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Where does one start when talking about cheese!? It's even harder to talk about it as an ingredient when it begs to simply be eaten in hunks and sometimes accompanied by a cracker...
For the purpose of this blog, I'll write about a few types of cheese, and what they're best for:
All manner of hard cheeses (there are 100's!) are available and versatile - experiment with what you can get your hands on, and choose your fave. Hard cheeses tend to last longer in the refrigerator, as they have a lower water content than the soft cheeses.
Mozzarella - mild, stringy, best melted on pizza or pasta (like lasagna). In Italy, it is a soft cheese, frequently made from buffalo milk and eaten the same day it's made. Here in North America, it's usually made from cow's milk. Our mozzarella has a much lower moisture content than the traditional variety. Its usually sold in vacuum packaging and can last up to a month in the refrigerator. Some of the low moisture shredded mozzarella cheeses have an even longer shelf life (in the refrigerator).
Cheddar - Originally an English cheese from the village of Cheddar, England, this hard cheese ranges from mild to sharp to extra old. Cheddars are great for snacking and sandwiches. A good "every day" cheese, no matter the strength. Canada makes a great deal of the cheddar cheese that is available in our grocery stores. Most of it originates from Ontario.
Parmesan - Pricey. Traditionally, Parmesan is dry and is great shaved or shaken onto pasta or salad.
These are a whole different ball game and are very different from hard cheeses. Ricotta, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and mascarpone are some varieties, and are commonly used to add texture. They have a mild flavour and are sometimes even used as an ingredient in desserts. These cheeses don't keep as long as the harder cheeses and need to be used up quickly.
GOAT & SHEEP MILK CHEESES
These have a distinct flavour and tend to be more easily tolerated by those with lactose sensitivities. Crumbled soft goat cheese is often used in a salad, or on pizza in place of mozzarella. You can add it to an omelette or slip a bit into a sandwich.
RAW MILK VS. PASTEURIZED
This refers to treatment of milk before its made into cheese, and has to do with the bacteria within the milk. Pasteurization heats milk to a certain temperature which kills all bacteria (both good AND bad). Raw milk cheese must be aged before being safe to eat, and is often not recommended for young children or pregnant women. The majority of cheese available commercially around here have been pasteurized. Unpasteurized cheese are more commonly found in Europe, although in Quebec, they are legal to sell and quite popular.
Cheese has a lot to offer, no matter what kind you choose. Try kinds that fit your budget, and decide what works best for your meals.