GUIDE TO
B
UYING, STORING,
H
ANDLING AND SERVING
CHEESE

Fun, fast and versatile, cheese is a food for the 21st Century. Cheese is used in main dishes, snacks, sandwiches, salads, dips, soups and sauces. As a key ingredient cheese plays an important part in many international cuisines. Whether a hearty American macaroni and cheese, Italian lasagna, Swiss fondue, pizza or cheese-cake of countless varieties, cheese is truly a universal favorite.

CHEESE VARIETIES

Though all cheeses are made from milk, there is no easy way to categorize cheese. The distinctive characteristics of the more than 200 varieties of cheeses depends on the kind of milk used, the amount of fat in the milk and how long it is ripened or aged. The longer a cheese is aged, the stronger its flavor and aroma. Texture and consistency— the hardness, softness, creaminess and even if it has holes — also determines the classification of a cheese.

The following guidelines can help you decide which cheese best suits your tastes and menu.

SOFT CHEESES

Brie (bree) A thin edible white crust covers the creamy yellow interior of this wheel-shaped cheese, has a mild to pungent flavor.

Camembert (KAM-ehm-beh) A soft, thin, edible crust that’s gray-white in color with a creamy yellow interior. Similar to Brie, this wheel-shaped cheese has a mild to pungent flavor.

Cream Cheese An American creation, smooth, mild, spreadable cheese, may be flavored with herbs and fruit.

Ricotta (ri-COT-tah) Soft, spoonable cheese, resembles cottage cheese with a very fine curd, has a bland, semisweet flavor.

SEMI-SOFT CHEESES

Blue White cheese with blue-vein interior, semi soft consistency and a crumbly texture with a sharp, tangy piquant flavor.

Brick Creamy white to orange in color with a mild to pungent flavor.

Gorgonzola A light tan cheese with pale yellow interior marbled with ribbons of blue-green. Similar to blue cheese, but a bit less moist. Has a crumbly texture and a piquant, spicy flavor.

Monterey Jack Creamy white cheese with tiny cracks, smooth, open texture and a chewy consistency, has mild flavor.

Muenster Creamy white cheese covered with an orange edible rind, has a mild, mellow flavor.

Port du Salut Has a creamy yellow interior and russet wax coating shaped into small wheels or flat cylinders, has a mild to robust flavor.

SEMI-SOFT TO HARD CHEESES

Edam (EE-dam) A firm textured cheese, light yellow in color usually in the shape of a flattened ball and coated with red paraffin wax. Mild, nut-like flavor.

Feta (FET-ah) Has a soft, crumbly texture and a salty, "pickled" flavor.

Gouda (GOO-dah) Similar to Edam, available smoked or with caraway seeds.

Mozzarella Creamy white in color with a mild, delicate flavor made with whole or low-fat milk.

Baby Swiss Smooth, creamy texture with small "eyes" or holes, slightly nutty, buttery flavor.

HARD CHEESES

Swiss Pale yellow color with a hard, smooth consistency and large holes or eyes; mild, sweet and nutty flavor.

Cheddar White or orange in color and mild to sharp in flavor, depending on the age.

Colby Yellow to orange in color with a softer, more open texture than cheddar; flavor can range from mild and lightly sweet to sharp and tangy.

Colby Jack A combination of Monterey Jack and Colby cheese.

Provolone (proh-voh-LOHN) Yellow-white interior; stringy texture. Mild to smoky flavor, round, pear and sausage shapes.

VERY HARD CHEESES

Parmesan (PAR-mah-zahn) Has a granular texture with a robust flavor, easy to grate.

Romano (ro-MAH-noh) Similar, yet slightly richer than Parmesan.

SPECIALTY CHEESES

Pasteurized Process Cheese A blend of natural cheeses that have been processed using heat, includes American cheese, cheese spread and cheese food products.

Cold Pack A blend of natural cheeses usually including cheddar, that are processed without heat; flavorings and seasoning are often added.

SELECTING, STORING AND HANDLING CHEESE

Because cheese is highly perishable, be sure to look for the freshest piece possible by checking the date code. Carefully inspect each package of cheese before you take it home. If the wrapper is wet or sticky, or if the cheese has shrunk in its rind, select another piece.

Cheese should be refrigerated at temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees F. in its original wrapper or tightly covered in foil, plastic wrap or a zipper lock plastic bag to keep it from drying out. Cheese with a strong aroma, such as Limburger, should be stored in a container with a tight fitting lid to prevent the odor from being absorbed by other foods.

The harder the cheese, the longer it will keep in the refrigerator. Very hard cheese, such as Parmesan, will keep for several months. Cheddar and Swiss, which have more moisture, will keep for several weeks. Fresh and soft cheeses such as cream, cottage and Ricotta have the most moisture and are the most perishable. They should be eaten within one week of purchase.

Mold may develop on the surface of cheese. Most molds are harmless, but some may produce toxins which could penetrate the cheese. To be safe, cut away one-half inch of cheese on all sides of any visible mold before eating. Use the remaining cheese as quickly as possible. If in doubt, throw it out.

