The Pleasure of Eating a Great Cheese

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Cheese is one of the great pleasures of life: each has its own character, its own personality, its own maker and story. We’ve put together some notes on some of the great cheeses of the world to encourage you to try the ones you haven’t enjoyed already.

Vacherin Mont-d’Or
You’re in for a real treat if you have never tasted Vacherin Mont-d’Or from the Jura mountains in Switzerland. This ivory coloured, oozy, buttery cheese literally climbs off the cheeseboard when it’s properly ripe. Creamy, delicate with suggestions of pine bark, it is at its best when eaten with a spoon straight from the wooden box it arrives in or baked in its box (see instructions below). Vacherin is only the sixth Swiss cheese to be awarded the AOC, which is a label of origin, authenticity and artisan quality.

Recipe suggestion: Wrap the Vacherin Mont-d’Or box with the cheese inside, in tin foil and bake at 200C/400F/Gas 6 for 25 minutes until the cheese is meltingly soft (you can pop a whole garlic clove into the centre of the cheese if you wish). Bring it carefully to the table and dip cubes of toasted bread into the cheese. You can also spoon melted Vacherin over baked potatoes or cut a piece of fresh cheese and put it on the top of the potato and grill until it melts.

Wine choice: Red wines go best including red burgundy, Chianti, Barbaresco or Valpolicella.

A semi-hard English blue cheese with a crumbly texture, it contains a mould called Penicillium Roqueforti which is encouraged to grow by the cheesemaker. Stilton originated in Cambridgeshire in England and the town celebrates its famous export with an annual Stilton Cheese Rolling Championship. It has a characteristic tangy quality when it is young but becomes spicier when it matures. Stilton is often served with port which supports its strong flavour but it can be successfully used in cooked dishes. Also used in sauces and even desserts it is an excellent match with crisp pears.

Recipe suggestion: You can ‘melt’ a piece of stilton in cream over heat to make an excellent sauce for gnocchi or as a dip for crusty bread. Another good idea is to make a white sauce, melt a knob of stilton in the sauce and add a tin of tuna and its oil. Stir and heat through and eat with spaghetti. Delicious.

Wine choice: Any robust red such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz; dessert or sweeter wines such as Sauterne, Gewurztraminer or Muscat; sherry or aged port.

A favourite in Irish homes, many of us grew up on cheddar, Wexford cheddar being the most well-known. Cheddar is reported to have originated in England in, you guessed it, a place called Cheddar. It has a long history and is one of the most popular cheeses in the world. While it has been made largely on an industrial scale, more recently artisan cheesemakers have revisited this cheese and you can now find handcrafted aged cheddars with a more complex flavour and a sharper bite due to its natural acidity. Made of cow’s milk, artisan cheddar is usually made with a higher butterfat content making it richer and giving it that cloying mouth-feel that is so distinctive.

Recipe suggestion: Highly versatile, it is perfect in toasted sandwiches and it bubbles beautifully as part of a potato topping on a Shepard’s Pie.

Drinks or wine choice: It’s best to drink it with cider or ale; a dry sherry goes perfectly with it or you can opt for a young Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel.

Scamorza and Smoked Scamorza
An Italian cheese, Scamorza is a funny looking white cheese, taking after the translation of its name which means ‘beheaded’. It looks like someone who has been strangled! Made of cow’s milk and semi-firm, it is smooth and shiny. It can be eaten on its own or cooked and you can also buy it smoked, when the outside will be a pale brown colour. You can use it instead of mozzarella on pizza or in a raclette dish.

Recipe suggestion: Here’s a delightful recipe to show you the joys of cooking with Smoked Scamorza. Take a thick chicken breast, cut a slit in the side and open it flat. Spread it with cooked spinach and a slice of Smoked Scamorza. Close the flap over the chicken and bake in a medium oven in a tin-foil covered dish for 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Meanwhile fry some sliced button mushrooms which you have seasoned with salt and pepper. Add cream and stir. Serve the stuffed chicken breast with the mushroom cream sauce on top. It’s stunning!

Made in the French Alps in Haute-Savoie, Reblochon is a rich creamy soft cheese with a washed rind. It has a buttery flavour with hints of hay. At its best between 6-8 weeks, it has a nutty slightly fruity flavour. Originally made with milk that was still warm from the cow, it has a long artisan heritage recognised by it being awarded the AOC title. You can serve it on its own with mixed leaves, melt it in a fondue or use it in a potato gratin.

