Everything you ever wanted to know about cheese.
Are you the type who tops your burger strictly with a slice of processed cheese? Or feel you're going upscale when you request a little fresh-grated parmesan over your pasta dish at an Italian eatery?
Of course you're accustomed to mozzarella on pizza and sharp cheddar on tacos.
But how about havarti?
Ever attempt asiago?
"The predominant amount of cheeses used by people are very mild. They're almost non-existent," says Jeff Zivney, owner of Zivney Cheese in Minonk.
But there's a whole world of tastes and textures to explore.
"It's up to a person's imagination," Zivney says. "Go to that cheese counter. Pick something up and experiment with it.
"With the Internet, you can find recipes to do anything."
But it can be much simpler than that. Just slice a few new varieties and serve with crackers, meats or fruit. In Europe, cheese and fruit trays are served with breakfast and dessert, Zivney notes.
"Sandwiches are one of the best places to experiment with different types of cheeses," Zivney says, whether they're cold or grilled. "The same thing on your pizza. You can think of a pizza as a base just to build on."
Or try new cheeses when you're dining out.
"You go to a restaurant now and you order an omelet. If you order an American omelet, you're probably going to get American cheeses. But I've gone to places where they had a Greek omelet with feta cheese and spinach."
Zivney Cheese has been producing in Woodford County since Jeff Zivney's grandfather Arthur decided to locate there in 1934. Jeff Zivney's father, Ray, carried the tradition to him.
Today, the factory primarily produces cheeses that are sold under another brand label. But the Zivney brand does produce several varieties: havarti, baby Swiss, baby lace and sweet Italian. The single cheese cooler inside the front office also offers pepper cheddar, red rind Muenster, asiago, fontina, colby, blue cheese, Limburger, beer cheese, farmer's and others. They also do some mail-order sales around the holidays.
Havarti is a Danish cheese. Zivney said they worked nine months to develop their version, which has earned numerous awards at Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association competitions and the Illinois State Fair.
"It's like eating butter," Zivney says. "It's very mild."
Many ethnic dishes contain a variety of cheeses, including Hispanic dishes, which don't just contain hot and spicy cheeses, Zivney says. For the Greek appetizer saganaki, kasseri cheese is pan-fried. In Italy, mozzarella balls are stored in brines and served in fresh mozzarella salads.
"A lot of people buy processed cheese or Velveeta because it's easy to do and it's really quick," Zivney says. "But if you make a basic white sauce and blend in your favorite cheeses, you can make some really, really great cheese sauces."
A World of Choices
Jennifer DeHoog, a registered dietitian with the Peoria office of the St. Louis District Dairy Council, says the selection of cheeses available at grocery stores has multiplied in recent years.
"It used to be the common ones -- mozzarella, colby, Monterey jack. Now you see the flavored cheeses, the blends," she says. "It's just so much more accessible now."
Cheeses also come shredded or in slices, cubes, sticks and crumbles. DeHoog says she's seen a six-variety Italian cheese blend, a Mediterranean blend, and cheeses infused with roasted garlic, pepper, bacon-cheddar, jalapeno, dill and sun-dried tomato flavors.
"It just gives a new flavor sensation," she says.
But a good flavored cheese is tempered, not overpowering, says Zivney, who makes flavored havarti in dill, pepper and pesto-garlic flavors.
"First you want to taste the cheese, and then the flavor comes later," he says.
To create your own flavored cheese, DeHoog suggests: Combine 8 ounces mozzarella cheese (diced into 1/4-inch cubes) with 1 cup diced roasted red peppers, 2 thinly sliced green onions, 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil and 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl and mix well. Season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate for one hour or overnight. Serve on crackers, crusty bread or a dark green lettuce salad.
To promote June Dairy Month, DeHoog has simple suggestions for boosting cheese consumption.
Instead of using processed American, melt provolone or Gouda slices on a hamburger. Or mix 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan, grated asiago, crumbled blue or crumbled feta with 1 cup plain yogurt to create a topping for burgers, vegetables or baked potatoes. Melt a slice of cheese over a bagel topped with garden-fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Sprinkle cheese crumbles over salads, or use grated parmesan, Romano or feta on vegetables.
For the kids, cut cheese into fun shapes. Use a flower cookie cutter and place a cherry tomato in the center. Or make fruit and cheese kabobs, or vegetable and cheese kabobs with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. Another idea for a meal on a stick is pairing pineapple, cheese, ham and bell peppers, with a dipping sauce made of yogurt and parmesan cheese. Also, pack cheese cubes and sticks in a cooler for a great snack when traveling, DeHoog suggests.
Zivney recommends pairing cheese with wines, beers and fruit juices in the way you would pair cheese with meats.
"The lighter the flavors, the lighter the cheese," he says. "With strong, pronounced (cheese) flavors, use a dryer wine that normally cleans the palette."
Zivney has a tip for pumping up the flavor of blue cheese. He says to cut the wedge into 1/2-inch-wide pieces and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a week or two. "The mold will start to bloom again. It will really bring out that excellent, excellent flavor."
DeHoog calls cheese a concentrated source of nutrients, with phosphorous, protein, vitamin A, riboflavin and zinc. With many cheese varieties, a 1-ounce serving -- equal to four diced cubes or 1/4 cup shredded -- provides 20 to 25 percent of your recommended daily value of calcium.
"Cheese is just a great source of protein and calcium," Zivney says. "For moms, when the kids get out of school and want a snack, give them some cheese and crackers, or cheese cubes, or cheese and fruit."
