16 Cheese Guide.indd 5-31

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					Shopping for Supermarket Cheeses
An opinionated guide to buying and using widely available                                                                Measuring Cheese
“cooking” cheeses. BY SEAN L AWLER                                                                                       To obtain the most accurate measure, cheese should be
                                                                                                                         only lightly packed into a measuring cup.
When we taste cheese in the test kitchen, it’s usually to determine how it will behave in a particular recipe. Flavor
certainly matters, but we are just as concerned with properties such as creaminess, melting ability, and stability at    Parmesan and other hard grating cheeses
high temperatures. What’s the best cheese for the best recipe? Some of our findings may surprise you.                     (Fine holes of box grater: 1 ounce = 1⁄2 cup
                                                                                                                          (Microplane: 1 ounce = 3⁄4 cup
                                                                                                                         Cheddar, mozzarella, and other softer cheeses
ASI AGO                                                      CH E D DA R                                                  (Large holes of box grater: 1 ounce = 1⁄4 cup
What It Is: This firm,                                       What It Is: Depending on how it is aged, this cow’s
aged cow’s milk                                              milk cheese ranges from “mild” to tangy “extra-sharp.”      Blue cheese, feta, and goat cheese
cheese is a com-                                             This cheese is naturally yellow, but some are colored        (Crumbled by hand: 1 ounce = 1⁄4 cup
mon substitute                                               orange with annatto paste.
for Parmesan.
                                                             Tasting Notes: Tasters rejected a number of brands
                                                                                                                        CH È V R E    ( G OAT CHEESE )
Tasting Notes: Despite its credentials, authentic            as bland and rubbery and dismissed a few of the more
                                                                                                                        What It Is: Once strictly a French product, this soft,
Asiago d’Allevo doesn’t have the strength or                 expensive organic cheddars as overly pungent and
                                                                                                                        spreadable unripened goat’s milk cheese has become
complexity of flavor to stand in for Parmigiano-             sour. The test kitchen favorites were balanced, tangy,
                                                                                                                        a supermarket staple.
Reggiano. For the price (about $15 per pound), we’ll         and clean when tasted plain, smooth and buttery
pass. Domestic Asiago, especially Bel Gioioso brand, is      when melted.                                               Tasting Notes: American goat
a pleasant surprise: sharp, tangy, higher in moisture—                                                                  cheeses are pleasantly tangy and
                                                             Cooking Tips: When melted, cheddar can separate
and about half the price of the Allevo.                                                                                 clean tasting, with a creamy,
                                                             and turn greasy and grainy. This is especially true
                                                                                                                        faintly grainy texture. Imported
Cooking Tips: The texture of a good domestic                 of extra-sharp varieties, which have less moisture.
                                                                                                                        French chèvres have a more
Asiago (firm, but yielding to gentle pressure) makes         When both flavor and a smooth, creamy texture are
                                                                                                                        assertive, gamy flavor and a chalkier texture.
it quite versatile: It is just soft enough to be eaten       important (think macaroni and
plain or with antipasto, broken into small chunks for a      cheese), we often                                          Cooking Tips: Fresh goat cheese is excellent
salad, or sliced thin and melted. It is also firm enough     use a mix of                                               crumbled over salads or incorporated into spreads and
to be grated over pasta.                                     sharp cheddar                                              dressings. It dissolves into a pasty mess when melted
                                                             and a smooth                                               completely but is quite good when just warmed
                                                             melter like                                                (sprinkled over hot pasta or grilled asparagus, for
★ BEL GIOIOSO ASIAGO ($7.50/pound)
                                                             Monterey Jack.                                             example) or formed into crusted rounds and baked.

