Why do people like cheese so much?
One food, so many subtleties. Ever since an anonymous nomad in the Middle East took a long and bumpy camel trip with a leather bag of milk and discovered a delicious transformation, cheese has been a beloved part of the human diet. The qualities of milk, the diet of the animal and the chemical properties of the cheese-making process impact flavor in innumerable ways. There literally are hundreds of types of cheese made from all kinds of milk in countries all over the world. If you’re like us, you’d love to try them all.
Why does Swiss cheese have holes? Why do cheese curds squeak? What are these crystals in my aged Gouda?
Cheese is nothing if not a chemistry lesson. To transform milk into cheese, we humans enlist the help of various bacteria. Swiss cheese requires three types of bacteria, one of which — Propionibacter shermani — is rather gassy. Bubbles of carbon dioxide leave holes in the cheese; the size of the holes is impacted by acidity, temperature and cooling time.
On another gassy note, fresh cheese curds squeak when bitten due to gas trapped inside. As curds age, gas escapes. To get the best squeak, bite the curd within hours of creation. Keeping curds at room temperature can help preserve freshness and squeakiness.
And to round out our chemistry theme, aged Gouda often contains small, crunchy white crystals. These are bits of crystallized tyrosine, an amino acid found in the casein or milk protein. Most cheese lovers consider this aspect of aged Gouda’s texture to be a signature delight. When you find them, crunch away. And if you want more, Gruyère, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Piave Vecchio share the trait.
What’s the healthiest way to enjoy cheese?
The short answer is “all things in moderation.” While cheese is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, let’s face it: Fat is what gives cheese its beguiling texture and depth of flavor. That said, there are some subtleties to consider.
Soft cheeses, such as feta or ricotta have higher moisture content and therefore a lower fat percentage than harder cheeses. Some hard cheeses are made with skimmed milk, meaning the cream is traditionally skimmed away during the cheese-making process. Good examples are Parmesan, Asiago or Single Gloucester. Of course, cheeses not traditionally made with skimmed milk are often available in low-fat versions, but they tend to lack the richness of their full-fat counterparts.
When it comes to a great cheese, you don’t need much to swoon. Smaller quantities of traditional cheeses may provide more pleasure than larger quantities of low-fat substitutes. Try nibbles of stronger, more mature cheeses such as Raclette or Tarentaise for a taste adventure with your favorite veggies or fruits.
What temperature is best for serving cheese?
Cheese is at full flavor at room temperature. If you are making up a cheese plate, you’ll want to take your cheese out of the refrigerator about an hour ahead of the tasting. Adjust your timing for soft cheeses, as they come to room temperature more quickly than harder ones. It’s also easier to slice softer cheeses when they are chilled, so you may want to slice ahead.
Which vegetables and fruits pair best with cheese?
When exploring cheese pairings, go for complementary flavors that bring out the natural characteristics of the cheese or explore contrasts that round out the palate. Fruits and vegetables provide endless options for pairings.
When it comes to fruit and cheese, you can’t go wrong with apples, pears, grapes and figs. Broad, sweet tones and textures pair perfectly with Cheddar, Red Leicester or Manchego. Consider dried fruits such as cranberries or Medjool dates as well.The Central Market Bulk department is a cheese board’s friend, especially if the fresh stuff is out of season.
Olives and tomatoes must also be considered in any exploration of cheese and fruit. The creamy texture and tangy finish of asadero is great with olives, as is Burrata. Brie and Camembert are wonderful with sun-dried tomatoes.
Vegetables are enlivened by cheese. Try topping a taste of Gouda or Edam with a slice of your favorite spicy pepper. Fontina, Havarti, Munster and Monterey Jack are delicious with the earthy or buttery tones of roasted mushrooms or asparagus. Cucumber or carrot wheels make a healthy (and gluten-free) substitute for crackers or bread at any cheese tasting.
And don’t forget the nuts! An all-time cheese plate must-have, nuts such as Spanish Marcona almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts complement most cheeses. Walnuts are particularly nice with Gorgonzolas and Stiltons.
Which wines pair best with cheese?
An evening with cheese, wine and friends is lovely. Wine and cheese can argue, however, so be careful not to select too heavy a wine for the cheese, and vice versa. Try these guidelines — and never hesitate to ask your cheesemonger for more details in-store. (BTW, we also have some tips for pairing beer with cheese.)
Semi-soft cheeses are most compatible with non-oaky, medium-acid wines such as a light Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc or a light-bodied, fruity Pinot Noir.
Semi-soft bloomy-rind cheeses are more compatible with non-oaky Chardonnay, sparkling wine, or light- to medium-bodied Pinot Noir or Syrah.
Semi-hard cheeses are most compatible with red wines, full-bodied white wines such as Chardonnay, or older-vintage red or white wines.
Hard cheeses are most compatible with fruit-forward or sweet wines.
Fresh or soft goat cheeses pair very well with sparkling wines.
Creamy and tangy blue cheeses are most compatible with sweet wines, sparkling wines, older-vintage red wines or mild, fruity red wines.
Mild blue cheeses are most compatible with fruity sparkling wine, semidry Riesling and dessert wines.
Washed-rind and/or strong cheeses are more compatible with semi-dry white wines such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer or light, fruit-forward red wines.
Explore the Cheese department at Central Market, and never hesitate to ask for advice from our cheesemongers. They’re here to share their expertise and help you get the most out of your exploration of cheese!