Cheese 101

Tips and tricks as well as great recipes for your favourite cheese.

07 Nov 2009

Scroll down for 5 classic recipes using cheese!


Legend has it that cheese was first 'discovered' by an Arabian merchant some 4 000 years ago.
Centuries later the Romans refined cheese-making techniques, adding herbs and spices, and went on to discover how to make smoked cheese. In addition to the rennet they extracted from the stomach of a weanling goat or sheep they also learned to use thistle flowers, safflower seeds, or fig bark, soaked in water, to make extracts that would set a curd. Baskets and nets and molds were devised to shape their cheeses.

In the fifteenth century the Swiss got into the art of cheesemaking, and built the first cheese factories where they created the famous and delicious Emmenthal cheese. The rest is pretty much cheese history.

Four groups of cheese
Eating cheese with crackers, fruit and a glass of wine is a gourmet experience all to itself. But cooking with cheese is quite another thing. Luckily for us South Africans, the cheese industry has enjoyed a wonderful revival over the last decade, and we finally have a wide selection of fromages to choose from. Broadly speaking, cheese can be divided into four groups: The fresh, unripened cheeses are your cottage and cream cheeses, feta, mascarpone and ricotta. Soft and semi-soft ripened cheeses are Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and Roquefort. The hard cheeses are Emmenthal, Edam, Cheddar, Gouda and Gruyere. Finally, there are the very had cheeses, Parmesan and Pecorino.

Cooking with cheese
Cooking with cheese can be tricky. If it's prepared properly, melted cheese can be creamy, smooth and well combined with the other ingredients in the dish. If it's not done correctly, cheese can turn into a curdled, stringy and oily mess. Cheese contains a substantial amount of protein. When it's overheated or cooked for too long, these proteins curdle and separate from the fat and other components in the cheese. This is why the mixture will go lumpy and oily.

Ways to prevent overheating
Always cook a dish with cheese over gentle heat and for as short a time as possible. Grate the cheese before you add it to your other ingredients. Add cheese right at the end of the cooking time. Cook over low heat or remove it from the heat. Usually the heat of the food will be enough to melt the cheese. If the sauce is very hot, remove it from the heat and allow to cool before adding the cheese.

Never add cheese to a boiling liquid or casserole. Add flour or cornflour to cheese dishes that require longer heating, such as baked casseroles. Alcohol or lemon juice helps prevent cheese from going stringy. This is why traditional cheese fondues are made with white wine.

Cheese dishes should be baked at 180 degrees C or lower. Never boil cheese or reheat once it has been cooked. If cooking a dish containing cheese in the microwave, cook on 30% power or on low to prevent the cheese from becoming tough. Low-fat cheese does not melt as easily as full-fat cheese. Rather use full-fat cheese for cooking.

Hard, well-aged cheeses such as Parmesan handle heat the best. Cheese has four basic uses in cooking: flavouring, topping, filling and the as basis of some desserts. Here's when to use what:

Parmesan is one of the most popular cheeses to use as a flavouring because of its concentrated, nutty flavour. Gruyere or mature Cheddar are also strongly flavoured and melt more easily than Parmesan. They are popular in many sauces and pastries. Blue cheese is delicious in sauces or dressings.

Choose a cheese that will melt easily and turn a golden colour. Mozzarella, Gruyere and Cheddar work well.

Almost any cheese can be used as a filling. Soft cheeses can be used as fillings for pastries, or layered with vegetables. Ricotta or combinations of cheeses like ricotta, Parmesan and Gorgonzola work well. Gruyere and Cheddar are favourite basics for quiches.

A cheese for a dessert should have a mild flavour. The fresh cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese or mascarpone are normally used for this purpose. And now for the good news: we have over 2 000 tried and tested recipes on food24 that are made using cheese. All you need to do is type the word in the search box.

5 things to do with cheese:

1. Three cheese macaroni and cheese
Delicious twist on an old classic.

2. Cheese soufflé

Easy and perfect with a salad for a summery vegetarian meal.

3. Cheese puffs
A delicious little snack or canape.

4. Cheese sauce

Whether as an accompaniment to steak or as the base for a baked vegetable dish - every one should know hoe to make this.

5. Cheese nachos
Great party food. Add some sliced jalapeno's to up the ante.


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