                                                             T E ST K I TCH E N W I N N E R                             T E ST K I TCH E N W I NNER
BLUE CHEESE                                                  ★ CABOT SHARP VERMONT CHEDDAR CHEESE                       ★ VERMONT BUTTER AND CHEESE COMPANY
What It Is: Named for its streaks (called veins) of          ($4.60/pound)                                              CHÈVRE ($16/pound)
bluish-green mold, blue cheese may be made from
goat’s, sheep’s, or cow’s milk or a combination
thereof.                                                                                                                F E TA
                                                                                                                        What It Is: Traditionally, this
Tasting Notes: At one extreme are pricey imports
                                                                                                                        crumbly Greek cheese pickled
like Roquefort, a tangy, pungent sheep’s milk cheese
                                                                                                                        in brine was made from sheep’s
with a soft, almost spreadable texture, and Stilton,
                                                                                                                        milk, but most domestic versions
a crumbly English cow’s milk cheese that is nutty
                                                                                                                        come from pasteurized cow’s milk.
and sharp. At the milder end of the spectrum is the
inexpensive Danish Blue, which is sliceably firm and                                                                    Tasting Notes: Domestic cow’s milk feta is
less complex tasting, though still tangy and assertive.                                                                 uncomplicated: tangy, salty, moist, and creamy. Less
                                                                                                                        important than brand name, we discovered, was
Cooking Tip: Most blue cheeses turn greasy and
                                                                                                                        packaging. Blocks of feta packed dry in Styrofoam
gritty when melted, so they are generally crumbled
                                                                                                                        trays and shrink-wrapped were found to be chalky
over salads or blended to make creamy dips and
                                                                                                                        and much less flavorful than cheese sold in tubs or
                                                                                                                                                                                  IL L U ST R ATI O N : JO H N B UR G OYN E
                                                                                                                        vacuum-sealed along with a small quantity of brine.
                         TE ST K I TCH E N W I N N E R S
                                                                                                                        Cooking Tips: Feta is not a smooth melter, but when
                         ★ For salads: ROQUEFORT                TEST KITCHEN TIP:      Shredding Neatly
                                                                                                                        crumbled and combined with a milder cheese, like
                         or STILTON (both about                 Semisoft cheeses such as cheddar and block
                                                                                                                        ricotta, it will contribute some of its tangy flavor to
                         $18/pound)                             mozzarella can become clogged in the holes
                                                                                                                        fillings for ravioli, quiche, and other savory pies.
                         ★ For dips and dressings:              of a box grater. Coating the large holes on the
                         DANISH BLUE                            grater with nonstick cooking spray eliminates           T E ST K I TCH E N W I NNER
                         ($4.99/pound) or                       this problem.                                           ★ ATHENOS ($5.99/pound) or any brine-packed
                         STELLA ($5.69/pound)                                                                           feta

