MANILA – Cheese expert Mark Todd is out to educate people about this well-loved dairy product, and how to properly use it.
Dubbed as “the Cheese Dude,” Todd serves as a consultant for several dairy organizations in the United States, including the California Milk Advisory Board.
He noted that there are countless varieties of cheese available today, “as many as your imagination.”
But these can easily be classified according to the level of moisture, from fresh (highest moisture) to hard (lowest moisture).
“The whole reason we invented cheese 10,000 plus years ago is to extend the shelf life of milk. What goes bad? Water and sugar. If you have water and sugar in something, bacteria love it. So if you try to take the water and sugar out, it lasts longer,” Todd explained.
“When we make cheese, the process is trying to get the fat and protein to float to the top, and the sugar and the water to go to the bottom... Most of the fat comes up and when you take that off and drain the liquid, what is left is cheese,” he added.
Here are some basic tips on how to enjoy, store, and use cheese in cooking, according to Todd:
1. The softer the cheese, the shorter the shelf life
High moisture cheese like mascarpone, ricotta, and freshly made mozzarella are meant to be eaten right away. If you have provolone or asiago and they are three weeks beyond their expiry date, don’t fret – they are still safe to eat.
“The guidelines for cheese are only for safe sale. The lower-moisture cheeses last longer than what they put on the label for shelf life. You could stick a wheel of parmesan in a cold room and give it to your grandchildren, and it will still be cheese,” Todd said.
2. Separate the molded cheeses
The mold in blue cheese can also grow on other cheeses, on meat, and even on vegetables and fruits, so make sure to separate them from the rest.
Todd advised to “double contain” blue cheese by wrapping it in cellophane and putting it in a zip-lock or a tub.
“Make sure you don’t get that mold everywhere. The mold from this will transfer on the cutting board. You cut brie off today, you cut lettuce right after that without sterilizing it, you get moldy lettuce. So be careful with that,” he said.
3. Don’t freeze your cheese
Freezing cheese is not recommended as this will change its texture and flavor, so refrigerating is the best way to go. When serving, bring your cheese to room temperature.
But of course, there are exceptions. Pasta filata or stretched curd cheeses – like low-moisture mozzarella, and all those cheeses placed on top of pizzas – can be frozen, according to Todd.
“Pasta filata means spun paste, they stretch it and fold it, and that winds up the protein. That’s why it stretches on pizza. Technology has changed this cheese dramatically. Now, they have made a special version where the protein bonds are much more elastic. You can freeze the cheese and the water and fat will expand, but it doesn’t break all the protein bonds,” he explained.
“Most cheese in the world, if you freeze it and thaw it, it comes out like frozen lettuce. It ain’t the same. This (pasta filata) is the only cheese that is shipped frozen to your store. Once it is thawed, you have 12 days to use it, or half the stretch is gone,” he continued. “So keep frozen until you use them. Never refreeze them.”
4. Not every cheese can be aged
Some cheeses get stronger with age, some don’t. And one of these, Todd said, is blue cheese.
“If you age blue cheese for 20 years, it would have been dead 18 and a half years ago. Blue cheese lasts about a year, maybe up to two if stored properly. But after two years, it’s so strong, it’s almost impossible to eat. Someone asked me how to tell if blue cheese gets bad. Trust me, you’ll know,” he said.
5. Some cheeses are made for melting, others for browning
There are certain cheeses that melt easily but don’t brown quite well, and vice versa. How do you know which cheese to use? Check its protein and fat content.
“Protein is what browns, fat is what runs and flows. So cheeses that have higher protein brown really well. Cheeses that have higher fat melt and flow really well,” Todd explained.
He went on to give some of his recommendations: “If you want to use cheese in a sauce, use gouda so it would melt and be nice and creamy. If you want to slice it, use edam. It’s firmer and it won’t stick to the slicers.”
“If you have a recipe that calls for Havarti and you don’t have Havarti, use Monterey Jack and it will work just fine. The flavors will be somewhat different, but the texture and functionality will be the same,” he added.
“Parmesan will not melt. It will soften, but it will never melt and flow because it is part-skim milk. You want something to melt? Use dry jack or asiago, one of the whole milk dry cheeses. But if you mix Parmesan with cream, the cheese will dissolve with it.”
6. Know the difference among processed cheeses
At one point, you’ve seen – and used – a product that had the words “pasteurized processed cheese.”
This, according to Todd, “can go anywhere from 100% cheese which is ground up and made into spreadable stuff, to cheese that is boiled and cooled down.”
He noted that a high-quality pasteurized processed cheese may have 90% or even 95% real cheese, and the rest is vegetable oil and some emulsifying salts.
A notch lower is pasteurized processed cheese food – or Velveeta – which is about 50% cheese and 50% starch, vegetable oil, and salt. This is followed by pasteurized processed cheese spread, which has about 30% or less natural cheese.
“You get something that comes out of an aerosol can, that ain’t cheese,” Todd said.