CHEESE 101 FOR LOW-CARBERS
(and other cheese addicts)
Cheese falls in the same broad category of foods as wine, sourdough and yogurt. It is a "living" food, created by the action of enzymes and bacteria (yeasts in the case of sourdough and wine) upon a base ingredient (milk and/or cream, in the case of cheese). Unlike bread, processing hasn’t stopped the action of the enzymes and bacteria. Like wine, the piece of cheese on your refrigerator shelf is a work in progress, still maturing, still developing. Like wine, there is a period of time when the cheese hasn’t reached maturity, a window during which it is perfect, and a point of "Oops, too late." Like wine, sourdough and yogurt, proper storage, care and serving make all the difference in the world between an "Ahhhhhhhh" and an "Ewwwwww!" when you take a taste.
Cheese is created by the coagulating action of bacteria and/or rennet (and in a few cases, other substances such as citric acid) on milk. The coagulation separates the protein and fat solids of the milk from the watery part of the milk (whey). In unpasteurized milk cheeses, naturally-occurring bacteria in the milk consume lactose, or milk sugar, and release lactic acid. This action helps coagulate the cheese, and is the reason why cheese, sour cream and yogurt don’t taste sweet, and have such low carbohydrate contents compared to the milk from which they’re made. In cheeses made from pasteurized milk, cultures of these bacteria must be added to cause this action. Particular strains of bacteria added to the cheese for coagulation, or added at later stages in the cheesemaking process, help give particular cheeses their distinctive flavors, textures and appearances. Yes, folks, these are "molds", and almost every cheese known to man has got ‘em. In many cheeses you’ll never see the molds, but they’re there. Deal.
Cheese falls into several broad categories:
Fresh cheeses. These are cheeses that are eaten immediately, not aged. Generally the whey has been drained off, but the cheeses have not been pressed, and they have no rind. They are generally soft and moist. Cream cheese, cottage cheese, boursin and several goat cheeses fall into this category.
Blue cheeses. Blue cheese is an honest cheese that shows its mold proudly. These cheeses have developed a growth between the curds, or in small bores punched into the cheese, of flavor-giving mold, generally of a sort of bluish-gray color. Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Maytag Blue are a few examples of famous blue cheeses.
Washed rind cheeses. Washed rind cheeses are exactly that, cheeses which are periodically dunked, wiped, or sprayed to keep the rind moist to encourage the right kind of mold to grow on the surface. Limburger and Muenster are two of the most well-known washed rind cheeses.
Bloomy rind cheeses. Bloomy rind cheeses are sprayed or brushed or otherwise innoculated with a particular species of mold which creates a powdery white rind. The cheeses themselves inside the rind are often very creamy and runny, especially as they age. Brie, Camembert and St. Andre are famous bloomy rind cheeses.
Cooked curd cheeses. Cooked curd cheeses are those which are heated gently during the process of coagulation to firm up the curds and help the whey separate. Cheddar is an example of a cooked curd cheese.
Cheeses are also categorized by their firmness (soft, semisoft, etc.) or by what type of milk they’re made from (goat, cow, sheep, etc.) or by their fat content. Then there are cheeses which aren’t readily classifiable – such as the Indian cheese Paneer, which uses neither bacterial cultures nor rennet, but coagulates fresh milk with lemon juice, or whey cheeses such as Gjetost, which aren’t made from coagulated milk at all, but from boiling down the whey left over from making other cheeses (whey cheeses are very high in carbohydrates, by the way, so beware!). And if you think that’s complicated, cheeses are also flavored by adding herbs and spices to the cheese before it’s pressed, coating the cheese in flavoring substances such as grape skins, soaking the cheese in wine . . . the variations are literally endless.
The grocery store. Many grocery stores are now carrying a wide variety of cheeses, and that’s one starting point. The up side is that these cheeses are generally less expensive, and of course the convenience of buying at the grocery. The down side is that oftentimes these cheeses are of poor quality for their type, often American mass-produced versions which taste really nothing like the non-American original. Case in point: Swiss cheese. What the heck is Swiss cheese? There are literally hundreds of Swiss cheeses, no two alike. Eat a bite of grocery-store "Swiss cheese", then taste a bite of real Swiss Emmental or Jarlsberg. No resemblance, trust me. American Muenster shares nothing with the original but the name – oh, and a dyed orange exterior to mimic the real washed rind. We won’t even talk about what passes for parmesan cheese. Additionally, these cheeses often haven’t been treated very well, and it’s not uncommon to get your cheese home and find it soggy or dried out, or even spoiled.
The wholesale or bulk store. If you have a Sam’s Club or Costco in the area, these have decent cheese counters. The selection is limited, but the cheeses are well-treated and good. If you don’t mind buying a large chunk, they’re a great bargain.
