten plain, or part of a special dish? Read on below to learn more about cheese than you probably ever wished to!
Cheese is not only an ingredient in the main course, or a tasty addition to salads, but a dessert as well. Sweeter, soft, young cheeses that pair well with fruit, nuts, and wine are great for having after dinner. Consider serving fresh goat cheeses or ricotta, blue cheeses, gorgonzola, feta, mascarpone and brie. It is recommended to serve three or four cheeses that contrast each other, such as different milk sources, or different textures.
Typically, older cheeses tend to be harder, and therefore are better for grating than most anything else. Aged, dry cheeses such as parmesan do not melt well, and though can be sliced, are best enjoyed grated over salads and pasta dishes. Aged provolone, romano, and hard ricotta are also fantastic cheeses for grating.
Did you know it is possible to fry cheese, without melting it? Cheeses such as queso blanco, halloumi, and paneer have high melting points, and therefore they can be fried and grilled without loosing their shapes or melting. Want to try it for yourself? Check out this recipe for Grilled Halloumi, Spinach and Seed Salad!
A good melting cheese is young, high in moisture, and usually set with rennet. When you melt cheese, you’re softening the milk proteins and fats within. Low-moisture cheeses, cheeses which are drier and harder, require higher temperatures for those protein bonds to break down. High-moisture cheeses can be melted more slowly, at lower temperatures, and tend to be softer when melted, and will melt more consistently.
What cheeses are best for melting? Asiago, cheddar, fontina, gouda, gruyere, havarti, Monterrey jack, mozzarella and muenster are all young, moist cheeses which melt nicely, perfect for cheese sauces, pizzas, grilled cheese, or macaroni.
Gruyere and emmental are classic melting cheeses, though slightly aged, they are the two central cheeses used to make the Swiss dish, fondue. Check out this recipe for an easy, classic fondue made at home with just a couple ingredients: Classic Cheese Fondue.
Table cheese refers to any cheeses enjoyed as part of a platter, in sandwiches, on crackers, or simply by itself. Cheeses such as gouda, fontina, havarti, provolone, pecorino romano, emmental, and gruyere are all great table cheeses. A great recipe using table cheese is this Pressed Picnic Sandwiches one!
Did you know that a lot of cheeses are not considered vegetarian? During cheese production, the coagulation of the milk is aided by the addition of something called rennet. Rennet is an enzyme collected from the fourth stomach of a calf. Adult cows do not produce this enzyme meaning the only source is from young calves.
Some cheeses naturally do not use rennet, but other acidic agents to help coagulation, such as lemon juice. Many vegetarian alternatives have been developed over the years to mimic the effects of rennet, negating the need for the calf. Particular companies will make all their cheeses without rennet, it’s just a matter of doing a little research to know what companies and what cheeses are rennet-free. Food Service’s cheese provider, Black River Cheese, uses animal-free rennet, for example.
Want to know even more about cheese? Head over to our ingredient page dedicated just to Cheese for more information on varieties, storage tips, and recipes!
– Emily Hotton