Tuesday, October 4, 2011
The Beauty Of White...Soft, White Cheeses
I’m sure there are entire blogs dedicated to everything cheese. However, I’m concentrating here on soft, white cheeses. Creamy or crumbly, simple or complex, mild or tart, sweet or savory…soft white cheeses are a joy to behold and to consume. These are some of my favorites~
Brie is the best known French cheese and has the nickname "The Queen of Cheeses". Several hundred years ago, Brie was one of the tributes which had to be paid to the French kings. In France, Brie is very different from the cheese exported to the United States. "Real" French Brie is unstabilized and the flavor is complex when the surface turns slightly brown. When it is still pure-white, it’s not matured. If it’s cut before the maturing process is finished, it will never develop properly. Exported Brie, however, is stabilized and never matures. Stabilized Brie has a much longer shelf life and is not susceptible to bacteriological infections.
Classic Brie is made in a wide, flat round wheel with a center that softens to almost a runny, custard-like consistency when very ripe. It has an aroma reminiscent of fresh mushrooms, a rich buttery body and intense, savory taste. In order to enjoy the taste fully, Brie must be served at room temperature.
Camembert was traditionally made in a small round, and because of this, matures differently than Brie. Made from pasteurized cow's milk. At the beginning of its ripening, Camembert is crumbly and soft and gets creamier over time. The centre remains a little firmer, bulging when very ripe, and the flavor is sweeter with nutty characteristics.
Camembert is one of the most famous cheeses in France, although it dates back only to the 18th century. It’s named after a Norman village where there is a statue of its creator (Marie Harel). In 1855 the cheese was presented to Napoleon, introduced as from the village of Camembert. He enjoyed it very much and from that moment Camembert became known everywhere by this name.
Feta is a classic and famous Greek curd cheese whose tradition dates back thousands of years and is still made by shepherds in the Greek mountains with unpasteurized milk. Feta is a soft, wet cheese with a rough surface and a bright white color. It is often stored in brine, contributing to its moistness and imparting a salty flavor to the cheese. Feta is made by curdling milk by adding either rennet or microbial rennet, and allowing the mixture to separate and drain. The curds are then cut, salted and pressed and the larger mass is placed in a brine solution to cure.
Feta is used as a table cheese, as well as in salads (e.g. the Greek salad), pastries and in baking, notably in the popular phyllo-based dishes spanakopita ("spinach pie") and tyropita (cheese pie) and combined with olive oil and vegetables.
Chevre is a generic term which denotes a cheese made from the milk of goats, with the word chevre meaning goat in French. Most cheeses incorporating goat's milk use chevre in their labeling so that consumers seeking goat cheeses will be able to readily identify them. Chevre can come in a wide range of forms, from soft farmer's cheeses to fully cured firm varieties. Chevre also runs the flavor gamut, with some retaining a characteristic goaty flavor while other chevres are much more mild and buttery.
One of the most common forms of chevre is a fresh cheese which resembles cream cheese. This type of chevre tends to be slightly crumbly, creamy, and may have a strong goat flavor. Often soft chevre is herbed or spiced, and may be decorated with flowers or rosemary by more high-end dairies. Creamy chevre is delicious in salads, bread, and pizzas. While most of the creamy chevres available in the United States are made from pasteurized milk because the cheese is young, unpasteurized creamy chevres tend to have more complex flavors and an almost buttery feel.
Ricotta is a white, moist cheese that is usually made from the whey drained off during the making of mozzarella or provolone cheeses and is, technically speaking, a cheese by-product. Italian ricotta is typically made from the whey of sheep, cow, goat, or water buffalo milk, while the American product is almost always made of cow's milk whey. While both types are low in fat and sodium, the Italian version is naturally sweet, while the American is blander, slightly salty, and moister.
The word "ricotta" is derived from the Latin "recocta," which means "cooked twice." Good ricotta cheese is firm, but not solid and is commonly used in savory Italian dishes, including pasta, calzone, pizza, manicotti, lasagna, and ravioli. Ricotta can also be beaten smooth and mixed with condiments, such as sugar, cinnamon, orange flower water and occasionally chocolate shavings, and served as a dessert, such as Sicilian cannoli.
Mascarpone is a triple-creme cheese, made from a generally low-fat (25%) content fresh cream. It's made from the milk of cows that have been fed special grasses filled with fresh herbs and flowers – a special diet that creates a unique taste often described as "fresh and delicious."
Mascarpone is milky-white in color and is easily spread. It's used in various dishes of the Lombardy region of Italy, where it is a specialty. It is a main ingredient of modern tiramisu, and is sometimes used instead of butter or Parmesan cheese to thicken and enrich risotto.
Mascarpone originated in the area between Lodi and Abbiategrasso, Italy, southwest of Milan, probably in the late 16th or early 17th century. The name is said to come from mascarpa, a milk product made from the whey of stracchino (shortly-aged cheese), or from mascarpia, the word in the local dialect for ricotta (although mascarpone is not made from whey, as ricotta is).
I’ll leave you with this quote from Clifton Fadiman (American writer and editor; New Yorker book reviewer, 1904-1999)
“A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be over sophisticated. Yet it remains, cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality.”
Posted by Carol Stafford Stone at 6:10 AM