The specialty grocery. A huge step up from the grocery store is the smaller, specialty grocery stores like Wild Oats or Trader Joe’s. Here you can get real imported cheeses which have been treated decently, and for a decent price. You can usually find a knowledgeable staff person, too, to help steer you in the direction of something that will suit your tastes. I, for example, don’t particularly care for tangy cheeses for snacking, so most goat cheeses just don’t suit me. I also don’t like to snack on blue cheeses, but love them for cooking or on salad. "Hey, which of these blues don’t hate smoky bacon in an omelet? And what’s the difference between these two cheddars?" At Wild Oats, you can usually get a sample of a cheese you’re not sure about. At Trader Joe’s, unfortunately you can’t. But Trader Joe’s is cheaper and has, generally, a wider selection.
The specialty cheese shop or gourmet shop. You may be lucky enough to live in a city that has an actual cheese shop, or wine and cheese shop, or what have you. This is a wonderful place for a novice to sample his way across several countries, types of cheese, milk types, etc., guided by a knowledgeable person. The cheeses are generally in wonderful condition, and the clerk can tell you anything you’d like to know about the cheeses he carries, their uses, what foods/wines go well with them, or how to put together a really stellar cheese plate to wow your friends. Of course, you pay for this – cheese shops have a very high overhead for importing and properly storing so many different types of cheeses, and understandably they pass these costs on to the customer. But it’s a wonderful way to find out what you like and what you don’t, and a good cheese shop owner will never get impatient if you try a dozen different cheeses and end up buying three little bitty wedges to take home. He knows you’ll be back. He’s counting on it.
Online cheese shopping. I love buying cheese online. Once you find a good, reputable dealer and have some idea what you want in a cheese, this is a perfect solution. You can shop from the convenience of your own home, pay far lower prices than at a cheese shop, and receive top-quality merchandise delivered to your doorstep. Personally, I patronize (and highly recommend) iGourmet.com, but there are plenty of cheese sellers on the Internet. I can buy a pound of real Parmiggiano-Reggiano and have it delivered to my door for less per pound than driving all the way to Trader Joe’s or Wild Oats, and far, far less per pound than at a cheese shop. Of course, the down side is that you can’t look at or sample the cheese before buying, so buy cautiously until you’re very sure you can trust the shop. Good customer service is of paramount importance. Be sure you pick a dealer who responds promptly to complaints and suggestions, who have staff available by email/phone to make recommendations and answer questions! Again, iGourmet has marvelous customer service and has responded wonderfully the few times I got something I was less than thrilled with.
This argument reaches religious dimensions. Foil, plastic, wax paper . . . let it breathe, keep it airtight. My version? Cling Plus Saran Wrap. Wrap your cheese tightly. Store it in the fridge. If you want to buy a big block of cheese and you happen to have a vacuum sealer, then by all means portion the cheese and vacuum pack the remainder. For God’s sake, don’t freeze your cheese. I’ve never had good results with freezing anything but vacuum sealed blocks of whole milk mozzarella, which didn’t seem to suffer. I wouldn’t try it with anything else, especially grated parmesan, which picks up a nasty, sawdusty texture if frozen and thawed. Many cheeses lose flavor if frozen.
As a general rule, the softer the cheese, the less time you can keep it. Fresh cheeses and "wet" cheeses, like feta and fresh mozzarella, fall into the short-term category.
A WORD ABOUT MOLD
With very few exceptions, cheese = mold. It’s worth saying again. Cheese = mold. Cheese molds are natural, nontoxic, will not give you the bubonic plague or turn you into a bug-eyed mutant zombie.
Some cheeses come with molds already on the exterior, such as the bloomy rind on a brie or camembert. Some moldy rinds are edible (like brie and camembert). None are inedible, but they aren’t necessarily tasty. If the moldy rind puts you off, cut it away, f’r goodness sake!!! It’s a free country. If you have a question about whether to eat the rind or not, ask your vendor. I myself am a rind-cutter just on general principle. Some people consider this heresy. Some people never get a second sample from my cheese stash.
Some cheeses come with molds already in them, i.e. blue cheeses. These molds are what give the cheese its flavor.
Omigod, what’s that growing on my cheese? It’s mold. Duh. Unless your piece of cheese has become one huge biology experiment, however, or develops the characteristic ammonia aroma/flavor that denotes spoilage, or unless the cheese itself is becoming discolored, please don’t throw the cheese away!! Cut away the mold, rewrap the cheese in a clean piece of plastic wrap, and there you go. All better now. Next time don’t buy more cheese than you can eat in a reasonable time period. As a side note, grated cheese grows mold far more easily than cheese in one hunk, which is a good reason to grate your parmesan and mozzarella as you need it, instead of grating a big bunch and keeping it in the fridge. (Grated parmesan, romano, asiago and the like loses its flavor with time, too, which is another good reason to grate as you go.)
