VOLUME 4 ... CHEESE - A PRIMER

"People who know nothing about cheeses reel away from Camembert, Roquefort, and Stilton because the plebeian proboscis is not equipped to differentiate between the sordid and the sublime."
 

Harvey Day               


 

Live to Eat has grown from zero to over 1000 recipients in just three months!  We’ve received endless emails of compliments on the candid coverage of organic meat, grilling, and especially our second edition on the cuts of beef which has now been added as a reference to several other websites (to view past issues of Live to Eat, visit: http://www.thehealthybutcher.com/archives.html).  In this edition we will explore the world of cheese – one of the most versatile foods on earth.  Lately, cheese has achieved extremely high levels of popularity as witnessed by the number of articles in newspapers and magazines, and the number of restaurants featuring cheese platters on their menu.

 

We gear this month's edition of Live to Eat towards people that eat cheese, love cheese, but essentially are confused by the myriad of options available to them in this expanding dairy world. We will work through a brief history, a breakdown of cheese types, other commonly asked information, and end with a world tour of cheeses. Enjoy.
 

HISTORY:

Cheese was probably discovered when our ancestors used animal stomachs to carry milk. An enzyme in the stomach, called rennet, caused the milk to curdle and separate into cheese and a watery liquid called whey. Human curiosity and ingenuity took the process to where we are today.

 

As with different cuisines, spices, wine and beer, the various types of cheeses generally reflect the geography, traditions, culture and tastes of the country from which they originated. It is commonly believed that cheese originated in the Middle East. 

TYPES OF CHEESES:

Cheese is usually divided into four categories of consistency: Soft, Semi-Soft, Semi-Hard, and Hard. To these categories, we can add a few categories that describe the production method: Fresh, Blue-veined, Pressed (non-heated or uncooked), Pressed (heated or cooked), and Washed-rind (otherwise known as Stinky).
 

Type

Character

Examples

Soft

Cheeses in this category are often spread on bread or crackers to be served as snacks.  Matured for a short while; usually creamy; commonly have a slim white or off-white rind.  The rinds of these cheeses are exposed to mold, which moves into the pâte as they ripen. 

Brie & Camembert

Semi-soft

Firm, but not very hard; can be sliced or cut easily and mostly retains its shape; some may be a bit pliable; yellow, orange, or red rind that is smooth and may be washed in brine, beer, or wine.

Gouda, Roquefort, & Stilton

Semi-firm or Semi-hard

Most semi-firm cheeses are pressed during production to remove moisture; great for snacks and sandwiches, and many can be cooked without becoming rubbery or oily.

Cheddar, Edam, & Gruyère

Firm or Hard

Firm, hard, and usually crumbly; often used for grating or cooking; great for nibbling; rinds either trimmed off or left on.

Emmental, Parmesan, & Romano

Fresh

Most fresh cheese is made by curdling milk with an enzyme, and then draining off the whey and molding the remaining curds.  Very high in moisture and low in fat; usually no aging or maturing; consumed very soon after making; no rind or skin; usually packed in a tub or plastic sleeve.

Cottage cheese, cream cheeses, & Feta

Blue-veined

Soft or semi-hard cheeses that are injected with pure penicillin cultures that grow and spread throughout the cheese in colourful and tasty veins; traditionally aged in caves; wonderful crumbled on salads to balance bitter greens.

Danish Blue, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, & Stilton

Pressed, cooked

During the production, the cheese is pressed to remove moisture, and the curds are cooked to expel even more moisture.  Dense and often rather large; need at least two years to mature.

Emmental, Parmesan, Gouda, Gruyère, Pecorino, & Beaufort

Pressed, uncooked

Not as firm as pressed, cooked cheese and fairly high in moisture; rind often moldy and is often not very edible; often matured in damp cellars or caves.

Cheddar & Morbier

Washed-rind or Stinky Cheese

As these cheeses ripen, they are washed with liquid.  The moisture encourages the growth of bacteria, giving the cheese a strong odour and flavour.

 Limburg & Livarot

Additional factors include: the type of milk used (cow, sheep, goat, etc.), the type of bacteria or mold used, and the length of aging. Generally speaking, younger cheeses tend to be mild, soft, and moist. As cheeses age, they become more pungent, hard, and crumbly.

Sheep milk tastes slightly sweet, but is much more rich compared to other milks due to a higher content of butterfat, protein and total solids in the milk. Most people that are allergic to cow milk products or who are lactose intolerant can use goat and sheep milk products. The lactose or protein in the milk is what usually causes the allergic reaction or intolerance (note: lactose intolerance is different than milk allergy, which is usually a reaction to a protein called casein found only in cow’s milk). Goat and sheep milk both have lactose and protein but it is of a different make-up that doesn't bother most people.
 

