Cheese 101

August 01, 2011

Ever wondered what the best way to store cheese, or where you get the best deal? Here's your quick SupermarketGuru reference on how to buy the best cheese

What is Cheese? An edible dairy product made from the milk of goat, sheep, cow, reindeer, buffalo, camel, and yak; texture varies from soft to hard; flavor varies as well from mild to highly aromatic.

How to Buy: Packaged cheeses in dairy section; whole or cut artisanal (handmade) on cheese counter or in deli case can be cut or sliced to order. Make sure you compare price per ounce or pound as cheese classifications are standard, therefore you might end up paying more for the same thing if you buy from the cheese counter. 

How to Read the Label: Check sell-by date, place of origin, fat, sodium content; animal source, and age of cheese. Also check for additives which include: annatto (harmless coloring agent) or animal or vegetable rennet (natural complex of enzymes that aid digestion). Best bets are US artisanal/commercial: Vermont, California, and Wisconsin. Popular imports include: France, Switzerland, Holland, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Greece, and Bulgaria.

Choices: Soft cheese: Brie, Camembert, Fresh Mozzarella, Feta, Boursin, Limburger, Neufchatel, Cream Cheese, Ricotta, Cottage Cheese, Marscapone, Crème Fraiche, Mexican Queso; Blue-veined: Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola.

Hard Cheese: Parmigiano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asagio, Pecorino, Emmentaler.

Semi-Hard: Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Colby.

Semi-Soft: Havarti, Swiss, Jarlsberg, Paneer, among others.

Soft: cottage cheese, ricotta.

Cow’s cheese is most popular, followed by goat (chevre) and sheep (primarily from Spain).

How to Use: Cheese is best when served at room temperature, bringing out the best flavor. To melt, remember that cheese is high in fat, so it melts quickly, but a high heat, or heating too long denatures the proteins and will make the cheese tough. Best bet is to shred, grate, slice, or chop into small pieces, place in a non-stick frying pan on a low-to-medium heat, watch carefully and keep on the heat just until melted.

How to Store: All cheeses should be refrigerated, wrapped in wax paper, (not plastic) which helps keep the cheese fresh for longer.

Smarter Shopping: Buy Cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack in prepackaged dairy case rather than the cheese counter to save up to 40 percent.