Most cheeses taste better at room temperature. It’s a fact of life. The smart thing to do is to cut off whatever portion you think you’ll eat, half an hour before you want it. There are wonderful little cheese servers out there which will protect your precious cheese from (in my case) the household cats and keep it from drying out in the open air. You can get one very cheaply on eBay – search "cheese plate". Or just put your cheese on a plate and upend a bowl over it for protection.
Everyone says to serve wine with cheese. Unfortunately, I hate wine, although I’ll cook with it. My husband adores beer with cheddar cheese. I also hate beer, although I’ll cook with it. I find that a not-too-sweet iced tea goes perfectly with most cheeses, but when I’m snacking privately, my great love is hot tea and a plate of cheese to nibble. Go figure. Everybody’s different. If you happen to like your cheese with Diet Mountain Dew, I say go for it. In my humble opinion, there’s no bad way to eat cheese.
There’s a big argument out there in the cheese snob world over whether cheese should be served with crusty bread or crackers. Well, since we can’t have either, that whole argument is moot. Cheese works just fine on its own, thank you very much. For soft, gooey, spreadable cheeses, I recommend celery sticks, thin "crackers" of sliced jicama, or the nice rib-shaped hearts of Romaine lettuce. I have been known to spread cheese on pork rinds, but that really is cheese heresy, so pretend I didn’t tell you that.
There’s more to cheese than snacking. In many countries a cheese course is served after, or even instead of, dessert. Additionally, a piece of the right kind of cheese can hugely enhance some foods. If you’re serving a hearty low-carb beef stew, nibble cubes of cheddar between bites. After grilling your steak, crumble blue cheese over it. Sprinkle shredded Emmenthal or Gruyere over chicken broth-based soups. Parmesan, of course, goes with just about anything, but instead of typically grating it, take a vegetable peeler and shave off curls so you really get a yummy bite of Parmesan Power. Oh, and another hint for Parmesan: When you grate up parmesan, save those tough rinds!! When you’re making stock or soup, drop a couple pieces of parmesan rind in and let it simmer with the soup. Then fish the gooey rind out afterwards and discard. Lends incredible flavor to soups.
CREATING A CHEESE BOARD
Do this at least once, if only for yourself! It’s loads of fun. First, throw out all those anxiety-causing preconceptions. A cheese board can be any three or four cheeses you like, but it should be a range of flavors or types of cheeses to lend some variety. You could have a fresh cheese, a semisoft, a crumbly cheese and a firm cheese. You could have a mild cheese, a tangy cheese, a nutty flavored cheese and a sharp, salty cheese. You could have a washed rind, a bloomy rind, a blue cheese and a cooked curd cheese. You could have an American cheese, a French cheese, an Italian cheese and a Dutch cheese.
Here’s an example of one I might do, containing some of my favorite cheeses:
St. Andre (French, bloomy rind, triple crème, soft and rich)
Manchego (Spanish, sheep’s milk, full-bodied and salty, semihard)
Emmenthal (Swiss, nutty and sweet)
Stilton (English, blue cheese, big blue flavor)
Really, there’s two important things to remember when creating a cheese board. First, when tasting the cheeses, start with the mildest first, and progress to the strongest. Second, please don’t cut all the cheeses with the same knife, or the big WHAM of flavor from your tangy, goaty chevre is going to murder your laid-back, mellow brie.
And there’s no magic about the number four; just don’t put out huge amounts of cheese unless you have huge amounts of guests. I love to make myself a mini cheese board of little portions of three or four cheeses; it makes me feel spoiled. Guests love it too.
THE CARB CONTENT OF CHEESE
Cheeses vary widely in their carb content. According to the USDA database, cheddar cheese has 0.36 grams of carbohydrate per ounce. Camembert has 0.13. Fontina has 0.43. Part-skim mozzarella has 0.78. Whole milk mozzarella has 0.62. Parmesan has 1.15. Most cheeses are well under one gram of carbohydrates per ounce – most, in fact, are under half a carb per ounce. If you want to be conservative and estimate on gram of carb per ounce of any cheese, this works. The one exception is Gjetost. Bad news to Gjetost fans. This supersweet whey cheese, not a "real" cheese at all, contains over 12 grams of carbohydrates per ounce. If you avoid Gjetost, you’re pretty safe considering all cheeses as 1 gram/ounce or less.
And now, on to the cheeses . . .
VG Very Good
* Personal favorites for snacking – I try to keep several of these on hand.