DECRYPTING FAT CONTENT

Cheese can be a part of a healthy diet as it contains essential fats, proteins (casein and albumin), enzymes (lipase, protease, and lactase), vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, and K), lactose (milk sugar), and minerals (iron, salt, calcium, phosphor, and magnesium).

The fat in cheese is saturated fat (i.e. derived from animal). Figuring out the fat in cheese can sometimes be confusing, especially because Canadian cheeses have different numbers on the labels than do European cheeses. In Canada, you will notice a % M.F. or % B.F. on labels – these numbers indicate the milk fat or butter fat in the cheese. The % M.F. and % B.F. is the weight of fat relative to the net weight of the cheese. Light cheeses are less than 20 %, low fat cheeses are 20 to 30%, fat cheeses are 50 to 60%, double-cream cheeses are at least 60% and triple-cream cheeses are at least 75 %. No specific names separate cheeses containing 30 to 50% fat – this is the category that most cheeses fall under. For example, cheddar would have a minimum of 31% M.F.

In parts of Europe, such as France, the labels will bear two percentages, one marked E.S. and the other M.G. The E.S. figure gives the percentage of dry matter in the cheese. If a cheese is marked “60% E.S.,” 40% of the cheese, by weight, is water. “40% M.G.” means that 40% of the dry matter in the cheese is fat. So, for example, a cheese marked 60% E.S., 40% M.G. would be (0.6 × 0.4 = .24) 24% fat by weight.
 

PASTEURIZATION

Cheese is usually made with pasteurized milk. Pasteurization is the process of either heating the milk to a high temperature for a short time, or heating the milk to a lower temperature for a longer time. The end result is that bacteria is killed, including pathogens like Listeria and Salmonella. Pasteurized milk is not sterile; if it was, an unopened carton wouldn’t spoil. Simply put, pasteurization makes the milk a little safer as well as extends the shelf-life. Unfortunately, pasteurization also destroys friendly bacteria and enzymes that many cheese makers insist give their cheese a richer microflora, better flavour and texture. Regardless, a cheese made from high-quality pasteurized milk will be better than a low-quality raw milk product any day.

Should you avoid eating raw milk products? Absolutely not – in fact, two of our featured cheeses below are from raw milk. You should avoid, however, cheese produced in less than sanitary conditions. You’re more likely to get Listeria from a pasteurized product that has been mishandled post-production, than you are of a raw milk product treated with care. So, you must know and trust the source. That being said, pregnant women should avoid moist, soft cheeses such as queso fresco, cottage cheese, Brie and Camembert where Listeria can grow. On the other hand, aged cheeses (even made with raw milk), like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyère and Emmental are too dry, too low in pH, and too high in salt to support Listeria – and they are an excellent source of calcium and protein.

SERVING & STORING CHEESE:

Most cheeses are best served at approximately room temperature.  Temperate cheeses are richer on the palette than cold cheese from the fridge. However, cheese should not be left out in warm temperatures for extended periods as they will dry out or turn bad fairly quickly. Cheese should be stored in a refrigerator (7-10C is ideal) and free of air in order to stay fresh.


CHEESE, WINE AND MEAT – A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN

Creating a delectable dinner almost certainly includes cheese, wine, and a premium organic meat (from The Healthy Butcher of course)… So how does one go about ensuring the different tastes compliment one another, rather than conflict with each other? Here’s a simple way – start by choosing recipes, wine(s), and a cheese(s) that are all from one country. Following this rule of thumb will immediately tip the odds in your favour of finding a winning combination. In a future edition of Live to Eat, we’ll go over some basics of pairing wine with meat as this subject deserves it’s own edition – for now, we’ll stick to wine and cheese. To match all three, we suggest moving backwards – start with your main meat course and pair a wine to that course… assuming you will be serving that same wine with the cheese, you can then pair the cheese to your wine. There’s no substitute for a sommelier, but let’s be realistic – most dinners don’t involve five courses, five wines, and guests able to discern the intricacies of every selected flavour.

Generally, soft cheeses are mild and should be matched with mild white wines – try a Pinot Blanc or a Riesling. Always avoid heavy, tannic red wines with soft cheeses. If you’re a red lover and must have red, try soft reds such as a young Beaujolais, Pinot Noir or Gamay. These same light reds, stronger whites such as Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, or even rose wines will generally pair nicely with semi-soft cheeses. That being said, do you remember Rule #1? Although mild cheeses like Gouda and Edam are fine with a nice white wine or light red, they are actually much more enjoyable with a premium beer – especially a Dutch beer – the home of those cheeses. Hard cheeses are usually nicely paired with full-bodied, red wines that compliment their stronger flavour – try Baco Noir, Cabernet France, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. And finally, skip the apple pie on your next round of dessert and try a sweet wine (an Ontario late harvest Vidal is ideal, but an ice wine will also work) paired with a regal blue-veined cheese.
 

