The Skinny on Cheese
Cheese. It sends ardent admirers swooning, and even youngsters happily dig in. But if you're keeping an eye on your weight, you may think you need to forgo cheese's creamy, crumbly, gooey delights. Well, think again. It's a genuinely nutritious food that's packed with protein, calcium, and Vitamins A and D, and studies have shown that it's helpful in preventing tooth decay. Plus, if you go for the good stuff — full-fat cheeses that offer complex, bold flavors — you'll find that a little goes a long way. Here are some of our favorites.
A far cry from the canned powder, this is a carefully regulated product from northern Italy — only wheels that meet strict guidelines are stamped "Parmigiano-Reggiano." As it ages, Parmigiano's texture gets harder and crumblier, and its flavor gets deeper and nuttier, with shadings of salt, sweetness and spice. Grate it on pasta or soup, shave it onto arugula salad or enjoy small chunks with honey-drizzled pear slices or dipped into balsamic vinegar.
Hard and grainy, with a slightly oily consistency, this cheese made headlines recently for its disease-fighting properties. Like its cousin Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano is often grated on pasta (and is also delicious in small amounts with fruit and honey). Its sharp, salty flavor packs a punch — you really don't need a lot. It's made from sheep's milk — look for a sheep's-head logo and the words "Pecorino Romano" on the rind to ensure you're getting the real thing.
A zesty sheep's-milk cheese, feta is made all over the world but is considered a Greek cheese. Depending on where it's made (wonderful versions also come from France and Bulgaria), feta might be sour or tangy, creamy or crumbly. Compared to other cheeses, it's relatively low-fat. Buy it packed in brine — feta dries out quickly when exposed to air — and, if you find it too salty, soak it briefly in fresh water. Feta is fantastic crumbled on salads, cooked vegetables and grains, and in traditional Greek dishes like spanakopita (spinach pie), and omelets and casseroles.
There are dozens of varieties of goat cheese from all over the world, but all fall into two categories: fresh and aged. Younger cheeses are milder and creamier — so if you're going for the best bang for your SmartPoints values, we recommend choosing an aged variety, which will have a more pronounced, salty tang. Chèvre is the French word for "goat"; cheese labeled chèvre is made in the French tradition, regardless of where it's from. Use goat cheese in salads (try it gently warmed), stirred into sauces, atop baked potatoes, or in quiche.
Nearly every cheese-producing country has its own famed variety of this pungent specimen: Roquefort (France), Cabrales (Spain), Gorgonzola (Italy), Stilton (England), Maytag (United States). They all share bluish-green moldy veining and an assertive, salty flavor, but each has its own distinct bite, depending on which animal's milk is used — cow, sheep, or goat. Try blue cheese in salads and omelets, or melted on a burger.
Cheddar cheese refers to both the village in England where it originated and the technique known as "cheddaring," which provides its distinct dry texture. As the cheese ages, its flavor becomes quite sharp. Though cheddar cheese is made worldwide, English farmhouse cheddar is the most sought-after — it's best savored on its own, not melted into recipes.
Gouda originated in the Netherlands, although it is now produced everywhere. Garden-variety Gouda is mellow, nearly boring — some might consider it a waste of SmartPoints values. Aged varieties, on the other hand, are worth seeking out. Deep caramel in color, aged Gouda has hints of butterscotch and spice. Again, best savored on its own, rather than in cooking.
You might know this Swiss cheese (but don’t expect holes!) as the basis of fondue. Authentic Gruyère has the word "Switzerland" stamped on the rind. Young Gruyère’s flavor is nutty and almost fruity; as it ages it becomes more forceful and earthy. It’s an extremely versatile cheese, which can be grated into salads, sliced with apples or pears, and melted into dishes like French onion soup.