Note on cheese journal: I compiled a great deal of this cheese journal before I began low-carbing, so there are mentions in the journal of eating crackers and using the cheeses in non low-carb contexts. I’m leaving those mentions in, since many low-carbers have family and friends who aren’t low-carbing and might find those entries useful.
Also, beware of my blind spots. I don’t personally care for tangy cheeses, and therefore I’m not fond of goat cheeses or blue cheeses. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, just that I personally don’t care for them in most contexts. The ratings are my personal opinion ONLY.
*Amarelo (Portugal) – from iGourmet.com. Half of small wheel. Semisoft, cream white, fairly dry. Nutty sweetish taste (not as much as Gruyere), then buttery. Decent. Rating: VG.
Ardaleno (Romania) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white wedge of wheel. Water buffalo milk cheese. Firm but not dry, creamy white, slighty granular texture like Parmiggiano. Mildish, nice combination of salty, buttery, nutty, rounds off to nice cheesy follow. Advertised as tangy, but it’s not, thank God. Good snacking cheese. Rating: VG/E. NOTE: Another batch I ordered was TOO mild, bordering on bland, so watch this in future batches. Mild, I’d call it okay, but nothing I’d order again.
Bobolink Frolic (USA) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy wedge of wheel. Sticky texture. Supposedly an Amish cheese. Decided soapy, ammoniac taste. I don’t know whether it had gone over or what. Doesn’t improve. Ick. Maybe if the Amish had electricity and refrigeration their cheese wouldn’t spoil. Rating: P.
Boursin (France) – from Sam’s Club, but widely available in grocery stories. Small box containing small cylinder wrapped in foil – plain, peppercorn, or, my favorite, garlic and herb. Spreading cheese, double crème. Extremely rich, buttery flavor, good for snacking or cooking. I use it all the time. Rating: E.
Brie (USA, originally France) – from The Cheese Shop. Creamy, rather gooey pie-shaped wedge of flat wheel. Powdery white rind over soft, creamy center. Rind is edible, but I cut it off. Rich, supple, big mellow aromatic flavor. Excellent to bake, peel off the top and scoop up with veggies of any kind. American and Canadian pasteurized-milk Bries are not as flavorful as their raw milk French counterparts, but they’re still delicious. Rating: VG.
Camembert (USA) – from Wild Oats. Small flat wheel packaged in wooden box. Powdery white rind over creamy center. I cut off powdery rind. Generally a bit stronger than brie, delicious when well ripened. Same comments made to brie also apply. Rating: VG.
Cantal (France) – from iGourmet.com. Off-white wedge of wheel with sticky beige mold on rind. Semi hard. Mild flavor, cheesy, not too salty. Surprisingly, reminds me a bit of longhorn colby in flavor, but rather on the mild side. I would have expected something more assertive. Nice but unexceptional. Rating: G/VG.
Chaource (France) – from iGourmet.com. Small, squat cylinder with white bloomy rind and extremely creamy paste. On the same principle as brie or camembert, but a higher fat content. I cut off the top rind and scoop out the paste, spread on celery or whatever. Sinfully luxurious. Full, mellow, rich taste. Rating: VG.
Cheddar, Black Diamond (Canada) – Sam’s Club, but widely available. Creamy wedge of possibly large wheel or loaf, no rind. Firm, moist but not crumbly. Strong but smooth cheddar flavor, slightly sharp, predominant cheesy, salty, buttery flavors. Interestingly, flavor becomes much mellower and more buttery when melted. Melts beautifully. Marvelous for any type of cooking or sauce, Welsh Rarebit, over vegetables, etc. Cheddar pairs better with beer or apple cider than wine. Rating: VG.
Cheshire (England) – from The Cheese Shop. Pale yellow wedge of cylinder. Very moist and crumbly, tangy and sharp. Definitely one of England’s beer cheeses. Traditionally eaten with beer and pickles. Not my thing. Rating: G.
Chimay Trappiste – from iGourmet.com. Wedge of wheel. Semisoft, spongy and kind of sticky. Salty, mild cheese flavor, faint bitter aftertaste. Nothing I’d buy again. Rating: OK.
Crotonese (Italy) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy wedge of wheel. Oily natural rind. Quite hard, Parmiggiano Reggiano texture, including graininess, but flavor is very mild, oily, mildly salty/cheesy and almost bland. I like my cheese a little more assertive. Rating: OK.
*Edam (Holland) – from iGourmet.com but widely available. Whole orange wax-dipped cheese, ball-shaped. Firm but not dry. Round flavor, full blend of nutty, salty, aromatic, cheesy. Would make an excellent all-purpose cheese for cooking or snacking. Rating: E.
