Bread may be the staff of life, but it tastes better topped with a slice or two of cheese.
From Asiago to Vermont cheddar, there are hundreds of kinds of cheese from every country and culture, and cheese predates written history. That’s pretty lofty stuff for a sandwich staple.
With so many kinds of cheese, the ways to enjoy it are legion. From the humble grilled American cheese sandwich to Brie in puff pastry, there’s a cheese and a recipe for any taste.
Although many of the more exotic cheeses are not available locally — the Middle Eastern labneh, or an aged provolone — there are plenty of cheeses around that add as much to a meal as colby or Monterey Jack.
Jenny Bersano, who handles imported cheese for Woods Supermarket, said many customers headed for the imported cheese case pick up a ball of fresh mozzarella, either plain or braided with seasonings.
“Parmesan, too, is one of the favorites,” along with varieties of Havarti and Gouda, she said.
Woods also runs a “cheese-of-the-month” program, she said. For December, the cheeses featured are Gruyère, a kind of Swiss cheese, and Jarlsberg, a Norwegian cheese.
“It’s something different that we haven’t carried before that we want to get out there and have people try,” she said.
Often, patrons are shy about trying new cheeses. The store offers tastings of the cheese of the month on Fridays and Saturdays.
“Once you get them to try it, they usually come back and buy more. It’s getting them to try it,” she said.
Bersano said a lot of the imported cheeses that Woods carries come from customer requests.
“A lot of the fancier cooking shows feature these items, too, and a lot of times we have people come in and ask for something special, and we try to get it for them,” she said.
Getting people to try new cheeses is a particular passion of Laura Werlin, an author of four books about cheese and a board member of the American Cheese Society.
“The way I characterize myself is as a cheese educator,” Werlin said. “The more people learn about cheese, the more likely they are to experiment with new ones and get all that much more enjoyment of them.”
Werlin said she makes an effort to introduce unfamiliar cheeses to the American palate.
“We have a ways to go in this country with our understanding about cheese,” she said.
Her advice is to use an unfamiliar cheese in an established recipe.
“If you’re choosing a cheese you’re not familiar with, choose one that’s a similar texture. Don’t substitute a soft cheese for a semi-firm cheese,” she said, like a cream cheese for a cheddar.
“If you understand basic characteristics of these basic styles of cheeses, you understand pretty much all cheeses,” she said.
The are eight styles of cheese are: fresh, semi-soft, soft-ripened, surface-ripened, semi-hard, aged, washed rind, and blue cheeses. Descriptions and examples of each kind can be found on Werlin’s web site, http://www.laurawerlin.com/.
For cheese consumers with concerns about their waistlines, Stephanie Cundith, a registered dietitian and a consumer communications manager with the Midwest Dairy Council, said dairy products aren’t necessarily bad.
“Research shows that three servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy a day help people with weight management. So cheese actually has a place in a healthy diet,” she said.
Since so many cheeses come packaged pre-sliced or pre-grated, there are lots of easy ways to work cheese into your diet or recipe, she said.
“One serving of cheese, which is one to one-and-a-half ounces, provides one-third of a person’s daily calcium needs,” she said.
So instead of offering a plate of cheese cubes or a cheese ball with nuts as an appetizer, try one of these easy recipes that incorporate different cheeses in different ways, and experiment. There’s more to cheese than a pizza
Yield: 1 loaf
1 one pound bread dough (recipe follows)
1 large egg
1 pound hot or sweet
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1 eight ounce package grated mozzarella cheese (not fresh)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10x14 cookie sheet with olive oil and stretch dough to cover. Place a clean towel or plastic over dough. Let rest for about an hour.
If sausage is in its casing, slit and remove. Heat a 10” skillet and place crumbled sausage in pan. Saute until cooked. Drain on paper towels to remove all the grease. In a large bowl, combine the cooked sausage, egg, and Romano cheese. Mix to cover sausage with egg and Romano cheese.
Remove cover from dough and spread sausage mixture so it comes to within an inch of the edges of the dough. Sprinkle mozzarella over the sausage.
Roll the dough from the long side tucking the ends in as its rolled. Shape in a horseshoe and seal the top seam with cold water.
Bake in oven until bread has risen, is browned, and sounds hollow when rapped.
Let cool on a rack and slice. Good warm, cold, or reheated. Can be frozen.
Basic Bread Dough
Yield: 1 loaf
3 cups bread flour
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon yeast
Pinch of sugar
Proof yeast and sugar in the water. Place flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well and pour in the proofed yeast mixture and oil. Incorporate all the liquid into the flour. Knead. You may need additional water or flour depending upon conditions. Once you have a smooth, elastic dough, cover and let rest. When doubled in bulk, punch down. It is ready to use or can be frozen in an airtight wrap. Makes one loaf.
If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, place flour and salt in its bowl.
Add the liquid ingredients and mix until the dough is formed. Then knead until dough pulls away from the bowl. Cover and let rest. Continue as directed above.
of Jacklyn M. Gualtieri
Notes about the cheese: Pecorino Romano is a hard, flavorful Italian cheese. Although it is similar to Parmesan, it is made with sheep’s milk instead of cow’s, giving it a different flavor. It can be found already grated in Sedalia grocery stores, and whole at The Cheese Store in Sweet Springs.
Regular mozzarella is a firmer version of fresh mozzarella that has less water and keeps much longer.
Chicken Breasts with Goat Cheese and Spinach
Yield: 4 servings
4 large chicken breasts
4 ounces goat cheese, also called chèvre
2 cups chopped spinach, either fresh or frozen
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Saute garlic and onion in olive oil until onions are creamy, add spinach, salt, pepper, and the juice of half the lemon and sauté over medium heat until cooked.
In a bowl, combine spinach mixture and goat cheese; mix until incorporated.
Place spoonfuls of the mixture into the center of chicken breasts and roll the chicken breasts and secure with a toothpick. Place into 13 inch by nine inch glass baking dish.
Squeeze the second half of the lemon over the rolls and sprinkle the tops with rosemary. Bake for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Serve over a bed of rice.
Note about the cheese: Goat cheese, also known as chèvre, is a soft, easy to crumble French cheese. It has a distinctive flavor, and is often sold as a log rolled in herbs. It is available in local grocery stores.
Yield: 12 to 14 slices from the nine-inch cake
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
2 8-ounce packages
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Use either two eight-inch graham cracker crusts or a bottom-only graham cracker crust in a nine-inch springform pan.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the mascarpone cheese and stir just until mixed. Add eggs one at a time until just combined, then add lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla and stir. Pour into pan.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the center of the cake jiggles slightly. Do not overbake. Let cool, then chill in refrigerator from four to 24 hours. Can be frozen.
Note about the cheese: Mascarpone is a soft, creamy Italian cheese, similar in texture to cream cheese. It has a sweeter, more subtle flavor than cream cheese. It is available locally at Bing’s Supermarket.