OUR FEATURED CHEESES FOR THE MONTH:

At our store, we can’t seem to stock our cheeses fast enough. Of course, we are a premium butcher shop first and foremost. So, instead of carrying a dizzying number of cheeses, we carefully select a handful of cheeses each month and help our customers understand the details of each cheese. Although we don’t pretend to be a great cheese shop (and there’s no replacement for the whiff you get when entering a good cheese shop), you can always depend on us to stock a wonderful platter of cheeses.

As with our meats and prepared foods, organic cheeses and local producers are always our priority. A quick note about underestimated Ontario: in the last few years, Ontario’s artisan cheesemakers have grown in number and popularity. Expect an increasing presence of Ontario cheese on high end cheese platters over the next decade! Visit http://www.ontariocheese.org to learn more about Ontario cheeses.

All of this month’s feature cheeses are organic or transitional organic!

SOFT: Ramembert, by Ewenity, Ontario – A twist on the French classic – Camembert; made from sheep milk. Excellent by itself or with fruit.

SEMI-SOFT: Paradiso, by Monforte, Ontario – a soft, buttery cheese, straw-white in colour, with a distinctive pinkish rind. Tangy burst of flavour. This cheese has always been one of our favourites, and we always recommend it as a stand-alone cheese.

SEMI-SOFT: Le D'Iberville, by Fromagerie Au Gré des Champs, Quebec – semi-soft cheese from the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu region, ripened over 60 days, unpasteurized cow’s milk. Washed in a bloomy rind with a sharp flowery flavour.

FIRM: Toscano, by Monforte, Ontario – a firm sheep’s milk cheese boasting an extraordinarily well-rounded palette of flavour; ideal for complimenting Mediterranean cooking.

BLUE: Rassembleu, by Les Fromagiers de la Table Ronde, Quebec – From unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese, this soft, milky textured blue cheese aged 120 days, - subtle, but with the punch of a great blue.

FRESH: Feta, by Ewenity, Ontario – In eastern Europe, the finest feta is made from sheep milk. Ewenity’s sheep milk feta revives memories of the Mediterranean with its unmistakable, creamy, tangy taste.


A WORLD TOUR OF CHEESES:

Last, but not least, we’ve compiled a table featuring cheeses from around the world… keep this by your side when planning your next wine and cheese shindig.
 

COUNTRY

NAME

DESCRIPTION

Austria

Osterkron

Strong blue cheese; soft texture.

Schloss (Schlosskäse)

Strong and stinky soft cheese.  Great with beer.

Belgium

 

Limburg (Limburger)

Famous, stinky, delicious cheese; cow’s milk; strong taste can be bitter.

Trappist

Soft to semi-hard; many varieties.

Bulgaria

Kashkaval (Kachkeval)

Similar to Italy’s Caciocavallo; becomes firmer with age and is a good grating cheese.

Canada

Oka

Semi-hard; creamy, hints of apple, walnuts, and salt; pair with a Niagara ice wine.  Benedictine monks in Oka first made it.

Denmark

 

Danbo (Elbo)

Danes’ favourite cheese; cow’s milk; mild, creamy, some air bubbles; caraway seed variant.

Danish Blue (Danablu)

Danablu is authentic Danish Blue; white/ivory inside with dark blue veins; sticky rind; strong, salty, acidic taste.

Havarti

Semi-hard; versatile for cooking; extremely popular snack or sandwich cheese; mild, creamy, supple.  Often flavoured with spices and chillies.

Samsoe

Emmental-type; ivory colour; small air bubbles; quite mild, somewhat nutty taste.

England

 

Cheddar

Named for the town of origin, can be white, orange, marbled, mild to very mature in taste and age; many English cheeses belong to the “cheddar” family, including Cheshire, Double or Single Gloucester, Derby, Lancashire, Leicester, Dunlop (Scotland) and Caerphilly (Wales).  Canadian cheddars generally are smoother, have a creamier texture, and well known for their balance of flavour and sharpness that develops during aging.

Cheshire

White, red, or blue varieties; granular; mild; can have hints of saltiness or acidity; named for town of origin.

Devon Blue

Blue-veined cheese; cow’s milk; creamy, nutty, and strong tastes.