Emmental (Switzerland) – from iGourmet.com but widely available. Slice of very large wheel. Yellow-white with large eyes. Nutty, sweet flavor, not as much so as Gruyere, ends up dry flavor with faintly astringent undertones. I still don’t like this as well as other cheeses, and I don’t want to eat it out of hand, but it’s excellent on sandwiches, especially with ham, or in quiche. Rating: VG.
Esrom (Denmark) – from iGourmet.com. Square slab of loaf. No rind. White with many tiny holes. Washed-rind monastery cheese, pronounced aroma. Tangy, pungent flavor. I’m not a fan of tangy cheeses, but if you like that sort of thing, this is the way to go. Rating: G.
Etorki (France) – from iGourmet.com. Wedge of wheel. Pale orange rind, moist, semisoft. Well-rounded flavor, not too strong but good enough, starting out buttery, then cheesy, ending on a nutty flavor. Great on crackers, wish it was a little more assertive. Definitely a snacking cheese. Rating: VG.
Feta (Greece) – from Wild Oats, but widely available. Brick packaged in brine. White, very moist and crumbly. Unique tangy/salty flavor, slightly sharp, very pleasing. I like feta as a cooking or salad cheese rather than a snacking cheese. Perfect with anything with lemon in it, or olives. Marvelous in spinach and feta omelets. Melts beautifully. Be careful, not all fetas are equal. Most grocery store feta I’ve seen is downright bland. Rating: VG.
*Fontina Val d’Aosta (Italy) – from Corner Gourmet or iGourmet.com (cheaper). Creamy white cheese with rind in wedges. Rich, nutty, complex, utterly fantastic. My absolute favorite. Excellent in baked macaroni and cheese. Rating: E+.
(Norway) – from Wild Oats but widely available. Light brown cube. Fudgy
texture, very slightly grainy. All
I can say is yuck. Cloyingly sweet,
faint cheesy undertone, don’t like the fudgy, Velveeta-like texture, either.
Crackers just made it worse. Rating:
Totally yuck, doesn’t even qualify as poor.
Gorgonzola Dolcelatte (Italy) – from iGourmet.com. Wedge
of cylinder, pale white paste mottled with greenish-blue mold.
Cheese is soft, almost spreadable and extremely mild for a blue cheese.
Good for cooking and melts nicely for a marvelous sauce.
I don’t care for blues for snacking.
Gouda, farmstead, yellow wax (Holland) – from iGourmet.com. Pale orange wedge of wheel. Medium rich, wonderful balance between tangy, salty, cheesy flavors. Firm but still moist; not crumbly. Marvelous. Rating: E.
*Gouda, farmstead, cured, 6 mos
(Holland) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy
wedge of wheel, black wax coating over yellow-orange dipped rind.
Much like yellow wax gouda, flavors somewhat more intense and slightly
drier; the only disadvantage is that it has to be really tightly wrapped or it
dries out quickly. The aftertaste
is almost as good as the original. Truly
Gouda, farmstead, extra aged, 18 mos
(Holland) – from iGourmet.com. Pale
yellow-orange wedge of wheel, clear wax coating over orange dipped rind.
Cheese is almost grating consistency, dry, hard and flaky, a little
difficult to slice because of tendency to flake.
Slight graininess to consistency similar but less than
Parmiggiano-Reggiano. Deep, intense
cheesy flavor, then caramelized sweet notes.
Maybe a little too caramel-like for me and a little dry for snacking.
I like the 6 mos version much better for snacking, but this might be good
on a sandwich where the dry, flaky consistency isn’t so noticeable and the
intense/sweet flavor might serve better. Also
strong possibility for cooking. Does
taste really good with sweet tea, though. Rating:
*Gruyere de Comte (France) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white cheese with rind in wedges. Firm and slightly dry. Extremely nutty and slightly sweet. Salty crackers absolutely necessary to offset sweetness. I like it better for cooking than for eating. Excellent in baked macaroni and cheese. Rating: VG/E.
Havarti (Denmark) – from iGourmet.com, but widely available. Thick square slice of rectangular loaf. Creamy white with lots of small holes. Semisoft, very rich and creamy, fairly mild, creamy/salty flavor predominant. Excellent snacking cheese for people who want to start mild and rich. I like something a little stronger for slicing on sandwiches, but it does melt nicely. Excellent paired with chicken. Rating: G/VG.
Imperatore (Italy) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white wedge of thick wheel with natural rind. Very dry, parmiggiano texture including graininess. Wants to flake and layer. Quite salty/buttery taste with pleasant graininess, more a grating cheese. Nice cheesy follow. This would make an excellent cooking cheese, but probably a little too salty and dry for snacking in my opinion. Rating: G/VG.