Recipe suggestion: Just slice peeled potatoes, cook them gently in milk until firm but almost cooked, then layer a buttered gratin dish with slices of drained potato, add a few slices of garlic and slices of reblochon in each layer. Drizzle over some single cream. Bake in a medium oven until golden brown. Eat on its own with a green salad and a glass of white wine such as Riesling or Pinot Gris.

Cottage Cheese
Sometimes treated as a poor relation of finer cheeses, cottage cheese is popular with dieters because it is full of protein and is low in fat. It has a curd-like snowy cloud appearance and because it tastes of very little, can take on strong flavours.

Recipe suggestion: It is particularly good when eaten with fruit and can be whizzed in the blender in a smoothie. It can also be used to top baked potatoes, added to tuna to make a sandwich spread or added to pancake batter to make them lighter.

Wine choice: It is not a cheese you would choose to drink with wine as it is usually incorporated into meals where the other ingredients dictate the wine choice.

A semi-soft cheese, Taleggio is fast becoming popular thanks to its buttery creamy flavour and soft oozing texture. Created in Lombardy in Italy in Val Taleggio in the 11th or 12th century, this ancient cheese has a delicate flavour with a hint of acidity. Taleggio sometimes goes under the name Stracchino (derived from the word stracche meaning ‘tired’ because the milk was taken from animals who were fatigued after they came down from the mountains).

Recipe suggestion: Serve Taleggio on its own with a fruit mostarda, spread on crusty baguette, stir a piece into a risotto at the end of cooking or melt it in potato gratins.

Wine choice: It goes particularly well with rich Italian red wines like Nebbiolo.

Crottin de Chavignol
Crottin de Chavignol is a hard French cheese from the Loire Valley. Made from goat’s milk, it comes in little white rounds that weigh about 80-140g each. It is named after the town of Chavignol where it has been produced since the 16th century. An uncooked cheese it is ripened for at least ten days when it has a nutty taste. As it ages it takes on a richer rounder flavour.

Recipe suggestion: It is the perfect cheese for the goat’s cheese salad first made famous by American chef Alice Waters. Cut the Crottin into 1/2 inch rounds and marinate it in olive oil and thyme for a few hours, then bake in a medium oven for about 5 minutes. Serve on dressed leaves.

Wine choice: It goes particularly well with Sancerre which comes from the same region though you can also enjoy it with a glass of Pouilly Fumé or Sauvignon Blanc.

Pecorino Romano
One of the oldest Italian cheeses, Pecorino Romano is very useful to the cook as well as the cheese lover. It can be used in the same way as Parmesan – shaved over risotto at the end of cooking, added in chunks to cream-baked potato dishes or eaten instead of dessert with fruit or mostarda. A hard =-cooked cheese made of sheep’s milk, it is made outside of Rome (hence the name Romano), in parts of Tuscany and in Sardinia. It has a salty taste thanks to the fact that the cheesemaker dry-salts the cheese, then punctures the cheese allow the salt to penetrate. It is cured for at least 8 months and the cheesemaker turns the cheese and oils the rind.

Wine choice: If you are eating Pecorino Romano on its own, drink any robust red with it (preferably Italian) to counter the saltiness but if you are cooking with it, allow the other ingredients to prescribe what you drink.

Saint Marcellin
Saint Marcellin is always such a treat. It is a dainty little soft creamy cheese made from cow’s milk and usually arrives in its own terracotta pot. (It is also called Tomme de Saint Marcellin). It is ripened in cool dampness for two weeks which helps to give it a soft texture and a bloom of pale blue mould. It is ideal to give to guests as a starter for a dinner party or to serve with a salad for a light lunch. The older it is, the runnier it becomes and you may need to use a spoon!

Recipe suggestion: We suggest you eat it just as it comes but if you wish, you can bake Saint Marcellin in the oven until it melts and serve it on toasted bread with lightly dressed spinach leaves.

Wine choice: A Rhone red or a Pinot Gris white is good with Saint Marcellin.