Glenphilly

Whiskey Cheddar; mature Cheddar with scotch whiskey added for flavour; medium-tasting cheddar with hint of scotch; more aged cheese has stronger scotch taste.  Needless to say, avoid wine and pair this cheese with an nice single malt scotch or even a Canadian rye whiskey.

Sage Derby

Once a traditional Christmas cheese; green marbling due to sage spice on the best varieties; moist to crumbly; mild taste.

Stilton

World famous blue cheese; named for village where it was first popular – not where it was made; cow’s milk; creamy taste, blue-veined; less salty/bitter than most blues.

Finland

 

Juustoleipä

Cow’s milk; rarer varieties use reindeer milk; flat cheese with ‘burnt’ rind; mild, creamy inside.

Turunmaa

Version of Danish Cream Havarti; very mild.

France

 

Brie

A French classic; infinite varieties and copies; soft, creamy inside, white mold rinds.

Camembert

Mild, Fruity to nutty varieties, can be salty.

Chèvre

Goat’s milk cheese; many varieties, strengths and textures.

Livarot

This excellent French cheese is in the washed-rind or “stinky” family.  Though pungent, it’s not as overpowering as Limburger.  The rind is edible, but it’s not for faint-hearted.

Port Salut

Semi-hard; mild, creamy taste, 50% fat.

Roquefort

Famous blue cheese considered to be one of the finest of blues; sheep’s milk; subtle blue taste; firm to crumbly; authentic Roquefort aged in caves; salty taste.

Germany

 

Butterkäse

Semi-soft; buttery taste.

Münster Käse

Sharpish, Swiss-like cheese.

Quark

Very soft; tart taste; very popular.

Greece

Feta

Greek classic; sheep or goat’s milk; moist, can be quite salty.

Hungary

Balaton

Hard, traditional; cow’s milk; mild taste.

India

Chenna

Buffalo or cow’s milk with lemon or lime juice; cottage cheese-like; creamy taste.

Ireland

 

Gubbeen

Strong notes of mushrooms and earth; not for everyone, but an excellent cheese to try at a cheese party.

Mine-Gabhar

Soft to semi-hard; unpasteurized goat’s milk; very French in style.

Italy

 

Asiago

A rich, nutty cheese made from whole or part-skim cow’s milk or, traditionally, sheep’s milk; comes in small wheels; among the best substitutes for Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Aged Asiago (more than one year) is hard and is considered a grating cheese and has full, rich flavour.  Young Asiago is semi-firm and yields a milder flavour.

Bel Paese

This is a mild, semi-soft cheese that’s good with apples, pears, and fruity red wines.  It’s also shredded and used to make pizza, risotto, and pasta dishes.

Cacciocavallo

This Italian cheese is similar to provolone, the name translated means “cheese on horseback”.  Southern Italian origin, cow’s milk, and has a mild, slightly salty flavour, and firm, smooth texture.

Fontina

A semi-firm, cow’s milk cheese with a golden brown rind and yellow interior that is rich and somewhat creamy. The flavor is mild with a hint of nuts; great melter.

Gorgonzola

Famous blue-green cheese; creamy and strong.  Pair with Barolo, Pino Noir, or robust Italian reds.  A Gorgonzola Dolce is young, creamy, and mild, while a Gorgonzola Naturale is aged until it’s firmer and more pungent.

Mascarpone

Often referred to as Italian cream cheese, mascarpone is about as voluptuous as a dairy product gets. Essentially acid-thickened cream, it has the smooth, silky texture of a sour-cream frosting.

Mozzarella

Often imitated Italian classic; usually made from cow’s milk.  It is one of the few cheeses that doesn’t turn rubbery or ooze oil if cooked too long or too hot, so it’s a key ingredient in pizzas and casseroles.  There are two kinds: low moisture and high moisture.  Low moisture is the firmer and the best choice for pizza.  High Moisture is more delicate, often drizzled with olive oil and served uncooked as an appetizer.  Bocconcini are small balls of high moisture mozzarella.  Most interesting is the Buffalo milk Mozzarella di Bufala which has a springy texture and pleasantly sourish taste. 

Parmesan (Parmigiano)

Hard, dry, old, pungent, crumbly and salty; cow’s milk; most commonly grated on top of pasta, salads and pizzas.  The best Parmigiano is the Northern-Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Provolone

This southern Italian cow's milk-cheese has a firm texture and a mild, smoky flavor.  It has a golden-brown rind and comes in various forms from little pear-shaped packages to giant sausage-shaped 200-pounders. Most provolone is aged for 2 to 3 months and has a pale-yellow color. However, some are aged 6 months to a year or more. As the cheese ripens, the color becomes a richer yellow and the flavor more pronounced.