Istara Oiseau-Iraty (France) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white cheese, wedge of round. Mild and creamy, not very salty. Pleasant but a little bit too mild for me. Rating: G/VG.
Killorglin (Ireland) – from iGourmet.com. Yellow wedge of disk. Thick rind. Quite hard, like parmesan. Very salty and brittle. No good for snacking. Okay, nothing special. Rating: OK.
Koopsen Kaas, Double Cream (Holland) – from iGourmet.com. Pale yellow wedge of wheel. Semisoft, clings to knife. Rich, buttery, salty, slight milky sweetness, moderately deep flavor but still fairly mild. Maybe a little too creamy. Rating: VG.
(France) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy
wedge of wheel. Semisoft but firm,
not crumbly. Nasty sticky
red-orange rind, easily cut away. Very
strong nutty flavor hits first, then a hint of astringency like the follow-up to
a Swiss cheese, then buttery and salty flavors follow, then slight sweeter
notes. Interesting effect.
Strong initial flavor may be something I might have to be in the mood
for, but it’s good. Excellent for nibbling, would be good in omelets, etc.
(Germany) – widely available. Foil-wrapped
brick. Famous for its aroma, which
most people find it hard to get around. I
found flavor to be strong, kind of mushroomy/soapy and unpleasant.
I may have just gotten a bad one, but wasn’t motivated to buy it
elsewhere and try again. Rating: P.
Mahon (Spain) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy wedge of round, moist, a little rubbery. Almost flavorless, edging way into bland. Don’t get this again. Rating: P.
*Malagon with Rosemary (Spain) – from iGourmet.com. Sheep’s milk cheese. Firm wedge of round, texture of Manchego with rosemary all over rind. Salty, buttery, deep, rich, utterly fantastic. Like Manchego only more so. Rating: E.
*Manchego (Spain) – widely available, from iGourmet.com. Creamy wedge of round. Sheep’s milk. Firm but not dry, nice mouthfeel. Slightly flaky with occasional Parmiggiano-like graininess. Starts out salty, then moves into nutty and buttery flavor. Very nice. Rating: E.
(France) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy
wedge of wheel. Unpasteurized
cow’s milk. Nasty sticky mold
rind easily cut away. Firm but not
dry. Nice round flavor, nicely
cheesy start, Gruyere-like sweetness, nice nutty finish.
Faint hint of graininess like Parmiggiano Reggiano.
I would like it just a little bit saltier.
Mimolette (France) – from iGourmet.com. Very bright orange wedge of round, firm and almost hard but not dry, consistency of cheddar. Slightly sweet, slightly salty, mild, very agreeable. Have a feeling this would be very nice melted or sliced on sandwiches. Rating: VG.
(Denmark) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy-white
section from rounded-edged block, it looks like.
Semisoft, a bit sticky on the knife.
Not very strong, cheesy flavor rather like Gouda only much milder.
No complexity but very pleasant if you like really unassertive cheeses.
Montafoner Bergkase (Austria) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy
white wedge of wheel. Firm but
creamy texture, riddled with pea-sized holes.
For some reason there was a lot of liquid inside the vacuum pack, but
cheese seems fine. Sweet nutty
flavor, then a hint of astringency, modulates out into nice cheesy flavor.
Not very salty at all, but neither cloyingly sweet nor “grocery store
Swissy”. None of the flavors
build annoyingly. Nice for
snacking. Rating: VG.
Montes Pur Ovellas (Spain) – from iGourmet.com. Cream-white wedge of small wheel, firm, bordering on hard, especially at the edges. Very thick rind. Rather oily. Pronounced caramel-like flavor fades to butteriness. Rating: VG.
Morbier (France) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white wedge of wheel, slightly softer than Fontina, thin layer of ash horizontal through the middle. Mild, slightly salty/tangy. Not nearly as full-flavored as advertised, but inoffensive. Rating: G.
Munster d’Alsace (France) – from iGourmet.com. Flat square-shaped cheese, consistency of brie, white-mold rind with creamy interior. Decent, unexciting; I expected more punch from these soft, gooey cheeses, I guess. Rating: G.
(Greece) – from O’Malia’s, available in some groceries.
Hard, white wedge of globe. Crumbly
grating cheese. Salty, slight
sheep’s milk flavor. Lovely for
cooking or grating over Greek food; not a snacking cheese.
(Canada) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy
wedge of wheel. Very slightly moldy
orange-brown rind. Paste the
consistency of cheddar but creamy white. Salty,
buttery taste moves on to deeply cheesy, then sort of smoky-astringent, almost
pungent. Advertised on iGourmet.com
as “Oka has a distinctive, full flavor that is filled with delicate
subtleties. It is mellow, smooth, creamy, and a little bit nutty.” I’d
agree with full flavor. I don’t
know about delicate or subtle and I’m not tasting nutty, but it IS nice. Rating: G/VG.