On the Web
- American Dairy Association: www.ilovecheese.com
- American Cheese Society: www.cheesesociety.org
- Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board: www.wisdairy.com
- St. Louis District Dairy Council: www.stldairycouncil.org
Great with fruit
Authentic Italian-style provolone is much different from the provolone you usually put on your sandwich. Full-bodied whether it's mild to aged, it is buttery with a slight snap. Year-old provolone is a harder cheese, and easy to grate over pizzas and pastas. The deli variety is a mild cheese that's just slightly on the tart-and-salty side.
Try authentic provolone with red grapes, pears, figs, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives or hearty breads drizzled with olive oil. Pair with Merlot, Chianti, light-bodied pinot noir, Syrah, sparkling water.
Known for a mellow, rich caramel flavor. Aged Gouda is lightly sweet and sharp. Smoked Gouda has a musky, rich aftertaste. Baby Gouda is usually coated in red wax, while aged has a yellow coating and smoked usually has a black or brown rind.
Try baby Gouda with peaches, melons, apricots, cherries. Aged Gouda is best with red apples, pears, toasted almonds, dark breads. Pair with fruity Zinfandel, Riesling, lager beer, orange juice, apple juice, flavored tea, citrus sparkling water.
Serve aged or smoked Gouda with red apples, pears, toasted almonds, dark breads. Serve with merlot, beer, cider, sparkling red grape juice, coffee.
Has an earthy, buttery and toasty flavor with slightly fruity undertones. Its full-bodied taste stands up well with other rich flavors, so think of it as a perfect complement to heartier pastas and entrees.
Try it on a deli platter with prosciutto, thinly sliced ham and salami. Or serve with red apples, melons, dates, figs, hazelnuts, walnuts. It also melts well for sauces, soups and fondue. Pair with Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, beer or ale, tomato juice, cranberry juice, cider.
Soft and creamy
Soft and sweet dessert cheese, almost like a butter-cream cake frosting. Thick, creamy and velvety, it is heavenly as a dip, filling or frosting, or melted for a sauce.
Serve with fresh fruits, berries, figs, chocolate, lightly-sweet desserts such as shortbread and lady fingers. Pair with sparkling wines, light and fruity wines, liqueurs, coffee.
Often found in the dairy case next to cream cheese. Soft and smooth, it makes for easy spreading, with a rich, nutty, slightly sweet flavor.
Serve with nut breads and bagels, along with jams, jellies and fresh fruit. Pair with light white wines, cranberry juice, grape juice.
Because of its superior meltability, it is known as a great cooking cheese. Also a great snacking cheese. The young variety has a nutty, buttery flavor with a velvety texture. As it ages, it develops a mellower blend of fruits and nuts, with a slightly drier texture. At any age, it has an earthy flavor.
Serve melted on pizzas, french onion soup, pastas, or in fondues. Serve in chunks with apples, mushrooms, ham, salami, crusty bread. Pair with white wines and fruit juices.
Salads and more
Ranges in flavor from mild and buttery when it's young (look for the clear or white wax coating) to an intense, semi-sharp when it's aged (in the black coating).
Try grated over pastas, potatoes, rice and salads, or melted in quesadillas and pizza. Pair with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, cider, cranberry juice, sparkling red grape juice.
Even though it is marbled by streaks of green, it's considered the Italian member of the blue cheese family. Semi-soft and creamy when young, Gorgonzola ages into a pungent, crumbly cheese with a robust and spicy taste. Gorgonzola piccante has a firmer texture and sharper flavor, while Gorgonzola dolce has a sweeter taste and softer texture.
Add to salads, spreads, dressings. Serve with pears, raisins, walnuts, sweet crackers, fruit breads. Pair with champagne, full-bodied red wines, sweet red wines, fruit juice.
Usually thought of as a Greek goat's milk cheese, feta is now produced in the states using cow's milk. Its preservation process gives feta a salty, pickled Mediterranean flavor.
Serve over salads, vegetables, chicken and seafood. In blocks, it partners well with salami, olives and crusty bread.
Has a creamy, blue-veined interior or a crumbly, blue-veined interior, depending on age. Every blue has its own charming quirks, such as slight variations in its peppery flavor or texture.
Serve on salads or with pears, raisins, figs, walnuts and fruit or nut breads. Pair with sparkling wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, port, fruit juice.
Light to pale yellow in color, smooth and buttery on the surface, havarti has a hidden intensity that makes it a favorite for both entertaining and cooking. Comes in a variety of flavors, including garlic and herb, jalapeno, dill or caraway.
Try havarti shredded over salads, sliced in sandwiches, or paired with roasted red peppers and olives. Also good with pears, red grapes, almonds, rye bread, breadsticks. Pair with lesser-oaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, light-bodied pinot noir, sparkling water.
Full of flavor
Sharp and robust; slightly richer version of parmesan. Most commonly known as a zesty grated topping for pastas and pizzas.
Try it on scrambled eggs, quiches or frittatas. Sprinkle it on soups or salads. Or serve with apples, pears, dried fruit or deli meats. Pair with hearty red wine, dark beer, cran-raspberry juice, tomato or vegetable juice.
A true Italian-style parmesan will be buttery, nutty and so flavorful your inclination will be to eat it on its own with a bottle of wine rather than as a grated topping. Hard and granular, it is a great robust table cheese.
Grate or shred it over pasta sauces, salads, risotto, mashed potatoes, pizza. Serve with sliced pears, red grapes, fresh figs, raisins, melon, walnuts, hearty breads. Pair with Gewrztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc.
This cheese guide is courtesy of the American Dairy Association, www.ilovecheese.com.