Ricotta

Many varieties; sweet to salty; creamy to firm.  The classic Italian Ricotta is made exclusively from the watery whey that’s drained off in the production of mozzarella, provolone, and other cheeses; whereas North American versions add milk as a stretcher. 

Romano

Similar to Parmesan and Asiago, only nuttier and sharper and of; white to yellow colour; Pecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk, Caprino Romano from goat’s milk, and Vacchino Romano from cow’s milk.

Taleggio

A rich, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from Italy’s Lombardy region; flavour can range from mild to pungent, depending on its age; excellent with salad greens or served with fruit for dessert.

Lebanon

Labneh

Sour milk & rice or barley; fresh and soft or sun-dried hard.

Middle East

Jibneh

Unpasteurized sheep or goat’s milk; creamy.

Netherlands

 

Delfts Blauw (Delft Blue)

Very popular Dutch blue; cow’s milk; irregular bubbles; modest blue spotting.

Edam (Edammer)

Dutch classic named for the town of origin; predates 14th century!; mild, nutty taste; semi-skim cow’s milk; countless herb and spice variations.

Gouda

Often imitated Dutch classic;  Varieties include smoked Gouda, baby Gouda, and various garlic and spice varieties.  Goudas are also classed by age: soft and mild when young, to hard, crumbly, salty, and strong when old.

Norway

Geitost (Gejtost, Gjetost)

Pronounced ‘yite-ost’; mild, tastes of whey; semi-hard, caramel-colour; common varieties blend goat’s milk and cow’s milk; authentic Geitost is 100% goat’s milk; this cheese is an excellent breakfast cheese and in Norway is popular on bread or dunked in tea or coffee.

Poland

Oszczypek

Traditional; smoky, salty taste; unpasteurized sheep's or cow’s milk.

Portugal

Sao Jorge (Queijo de Ilha)

From the Azores island of Soa Jorge; hard, crumbly; unpasteurized cow’s milk; sharp, bittersweet.

Romania

Telemea

Soft; sheep’s milk, plain or cumin seed.

Scotland

Bonchester

Camembert variant; unpasteurized cow’s milk; creamy, buttery taste.

Serbia

Siraz

Feta-like; salty, acidic; unpasteurized cow’s milk.

Slovakia

Bryndza

Although goat and cow’s milk versions exist, the true Bryndza is a salty, sheep’s milk cheese.  It’s spreadable when young, crumbly once aged. Feta-like.

Spain

Manchego

Spain’s most famous cheese, it is a semi-firm cheese with a rich golden color and small holes. It ranges from mild to sharp, depending on how long it is aged.

Sweden

 

Ädelost

Blue-veins, ivory colour; cow’s milk; mild and creamy taste; slightly salty; mold common on rind.

Gräddost

Semi-hard, mild; cow’s milk; creamy, mild taste similar to Havarti.

Prästost

Semi-hard; cow's milk; light to dark ivory colour, small irregular bubbles; mild taste strengthens with age.  Should be consumed aged, minimum 8-9 months.

Switzerland

 

Emmental (Emmenthal)

Often imitated Swiss classic (often called “Swiss”); huge bubbles; mild, sweet, and nutty taste with tart finish.

Gruyère

Mild to strong taste; can be aged 1 or 2 years; classic cheese for fondue.

United States

Brick

A pungent American washed-rind cheese..

Jack

Calidornia Mild, semi-soft to semi-hard or dry; cow’s milk.  Good cheese to slice and melt into sandwiches.  Also goes by Monterey Jack, California Jack, Sonoma Jack, and Mexican Jack.  Efforts to boost the flavour have produced Pepper Jack and Jalapeno Jack.

Wales

Teifi

Pronounced ‘ty-fee’; Gouda variant; unpasteurized cow’s milk; young or one-year old varieties.

To access past issues of live to eat? Click here.

 
MORE INFO ON THE HEALTHY BUTCHER...

The Healthy Butcher is located at 565 Queen St. West, in downtown Toronto

To contact us, call 416-ORGANIC or visit our web page.

  Click here for The Healthy Butcher's website

 
MORE INFO ON ORGANICS, NUTRITION,  RECIPES, and COOKING GUIDES

We have a full library of information at the click of a link.

  Click here for our library
 

 
OUR PRIVACY POLICY

The live to eat  newsletter is a free monthly newsletter distributed by The Healthy Butcher.  All e-mail addresses are kept confidential.  All unsubscription requests are honoured.  For more information, please refer to our privacy policy.

  Click here for our Privacy Policy