(India) – from India Palace’s Indian grocery, but also available at
iGourmet.com or can make at home. Square
block of rather spongy, almost firm tofu consistency cheese. Cheese is mild, faintly tangy tasting. Paneer is interesting because it’s made with milk curdled
with lemon juice, and because it will not melt, hence its uses in Indian
curries, especially palak paneer, or deep-fried.
Does not require breading or batter.
Excellent in curry in addition to, or instead of, meat.
Definitely a cooking, not a snacking cheese.
Rating: G/VG for its purposes.
Parmigiano Reggiano (Italy) – from Cheese Shop or iGourmet.com. Golden grating cheese in large wedges. Hard, dry and a little grainy and crumbly. Salty, rich, nutty, aromatic, complex, wonderful. Puts the pre-grated stuff to shame. Rating: E.
*Passendale (Belgium) – from iGourmet.com. Orange cheese with rind, shaped like a Hershey’s Kiss. Mild but very tasty, semisoft at center, drier at edges near rind, flavor stronger at outer parts. Nice distinct carmel-like flavor, good saltiness, excellent with crackers and tea. Rating: E+.
*Piave (Italy) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white quarter slab of cylinder. Quite firm texture, slightly grainy. Marvelously complex flavor ranging from buttery to nutty to cheesy to salty. Definitely a favorite. Rating: E.
Pont L’Eveque (France) – from iGourmet.com. Small flat disc-shaped cheese. Consistency of brie, dry orange-mold rind, creamy interior. Creaminess overwhelms any other flavor. Okay, but I’m not fond of these soft cheeses. Rating: G.
Postel (Belgium) – from
iGourmet.com. Pale golden cheese,
wedge of very small wheel. Very
hard, more a grating cheese than a snacking cheese.
Salty, very buttery, kind of a scaled-down version of Parmesan. Taste tapers off to nearly nothing next to the rind.
Pere Joseph (Belgium) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy cow’s milk cheese, wedge of disc, wrapped in brown wax almost no rind. Rather soft. Nice round flavor, buttery but not too much so, somewhat aromatic, earthy, assertive enough to be extremely pleasant. Rating: VG/E.
Provolone Piccante (Italy) – from iGourmet.com. Aged, slightly drier version of Provolone. Much more flavorful and less mozzarella-like than the Provolone we see in the US. Wonderful melting cheese, marvelous on pizzas, etc. Perfect on sandwiches. Just incredible. Rating: E.
P’tit Basque (France) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white sheep’s milk cheese, whole small cylinder, waxed with rather yucky damp rind underneath. Firm but not dry. Mildly salty, slight tang followed by nice cheesy flavor, ending on a buttery note. Well balanced and pleasant but not strong; grows on you as you eat more, taste growing more buttery. Milder than Edam. Rating: VG.
Pyrenees (France) – from Wild Oats. Creamy white wedge of small wheel, black wax coated. Very sticky/crumbly texture. Salty, then tangy, with a sour afternote reminiscent of cottage cheese. A little more tangy and wet than I like. Rating: OK/G.
Ragusano (Italy) – from iGourmet.com. Slab from large wheel or loaf. Pale yellow, hard texture, almost grating texture. Extremely salty, then tangy. Ick. Just ick. Not pleasant, no complexity or balance, too harsh. Rating: P.
Raphael (Belgium) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy beige wedge of small wheel, coated in mottled orangeish wax with a slightly sticky rind underneath. Semisoft. Very sharp and tangy with an almost ammoniac aftertaste. Yuck. Not my kind of cheese. Might be okay with crackers to dilute it down, but otherwise, it sucks. Rating: P.
Rocinante (Spain) – from iGourmet.com. White “blended cheese”, mixture of pasteurized goat, cow and sheep’s milk but tastes more like goat than anything. No rind, semisoft, moist (muenster consistency). Goat-cheese tangy rather than salty, distinctly fruity, not real assertive but the tanginess kind of builds. Rating: G.
Roncal (Spain) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white wedge of disk. Very hard, almost grating cheese. Tastes similar to Manchego, but drier. Salty. Better for cooking than eating because of hard texture. Rating: G.
Roquefort (France) – from Wild Oats. Sheep’s milk blue cheese. White with blue-green mold. Very strong, salty, less musty than some blues. When I want a blue cheese for cooking, I’d head for this one. Nothing I’d snack on. Rating: VG.
