Cheese for the novice?

How is it possible that most of us are so intimidated when we approach the cheese counter at our local supermarket, when we have been eating cheese for all of our lives? Probably, the mystification either comes from a growing selection of cheeses from far and more diverse places; or from the many news reports and opinions saying that the cheese we eat is not healthy. Talk about making grocery shopping a more complicated and stressful journey.

Here at Oldways, we love good traditional food, but the most important thing for us is to empower you with information to make you choose the best food for your lifestyle. Lets get some basic information first and then on to some serious recommendations.

In the U.S. most people think of cheese as a comfort food or an integral part of a comfort meal. Think hamburgers, nachos, or even breakfast sandwiches. Comfort meals are normally inexpensive, ready to eat on-the-go, and full of calories. They are designed to feed us without contemplation for how we are nourishing our bodies. The problem is not that we eat these foods, but rather that most of us eat them all the time. A second problem is that we want them to be cheap, and that normally translates to the lower quality ingredients, and at times the drive for inexpensive food is used as an incentive to add extra ingredients to make them go further. In the case of cheese, this means putting chemical additives, preservatives, and hydrogenated oils along with poor quality milk to make generic cheese. What we loose by adding all these extras is flavor. This either gets corrected with more salt, more added flavors, and ultimately leading to larger portions. At the end, we need higher quantities of melting cheese, to give us the comfort we are looking for. 

In recent years health studies have pointed out that cheese is actually a nutritious and healthy food. The single consistent recommendation in these studies is moderation. Still, cheese can be a comfort food, but it is important to limit the portions and find those truly delicious, high-quality cheeses that will satisfy our cravings.

Here at Oldways, we refer to those cheeses as traditional. These are cheeses made all around the world using techniques that respect livestock, the environment, the producer, and finally yield a better product for the consumer. Some of them are made with raw milk, some are aged in natural caves, and some others are made with milk of more than one breed of animal.

 

Recommendations

These traditional cheeses can be eaten by themselves, or include them as an ingredient in a recipe to bring them to life. The best way to start eating better cheese and limit your intake is to find a recipe that calls for a specific cheese. Buy double the amount of the cheese and use it both as an ingredient and as an extra in another meal or as a snack. This way you will become acquainted with this cheese and know how it behaves with different foods. In time, you should have an ample selection that you can then use to your advantage to create your own recipes or to start substituting cheeses in your favorite recipes.

Also, eat cheese seasonally. Look for fresh goat and cows’ milk cheeses in spring and summer, while you reserve fall and winter for aged cows and ewes’ milk cheeses. This way you will have variety, but also follow the regular cycle in which cheeses are produced and matured.

Finally, keep moderation in mind, think of cheese and any other dairy not as a staple food. It is not meant to be. Cheese should be enjoyed once a day at the most, but preferably a couple of times a week.

Carlos Yescas - Oldways Cheese Coalition Program Director