Fresh cheese please!
Curious about the wide world of fresh cheese but unsure of where to start? Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about ricotta, burrata, cottage cheese, and all the other cheesy options in between.
What is fresh cheese?
Fresh cheese falls under three basic categories: basic fresh cheese, fresh stretched curd cheese, and whey cheese. The common threads that tie these cheeses together? There’s no aging involved, there is no rind and the cheese hasn’t been inoculated with a mold (either to produce veining or a fluffy white exterior.)
Basic fresh cheeses
Basic fresh cheeses are creamy, mild and slightly tangy. Cottage cheese, fresh goat cheese, cream cheese, queso fresco, feta cheese, paneer, and farmer’s cheese all fall under this category.
During the cheesemaking process, milk is curdled with an acid so that it separates into solid curds and liquid whey. Whey is made up of roughly 50 per cent milk solids which are strained out of the liquid. These milk solids are then used to make ricotta cheese or, in Scandinavian countries, aged whey cheeses.
Fresh stretched curd cheeses
Stretched curd cheeses (or pasta filata as they’re called in Italy) are made by immersing the curds in very hot water, where they are pulled and stretched until shiny and elastic. The stretched curd can be made into fresh mozzarella, fior di latte, burrata and various sizes of bocconcini.
Storing fresh cheeses
Fresh cheeses have a very short shelf life compared to aged cheeses so plan on buying them as close as possible to the day they’re being served. Thanks to modern food packaging methods, it’s easy to find many types of fresh cheeses with long expiration dates. However, once fresh cheeses are open, they should ideally be used within a couple of days. Fresh stretched curd cheeses and feta cheese should always be stored in the brine they’ve been packaged in. If the cheese is not completely covered in liquid you can add a small amount of water to the brine to compensate. Fresh cheeses have a high moisture content, which means they’re not suitable for freezing.*
*Fresh ricotta can be frozen with moderate success but only if it’s going to be used in lasagna or another baked pasta recipe.
Getting creative with fresh cheeses
Try making a cottage cheese bowl using your favourite sweet or savoury toppings. One cup of non-fat cottage cheese is 3 SmartPoints ®. Packed with protein and calcium, cottage cheese is a filling alternative to yogourt or oatmeal. Add hemp seeds, chopped nuts, chia seeds or diced avocado to add healthy fats and up the satiety factor.
Burrata, (6 SmartPoints per 2 oz) a type of fresh stretched curd cheese filled with cream and mozzarella, has quickly become a mainstay of the modern caprese salad. For a different twist on this classic summer appetizer, try serving burrata with grilled peaches, crushed pistachios, and a drizzle of honey.
Spread a thin layer of ricotta (fat free ricotta is 4 SmartPoints per cup) on a serving platter and pile grilled or roasted vegetables on top for an easy yet impressive vegetarian main course. Grilled lemons, toasted nuts, pickled shallots, and plenty of fresh herbs or microgreens will add plenty of flavour while bringing all of the ingredients together.
Place a brick of creamy feta (6 SmartPoints per 2 oz) in the centre of a round baking dish and surround it with halved grape tomatoes, whole garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and season the tomatoes with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. Bake in a moderately hot oven for 20 minutes or until the feta and tomatoes have softened (the feta won’t melt but it will develop a creamier texture.) Serve with thinly sliced crostini that has been rubbed with raw garlic and broiled or grilled.