                                                                        COOK’S       ILLUSTRATED

                                                                 TEST KITCHEN TIP:       Slicing Made Easy
                                                                Fresh mozzarella should be sliced
                                                                evenly for salads or pizza, but
FONTINA                                                         the very soft texture of this                                PA R M E S A N
What It Is: At any supermar-                                    cheese makes it tricky.                                      What It Is: A grana, or hard, grainy cow’s milk
ket, you’ll find squishy wedges                                 Instead of a knife, use                                      cheese. The original and undisputed best
of “fontina” covered with red                                   an egg slicer to cut                                         in class is Parmigiano-Reggiano, made
wax and hailing from Denmark                                    through a ball of fresh                                      from unpasteurized milk in a specific
or Sweden. Italian and American                                  mozzarella cleanly.                                         region of Italy and aged for about two
cheesemakers also produce generic fontinas.                                                                                  years. It is widely available in super-
                                                                                                                             markets, as are many imitators produced
Tasting Notes: Real Fontina Val d’Aosta, made from            MOZZARELL A                                                    domestically and elsewhere around the world.
high-quality raw cow’s milk, has a barnyard aroma and
a grassy, nutty flavor that can be overpowering in a                                                                         Tasting Notes: Freshly cut Parmigiano-Reggiano had
frittata or spinach lasagna. At the opposite end of the                                                                      a smooth texture and light crystalline crunch that was
spectrum, inexpensive Danish and Swedish fontinas,                                                                           somewhat lacking in the precut, plastic-wrapped wedge
made from partially skimmed milk, are too bland for                                                                          of Parmigiano-Reggiano purchased at a supermarket.
most recipes. For cooking, we prefer an American-                                                                            Both, however, had the winning flavor profile that this
made fontina or the generic Italian variety (look for a                                                                      cheese is known for: spicy, nutty, and creamy. Tasters
waxy, brownish rind), both of which are very creamy                                                                          found domestic Parmesans, aged for only about 10
                                                              What It Is: Sold in firm, white blocks or already
with a mildly tangy, nutty flavor.                                                                                           months, to be much more dense and salty, with a less
                                                              shredded in plastic bags, the stuff in the supermarket
                                                                                                                             complex flavor. The mass-produced powders tasted
TEST KITCHEN WINNE R S                                        dairy case is officially “low-moisture” mozzarella, or,
                                                                                                                             metallic and fishy—in short, entirely inedible. The grated
★ For eating raw: FONTINA D’AOSTA (about                      as the experts call it, “pizza cheese.” It is a far cry from
                                                                                                                             “Parmigiano” sold in bags was dry and flavorless.
$16/pound)                                                    fresh Italian mozzarella di bufala, which is made
★ For cooking: BEL GIOIOSO FONTINA ($7.50/                    from water buffalo milk, hand pulled, and extremely            Cooking Tip: Once all of the cheese has been grated,
pound) or generic Italian fontina (about $9/pound)            perishable. American cheesemakers also produce fresh           the burnished, golden rind can be frozen and then used
                                                              mozzarella, almost always from cow’s milk.                     to flavor soups or stews.
                                                              Tasting Notes: Tasters expected to dislike the                 T E ST K I TCH E N W I N N ERS
MON TEREY JACK                                                preshredded pizza cheeses, which are coated with               ★ Best choice: PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO
What It Is: One of only a handful of cheeses to origi-
                                                              cellulose powder to prevent clumping, but these anti-          (about $14/pound)
nate in America, Jack cheese starts with pasteurized
                                                              caking agents actually aid smooth melting.                     ★ Budget choice: DIGIORNO PARMESAN
cow’s milk and is ripened for only about a week.
                                                              Cooking Tips: In its raw state, American mozzarella
                                  Tasting Notes: Jack
                                                              is dense and rubbery, so fresh mozzarella is the only
                                    is a creamy cheese
                                                              sensible choice for eating plain. Some cookbooks say              TEST KITCHEN TIP:
                                    with a pronounced
                                                              the high moisture content of fresh mozzarella will ruin          Shaving Parmesan
                                    acidic tang that mel-
                                                              a crisp pizza crust, but our tasters disagreed. Use it           Paper-thin curls of Parmesan or
                         lows considerably when the
                                                              sparingly on a thin-crust pizza and add it near the end          other hard cheese are a nice
             cheese is melted. Our winning supermar-
                                                              of cooking so it doesn’t dry out.                                garnish for salads, vegetable
 ket cheese narrowly bested two artisanal Jacks from
                                                              T E ST K I TCH E N W I N N E R S                                 side dishes, and
California, which tasters found slightly grainy.
                                                              ★ Best block cheese: DRAGONE WHOLE MILK                          pastas. Just run a
Cooking Tip: Because of its mild flavor and good                                                                               peeler over a block
                                                              MOZZARELLA ($3.79/pound)
melting properties, Monterey Jack is often combined in                                                                         of cheese. Use a
                                                              ★ Best shredded cheese: KRAFT SHREDDED
recipes with a sharper cheese like cheddar.                                                                                    light touch for thin
                                                              PART-SKIM MOZZARELLA ($2.50/8-ounce bag)
                                                              ★ Best fresh cheese: Locally made fresh mozzarella                shavings.
★ CABOT MONTEREY JACK ($2.39/8-ounce block)                   (about $8/pound)
  TESTING EQUIPMENT:         Cheese Graters                                                                                  What It Is: Supermarket cheeses labeled “Swiss,”
                                                                                                                             usually found sliced in packages or in blocks at
  BOX GRATER: Our first choice for quickly shredding or grating cheese is a
                                                                                                                             the deli counter, are domestic imitations of Swiss
  box grater. It sits securely on the countertop and offers a variety of options:
                                                                                                                             Emmenthaler, the pressed cow’s milk cheese famous
  large holes for shredding soft cheeses like cheddar, smaller holes for grating
                                                                                                                             the world over for its large holes, or “eyes.”
  harder cheeses like Parmesan, and a raised abrasive surface for grating ginger
  or zesting citrus. Of eight models tested, our favorite was the CUISIPRO                                                          Tasting Notes: Tasters loved the complex, nutty
  6-Sided Stainless Steel Grater ($24.95).                                                                                       flavor of real Emmenthaler for a cheese plate but
                                                                                                                             found that when melted it took on a much less appe-
  RASP GRATER: A MICROPLANE ($12.95) is an excellent supplement
                                                                                                                             tizing, gamy flavor. For a toasted cheese sandwich, we
  to a box grater. Besides breaking down hard cheese into feathery shreds,
                                                                                                                             prefer Jarlsberg, a widely available Norwegian brand of
  it handles shallots, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, horseradish, citrus zest, and
                                                                                                                             Emmenthal-style cheese with a mild, creamy flavor.
  ROTARY GRATER: Too slow and awkward for kitchen use, the rotary                                                            T E ST K I TCH E N W I N N ERS
  grater is a nice (and optional) purchase for the table, in part because it                                                 ★ For eating raw:
  won’t rake your knuckles. Of eight models tested, our favorite was the                                                     EMMENTHALER ($10.49/pound)
  PEDRINI ($14.95).                                                                                                          ★ For melting: JARLSBERG

                                                                       SEPTEMBER          &   OCTOBER        2005

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