Soft And Creamy Or Hard And Crumbly—Choose The Cheese That’ll Make You Happy
What makes a good quality cheese? It starts with “happy cows” declared Joe Baird, a cheese expert and consultant for the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), who recently came to the Philippines to share his vast knowledge of cheeses, and to present the state of California’s portfolio of quality cheeses, certified with the Real California Cheese seal.
California has been producing cheese for more than 200 years, with immigrant farmers of Italian, Dutch, Hispanic descent bringing their cheesemaking traditions from their home countries. Today, California is the number two cheese producer in the United States, with 46% of its milk going into California cheese. Thanks to the climate and the care given by the dairy farmers, California cows are indeed “happy” ones who chew on grass, that turns into feed, and then transforms into around 9 gallons of milk a day per cow.
Joe Baird shared some of his favorite California cheeses, with a few good pointers for choosing the right cheese for the occasion, whether to add to a cheese platter or mix into a dish, complete with his suggested wine pairing.
Fresh mozzarella is soft and milky in flavor, much creamier and softer than the processed or commercial variety. You can enjoy it in a tomato salad with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Or add it to pizza and lasagna. This California mozzarella by Di Stefano pairs well with a Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay.
This all-natural, semi-hard cheese originated in Italy. Creamy and buttery in flavor and texture, it’s great to mix into egg dishes like quiche, frittata, or simply scrambled eggs. It works wonderfully in sandwiches, especially a grilled cheese sandwich. And use it as well in fondue, cheese sauces, and even pizza and pasta. Pair this Toma by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company with a glass of Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc.
This is not your fast melting processed “cheddar” cheese that you find in the supermarket. Instead, “real” cheddar can range in taste from mild to extra sharp, depending on the ageing process. It’s a great melting cheese for sandwiches or mixed into dishes. But it can also be eaten on its own, just like this extra special Purple Moon Cheddar by Fiscalini soaked in an award-winning California Cabernet Sauvignon to give it that purple color on the outside, while the inside stays creamy. Enjoy it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
The longer a cheddar is aged, usually the sharper it becomes in taste. One example is the famous Bandage Wrapped Cheddar by Fiscalini, which earned the distinction of being the only non-UK cheddara to win World’s Best Cheddar three times at the World Cheese Awards. Wrapped in a traditional cheesecloth, this cheddar is firm with a slightly crumbly texture, with a mild smoky and nutty flavor. Aged for 14 months, this raw cheddar is best showcased on a cheese board, together with cold cuts like prosciutto and salami, and a glass of Merlot.
California cheesemakers are known innovators when it comes to flavoring cheeses with anything from chili peppers, to tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and spices. An example is this organic, raw Jalapeño Jack by Sierra Nevada Graziers made from milk from grass-fed cows. The jalapeño peppers give a flavorful, spicy kick to this smooth, creamy cheese. It is especially good for Mexican dishes like burritos, quesadillas, nachos, queso fondido, enchiladas. Or else, add it to your hamburgers and enjoy with a chilled Chardonnay.
This type of flavored cheese gives off a vibrant, smoky taste, with a faint taste of bacon or ham. The Organic Smokehouse Jack by Sierra Nevada works great in sandwiches, pastas, sauces, meatballs or pizzas. Or add it to a cheese platter and pair it with a glass of Chardonnay.
The above cheeses are only a small sample of the 250+ varieties produced in California. You’ll find fresh cheeses like ricotta or mascarpone, hard cheeses like asiago or dry jack, Hispanic-style queso blanco fresco, soft Brie or Camembert, blue cheese, and processed, among many other varientes.
In the Philippines, you can find California cheese and dairy products at leading supermarkets like S&R, Robinsons Supermarket, and SM. To learn more, visit www.realcaliforniamilk.com or Real California Milk on Facebook.
Photos by Chris Clemente