Say Cheese!

Learn how you can enjoy cheese and still stay on track.
Published March 18, 2016

Cheese is not often thought of as food associated with weight loss, but with the right tips and the correct portions it can easily find a place into any weekly SmartPointsTM allowance. Besides being a good source of protein, cheese is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and phosphorous. According to the Dairy Farmers of Canada, a serving of cheese is 50 grams (a bit bigger than the size of your thumb). In terms of SmartPoints that can be somewhat high depending on the cheese. But by keeping portions small and using cheese primarily as a flavour enhancer you can still incorporate it into your daily meal routine.

Use cheese as a garnish
Firm aged cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan and gruyere are generally higher in fat than others. Luckily, these cheeses tend to be intensely flavourful so only the smallest amount needs to be used. Cheeses in this category are best used as accents or garnishes for a meal. Hiran Perera, head chef at The Loft for Earl’s restaurants in Vancouver, believes that “food should be as beautiful as it is tasty, so cheese is often used as an accent when garnishing, such as a parmesan curl, or as a texture contrast with a parmesan crisp.” While they may look daunting, parmesan cheese curls couldn’t be simpler to make. Using room temperature parmesan and a vegetable peeler, use controlled dragging motions to carve small curls that can be used to garnish salads or to serve on a charcuterie plate.

Firmer equals fatter
In general, the firmer the cheese the higher the fat content which means that everyone’s favourite cheese, brie, is often less fattening than cheddar although this sadly doesn’t include double and triple cream bries.

Freshen up your meal 
Fresh cheese can provide a wonderful foundation to recipes, or it can shine brightly on its own as the placeholder for a meal. Lower in fat and calories than their more aged relatives, cheeses such as ricotta, chèvre and burrata are as versatile as they are varied. Sliced strawberries and blueberries are right at home next to a dollop of part-skim ricotta and become heavenly when finished with a quick grating of fresh black pepper. Chèvre’s distinct tangy flavour is wonderful when mixed with fresh herbs and rolled up in thin slices of zucchini before being baked in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. Burrata, an Italian fresh cheese similar to a very creamy fresh mozzarella, is best served as is with ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, coarse salt, black pepper and very thin crostini.

Add some blue to your plate
Whether you prefer a creamy gorgonzola or a crumbly Stilton, blue cheese offers huge taste in small amounts. A mere 15 gram serving adds a complexity of flavour that will enhance any recipe, from salad to steak. Try adding Roquefort to homemade pizza alongside thinly sliced pears and thinly sliced prosciutto. Bleu d’Elizabeth, an award-winning blue cheese from Quebec, truly shines when crumbled over a plate of perfectly ripe fresh figs. Add some Italian inspiration to your next party by serving dried apricots stuffed with gorgonzola and chopped walnuts.

Have a tasting party
Why not host a tasting party? Use your favourite wine as a starting point and research which cheeses will pair well with it. Better yet, visit a cheese counter and talk to a cheesemonger who is well-versed in cheese and wine pairing. Portion the cheeses into 10 gram pieces and allow them to come to room temperature. As you try each piece of cheese alongside the wine, make notes on what you loved and what you didn’t; oftentimes the ones that didn't quite work are the most interesting. It’s also fun to choose a theme, you could feature wine and cheese from a particular region of the world or you could focus on one type of wine, such as sweet wines or fortified wines. Just be sure to track what you're eating and drinking.

Find the best low fat substitute 
It can be difficult to find low fat cheeses that are still flavourful. However, there are low fat cheeses out there that not only taste like their fuller fat peers, but also melt well (an impossible feat for low fat cheeses once they dip below a certain percentage). Cantenaar is a Dutch cheese that is relatively low in fat and salt and is similar in taste and texture to gouda. For blue lovers, low fat Cambozola retains almost all of the creaminess and mushroomy notes of the original. Oka, a classic Canadian cheese that’s made in Quebec, also has a lower fat version that’s just as buttery tasting as the original.