FREEZING CHEESE

Most hard cheese can be frozen, though freezing will cause changes in the cheeses texture and the cheese will become somewhat drier. It is best to use thawed cheese shredded or crumbled in salads, as a topping or in cooked dishes. For the best results, follow these steps when freezing cheese:

  • Freeze pieces of 1/2 pound or less
  • Use moisture-proof and air tight wrapping
  • Freeze quickly and store at 0 degree F. for no longer than 3 months
  • Thaw wrapped in the refrigerator
  • Use as soon as possible after thawing

COOKING WITH CHEESE

Cheese adds flavor and interest to many recipes. When cooking with cheese, use low temperatures for a short time, just long enough to melt and blend in the cheese. High heat and long cooking tends to make cheese stringy and tough. Here’s some helpful tips to make sure every recipe calling for cheese turns out perfectly.

  • Measure cheese accurately. It’s hard to measure shredded or grated cheese, so it best to go by weight. Use this simple guide: 4 ounces cheese = 1 cup shredded
  • Bake casseroles with cheese at 350 degree F. to prevent overcooking
  • Add a cheese topper 5 to 10 minutes before the end of the baking time so it will melt but not become tough or hard
  • When broiling a cheese topped dish, keep cheese 4 to 5 inches from heat and watch closely
  • Shred, grate or cut cheese into small pieces to promote even blending into recipe
  • When making a sauce, add cheese as the last ingredient and heat just until melted, stirring constantly
  • When microwaving recipes with cheese, use lower power settings (30 to 70 % power) stir and rotate as often as recipe directs
  • To soften cream cheese in the microwave oven, remove wrapper and place on microwave safe plate. Microwave at 50 percent power for 30 seconds for a 3-ounce package and at 60 seconds for an 8-ounce package.
  • To soften other types of cheese, remove wrapper and place on microwave safe plate. Microwave at 30 percent power until cheese reaches desired softness and/or temperature. Check every 10 seconds to prevent overheating.

LOWFAT CHEESE COOKING

Today there are many varieties of reduced fat, low fat and fat free cheeses available. Though some can be easily substituted for their full fat counterparts, not all low fat cheeses perform the same way as full fat cheeses in recipes.

  • Low fat cheeses are most suitable for casseroles, salads and sandwiches. They also make a tasty, simple and nutritious snack.
  • Because low fat cheeses do not "string" as well as full fat cheese, mix with Mozzarella for a string characteristic in dishes like pizza.

CHEESE NUTRITION

Cheese is a nutrient-dense food. It contains many of the nutrients found in milk including calcium, protein and riboflavin. Though rich in many nutrients, cheese is relatively high in fat, about 7 to 9 grams per ounce and has about 100 calories per ounce of full fat cheese. When eaten in moderation, cheese is a healthful addition to most people’s diets. A one inch cube is approximately 1 ounce of cheese.

CHEESE SERVING IDEAS

With so many different cheeses to choose from, the meal time ideas are endless. Here are a few ideas:

Table Cheeses Great for cooking, melting or complementing a sandwich or crackers.
  • Cheddar
  • Monterey Jack
  • Muenster
  • Brie
Cooked Foods The perfect ingredient for pizza, pasta, lasagna or other Italian specialties.
  • Mozzarella
  • Provolone
  • Parmesan
  • Ricotta
  • Romano
Salad Cheeses Cubed on an antipasto or crumbled on a green salad. Delicious toppings.
  • Feta
  • Gorgonzola
  • Blue
  • Swiss
Snack Cheese Terrific for dipping or spreading or crackers, bread, vegetables, or fruit.
  • Cold pack spreads
  • Processed cheese
  • String
  • Virtually any cheese is great for snacking.
APPETIZERS

Top a wheel of Brie with walnut halves and brown sugar. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes or until heated through. Serve with crackers.

SALADS

Arrange thin slices of grilled sirloin, marinated artichoke hearts, red bell pepper strips and onion on salad greens. Top with crumbled Blue cheese and a Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

BRUSCHETTA

  • 1 loaf French bread
  • 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese (4 ounces)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup diced tomato
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, sliced thin in strips (or 2 tsp. dried)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a separate bowl, toss together cheese, garlic, tomato, basil, salt and pepper. Cut bread into 1 inch thick slices. Spread mixture on top of bread.

Place on a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Makes about 15 slices.

ENTREES

Sauté chicken breasts in butter. Top with shredded Monterey Jack, green bell pepper strips and tomato slice. Broil.

SANDWICHES

Layer deli turkey breast, cream cheese and cranberry-orange relish between two slices of challah bread.

Top sourdough bread slice with thinly sliced roast beef, salsa and Monterey Jack. Broil until cheese melts.

DESSERTS

Add shredded Cheddar cheese to the topping of apple or pear crisp.

A cheese board is the perfect appetizer or appetite enhancer before dessert. Arrange about 3 to 5 types of cheese that vary in flavor, size, texture, shape and color on a wooden board or marble tray. Allow about 1/4 pound of cheese per person. Serve cheese at room temperature.

Serve with crusty bread, assorted crackers, and fresh fruit such as apple or pear wedges, grapes, strawberries and melon slices.

Click here to return to Recipes Page