Shropshire Blue (England) – from iGourmet.com. Orange/blue-veined wedge of wheel. Moist, crumbly. Pronounced soapy flavor. Fell apart. Disgusting. Ate the second bite only because I couldn’t believe the first was really that bad. Rating: P- (for Peeeeeeuuuuw).
Stilton (England) – from Neal’s Yard Dairy. Creamy white with blue mold, hard brown rind. Firm, not as crumbly as American blues. Deep, mellow flavor, not hit-you-in-the-face blue tangy. Definitely my favorite blue, which isn’t saying that much. Definitely pay the money for a farmhouse Stilton – in America, iGourmet.com is the place to get it. Grocery store Stiltons are horrible, no resemblance. Rating: G/VG.
St. Andre (France) – from The Cheese Shop. Small squat cylinder or deep wheel. White bloomy rind over creamy paste. Rich, buttery, not as much flavor as some other bloomy rinds. Triple crème, so the richness pretty much overwhelms anything else. I cut off the rind and spread the creamy paste. I like something a little more flavorful. Rating: G/VG.
St. Olof’s (Sweden) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy white semisoft cheese in brick form, no rind, mild, slightly tangy, no outstanding qualities, inoffensive. Texture rather like Velveeta. The sort of thing I’d serve to somebody who hates strong cheeses, but too bland for me. Rating: G.
*Tete de Moine (France) – from iGourmet.com. Squat cylinder, pale gold. Damp rind under foil wrapper. Fairly firm, no holes. Excellent balance of buttery, salty, slightly tangy – ends up richly cheesy. Very satisfying flavor, grows addictive! Would make excellent cooking cheese as well. Rating: E.
Tilsit (Denmark, also German) – from iGourmet.com. Thick square slab of loaf. No rind, creamy white with many tiny holes. Slightly less rich than Havarti, fuller flavor, heading towards tangy. Husband’s favorite. Very nice on sandwiches. Rating: G/VG.
Ubriarco – from The Corner Gourmet. Ivory wedge of wheel, purple rind from grape must. Nice, firm, good texture, can taste a kind of “winy” aftertaste. Pleasant but unexceptional. Rating: G.
Urgelia (Spain) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy ivory wedge of small wheel. Semisoft, clings to knife, softest in the center. Definite sticky/crumbly washed rind, had to be cut away. Creamy, salty, aromatic, slightly sharp. Very interesting on the tongue, each taste makes you want more. Complex. Rating: VG.
Vento d’Estate (Italy) – from iGourmet.com. Ivory wedge of wheel. Herb-flecked rind. A bit on the moist and crumbly side with a few tiny holes. Salty and rather moldy flavor reminiscent of blues. Musty flavor gets kind of annoying as you go, but it’s better in small doses. Nothing I’d get again, but I wouldn’t be embarrassed to put it on a cheese board for friends to snack on. Rating: OK/G.
Vermont Shepherd Cheese (US) – from iGourmet.com. Wedge of wheel. Moldy rind, hard, somewhat flaky interior. Hard to cut into convenient slices for cracker. Very salty, buttery, slightly grainy finish like Parmiggiano. Rather like Manchego but saltier and without the depth. Rating: G.
*Vignerons (Switzerland) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy wedge of wheel. Semisoft interior, not sticky, with a few small holes and occasionally a slight grainy texture. First taste nutty, slightly sweet, then slight aromatic/astringent sharpness, easing into nice, slightly “edgy” cheesy flavor. Very nice complex flavor, nice mouthfeel, doesn’t get too intense as I keep eating. This is too complex for cooking, needs to be savored with each bite as a snacking cheese. Truly lovely. Rating: E.
Vlaskaas (Holland) – from iGourmet.com. Pale orange wedge of big wheel. Almost wet, crumbly texture with a very few holes. This was advertised as “Similar to Gouda, but richer, creamier and deeper yellow in color.” Well, I’ll buy “deeper yellow.” I don’t find much similarity to Gouda at all. Flavor is much more heavily lactic and sour with none of Gouda’s nuttiness. The moist, crumbly texture didn’t come off to me as creamy. It’s a decent enough cheese and would be pleasing if it weren’t for my irrational dislike of tangy cheeses. Nothing to write home about, but I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it to my guests. Rating: G.
Volendam (Holland) – from iGourmet.com. Pale orange wedge of wheel. Basically a weak Gouda, only softer and rather sticky. Disappointing. Rating: OK.
*Walder (Austria) – from iGourmet.com. Creamy wedge of wheel. Semisoft, no rind to speak of except the paper coating. Clings slightly to knife. Very, very nutty but not as sweet as Gruyere . . . kind of like a cross between Gruyere and Gouda, but not as strong either way. Very pleasant, not as good as either Gruyere or Gouda, but a nice compromise which makes it a better snacking cheese. Rating: VG/E.