Let’s talk cheese, please

I don’t know about you, but I’m stressed. You might be stressed. I’m tired, and I’m sure you are, too. College is freshly started and really soon here the kiddos will be back at school, and work never stops. So you know what? Let’s kick back, relax, and lose ourselves in the world of cheese. That’s right; we’re talking not all things, but a lot of things cheese today.

I’ve spent more time thinking about cheese than the average American, I’d wager. Cheese Is such an extensive subject regarding types and uses, cultural significance and history, that there’s no way we could actually “talk all things cheese” in one sit-down.

So let’s really start in with the basics, get some anecdotes in, and I’m going to be a little biased in what cheese info we talk about.

One of the most basic things we can start with, and diverge from, is that there’s primarily two camps of cheese in way of color, those being yellow/orange and white, obviously. Bleu cheese, I would say, is in the white cheeses, and is blue due to mold. I think it’s gross in smell and taste, but you do you. I never said we have to have the same palettes.

One of my favorite cheese anecdotes comes from my time at the Continental Fire Company in Houghton. That kitchen was really when I got to focus on food as a cook and have it be more than an on-the-clock-hobby I got to play with as a dishwasher.

So anyway, one of our cheese options to go with our sandwiches and burgers was a white cheddar cheese, but we just left it as “cheddar” when offered. So this one table ordered a burger with cheddar, and when it got to the table, they were super confused because it was white.

They thought it was swiss, baby swiss (pretty much normal swiss but it’s a bit softer and generally doesn’t have holes) or mozzarella. We tried to explain that cheddar is white, and it’s only orange after a certain stylized process is undertaken with it. So unless purposefully colored, cheddar is white.

The table responded, “Well, can we have a cheese that’s…. not as white?” They ended up getting American cheese.

American cheese is generally great for melting purposes. It’s absolutely classic on grilled cheese, but it’s not in my top favorites for taste or texture. In my book, it’s overly processed and just tastes like imposter cheddar. The two are barely incomparable in flavor, really.

Cheddar, particularly sharp cheddar, is a flavor powerhouse. Swiss, one of the most popular white cheeses, has a completely different profile, but has all the power of cheddar. Mozzarella doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor, but it melts so well and won’t overpower other flavors. That’s why it’s a favorite of gooey Italian dishes like pizza and lasagna. Mozzarella gives that nice gooey texture and a good saltiness without taking away from expressive sauces and meats.

That’s a pretty good look at basic cheeses. But what about those nice artisan cheeses? The ones we really pay for.

I used to work with such cheeses. I had a sweet little meat and cheese board with supprechuto, sliced dates and naan bread. It was a total pain to process, it was popular, and there were some (literally) sweet cheeses on that board. I had gorgonzola on there, and that was not sweet.

Cheese is wild because you can flavor it in so many ways.

You can flavor it with certain spirits like wine, or put little flavor additives, or smoke it with different woods for different profiles. What you pair your cheeses with such as sides or drink can really change up the overall makeup of a plate.

One thing I always thought was dope but never did myself, are cheese tasting or fondu parties. Different wines paired with different cheeses, or different combinations of cheeses melted together and eaten with different horderves. It’s too fancy for my blood, but I’d love the chance to do something like that. I could be a total goon and melt a block of Velveeta and invite some friends over….

Before we go our separate ways for the week, I need to mention one of, if not my favorite use for cheese. We can bread and deep fry it! Deep fried cheeses are usually mozzarella or cheddar. I’m a huge sucker for cheese curds, and the styles and quality are surprisingly varying. And there’s a lot of places that have mozzarella sticks or battered cheddar nuggets.

Also, before I forget my vegan friends; I have a few recommendations, but I’m sure you have your vegan cheese needs well in hand. If you find yourself making a vegan pizza, I highly recommend Daiya vegan cheese. It melts better than most vegan cheeses I’ve worked with, and it smells, feels, and tastes a lot like shredded asiago cheese. Asiago is similar, but not the same as parmesan cheese.

We didn’t cover any recipes, but sometimes it’s just nice to share a story with friends and to talk about how expansive and branching the food world can be. It’s never “just cheese.” Every cheese has a history, a unique flavor, and has a certain role to play in a dish or as a snack.

Anyway, I’ll let you go. I hope you crush it at work, at school, or really anything you’re up to or going through. I’m here for you, and so is food in a surprising array of ways. Until next time, don’t forget to tip.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Chris Jaehnig’s Welcome to Speaking With My Stomach, a food column where we’ll be talking about food in all different kinds of ways; the history of foods and ingredients, how to cook them and celebrating the love language that is universal.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today