Gruyere is a cow’s milk hard cheese called after the Swiss Village of the same name. Read more about how to source it and how to cook with it in our feature Where Does Gruyère Cheese Come From and How is it Made? including how to identify the original authentic Swiss version and how to cook with it.

An under-rated cured cow’s milk cheese from the Auvergne region of France, Cantal is said to have been first produced almost 2000 years ago making it one of the oldest cheeses. Semi-hard with a nutty flavour and a sharp bite when it is mature. It is sweeter when it is young (about one month old) and stronger tasting when it is mature (up to 6 months old) and takes 400 litres of milk to make one wheel. When it is made in the artisan farmhouse tradition it is called Cantal Fermier, while Cantal Laitier is the industrially produced version. Eat Cantal with grapes or a slice of freshly cut crisp apple, melt it in fondue or in gratins or grate it onto soups and salads.

Recipe suggestion: Take a buttered gratin dish, spread chunks of Cantal in the dish, add slices of apple or pear and a splash of Calvados or white wine. Melt in the oven and bring to the table immediately and serve. Offer crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Wine choice: Drink a genial white wine with this cheese so you don’t overpower it’s lovely flavour.

Cream Cheese
This soft velvety cheese is often ignored by cheese snobs but it is a welcome addition to a cheese lover’s life. Usually high in fat (though you can get low-fat versions) it is highly versatile and is used for cheesecakes, salmon roulade or terrine, on crusty bread or in salad dressings. Cream cheese is usually made with both milk and cream giving it a rich taste and a creamy texture. You can also blend cream cheese with a little chopped sage and rosemary and a splash of fresh lemon juice, roll it into a log shape using a sheet of clingfilm, chill, slice and serve with shelled walnuts as a cheese course.

Recipe suggestion: To make your own salmon and cream cheese starter take a loaf tin, line it with cling film so that it hangs well over the edge of the tin. Then line the cling film with smoked salmon slices and let them hang over the edge. Fill the centre with cream cheese which you have whipped with a little fromage fraise, lemon zest, chopped fresh thyme leaves, salt and freshly ground pepper. Fold the overhanging smoked salmon pieces over the cream cheese filling and fold the cling film on top and seal. Put a weight on top of the smoked salmon terrine and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Take it out of the tin, remove the cling film, slice with a sharp knife and serve with good brown bread or dressed rocket leaves.

Wine choice: Cream cheese goes best with a dry white wine. Try a Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume (in fact any of the dry French whites are excellent). Unoaked Chardonnay, Viognier or Riesling or any white sparkling wine will favour it.

Monterey or Monterey Jack
Monterey or Monterey Jack is a semi-hard cheese made with cow’s milk from the US and Canada. It becomes harder when it is aged and at this stage is good for grating. We usually associate it with burgers or fondue because it melts well but it is a lovely plain buttery cheese that can be eaten on its own if you like a milder taste. Producers sometimes bump up the flavour by adding black pepper or oil or hot pepper but this is usually for younger cheeses. When it is more mature it has more acidity and is not unlike cheddar. It has been said that it is a good cheese to eat if you suffer from migraine.

Recipe suggestion: Cook a steak to your liking, top with a slice of Monterey Jack and grill until it melts.

Wine choice: Any light white will go well with Monterey Jack unless you are eating the cheese with meat, say a steak or burger where you should match the strong flavour of the meat with a robust red.

Grana Padano
A really wonderful – and often under-rated Italian cheese, Grana Padano is a semi-fat cooked hard cheese from Lombardy. The word Grana refers to its grainy texture which helps to make it literally melt in the mouth and during the cheese making process, the cheese is stamped with the words Grana Padano to ensure that it is authentic. Made of cow’s milk, it is made from a mixture of the evening milk and the next morning’s milk. The cheeses are huge and are made into wheels – they can weigh 30 kilogrammes each and are cylinder or barrel shaped with a yellow rind. It is most often used in cooking but is fantastic on its own with a simple piece of fruit like a pear instead of dessert.

Recipe suggestion: Grana Padano is particularly fine when you eat it with Parma or San Danielle ham. It is often used instead of grated Parmesan in risottos or on pasta dishes.

Wine choice: Wines to drink with Grana Padano? Nebbiolo or Barolo are good if you like red while a good sparking white is also excellent. For aged Grana Padano, try a small glass of Marsala wine and you are in for a real treat.

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