Posts Tagged With: Cheese

String Cheese: Which is Most A-peeling?

In 1976, Frank Baker had an idea. A cheese baron from Wisconsin (naturally), Frank’s family had been selling cheese since 1916. Introduced to America in the 1940s, mozzarella became a hit in the U.S. after World War II with the proliferation of pizza joints, and Baker Cheese switched gears, ditching cheddar for mozzarella in order to meet the craze. Consumers were looking for individual servings they could eat as snacks rather than the 20-lb. blocks Frank’s family made, so he started playing around with the manufacturing process and started cutting blocks of mozzarella into strips that he would then braid them into 3-5″ ropes. Frank discovered that by soaking these mozzarella strips in a salt brine they would take on a stringy characteristic. Boom! In 1976, string cheese was born.

Interestingly, Frank originally marketed his string cheese to bars throughout Wisconsin. Patrons loved them and he eventually settled on a smaller, thinner cheese stick that people could hold more easily. The real stroke of genius was in the packaging: Frank opted for individually wrapped tubes that were vacuum packed, making his string cheese portable. It started finding its way into kids’ lunch boxes, and the rest is history.

Team Eat My Words (and we really have expanded to include a few of my coworkers, who have taken to these food tastings like post-war Americans took to pizza) wondered how different brands of string cheese tasted and set out on a journey of discovery. The rules were simple: string cheese only (there are lookalike cylindrical tubes of harder cheddars, but they go by the moniker “stick cheese” and were excluded due to an inability to peel them into stringy strips). We ended up with a face-off between four competitors: Frigo, Galbani, Kroger, and Horizon. All were mozzarella except the Galbani, which was a provolone. We looked at two key factors in our test: taste and peel-ability.

Frigo is probably the best-known brand. Their “Cheese Heads” in the familiar green packaging have been around for eons, and there is a good reason: they were the unanimous favorite among all four testers. We found the Frigo pleasantly cheesy, with a creamy yet pliable texture that was easy to peel. One person remarked that Frigo “tastes like childhood,” and I’m inclined to agree.

Surprisingly, we liked the Kroger brand second best. It was the softest of the four we tried and one taster declared it the “fakest” of the group – but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its flavor was a tad milder, but all in all it stood up on its own and makes a viable fill-in for those looking to save a few extra pennies.

Gearing up for the big string cheese taste-off.

Galbani touts itself as “Italy’s favorite cheese brand” and seems to be popping up in more and more stores lately. In retrospect we probably should have stuck with the mozzarella to ensure the competition was as evenly matched as possible, but I was intrigued over the prospect of a different type of string cheese and wanted to give the provolone a shot. We felt it had a more pronounced cheesiness than the others and was saltier, no doubt a result of the different flavor profile. Provolone is harder than mozzarella and this resulted in a string cheese that was more difficult to peel. It wasn’t bad by any means; some of us chose it as our runner-up. I’m curious to try their mozzarella version next.

Horizon was both the most expensive brand we tried, and our least favorite. This just goes to show that price doesn’t always translate to quality. Horizon’s string cheese is all organic, and there’s a lot to like about this brand – they did, after all, do very well in our boxed mac ‘n cheese challenge – but when it comes to string cheese, they fell just short of the mark. The Horizon tasted the most “authentically cheesy” out of all four brands, but was firmer than the others and more difficult to peel. In the end, it just didn’t have the “wow” factor the others had. We do not think Horizon is worth the extra money, especially compared to the far cheaper Kroger brand.

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Parmigiano-Reggiano v. Kraft

Last night I was making meatballs, and was forced to break a cardinal rule by using Kraft parmesan cheese – the powdery stuff with a sawdust-like consistency – in place of the Parmigiano-Reggiano I normally use. I hadn’t realized we were out of the “good stuff” until I started cooking, and at that point there was no turning back. Desperate times called for desperate measures. “How much of a difference can it really make?” I asked myself.

The sad truth is, a lot.

Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese 9oz The Italian wedding soup I was making turned out fine, but the meatballs were definitely missing something. I tried to compensate for the lack of real cheese by adding garlic salt, minced onion, and parsley, but it was all for naught. They were blander than usual. At that point, I began to wonder what – exactly – is in that can of Kraft parmesan, a childhood staple growing up that has long since fallen out of favor, except to shake onto slices of pizza. The can does say it’s made with “100% real grated parmesan, no fillers.” So I did some digging, and it turns out our definition of parmesan differs from Europe’s definition of parmesan.

The only true parmesan is Parmigiano-Reggiano, a hard cow’s milk cheese produced in the Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, and Bologna regions of Italy. Under European law, only cheese produced in this region can be called Parmigiano-Reggiano. There’s a very exacting process of producing this cheese (cows must be fed grass or hay only; the cheese is made in heated copper kettles, rested in molds, soaked in brine, then allowed to age a minimum of twelve months; it contains unpasteurized milk, salt, and rennet only; etc.). The cheese has a long history, and was originally created during the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, Italy. While the name is trademarked in Europe, no such rules apply outside of that continent. In the U.S. and other countries, commercially produced imitation cheeses can be sold under the generic name “parmesan.”

And that’s where our friend in the green can comes in.

Real parmesan looks like this.

Real parmesan looks like this.

Kraft first introduced the product in 1945. It gained widespread popularity as a topping for spaghetti and other pastas. There was always a can in the fridge growing up. My dad called it “stinky cheese.” We used it liberally. Though what exactly we were using is open to debate. Kraft developed a process in which the cheese is aged a mere six months, rather than the year or two required of true parmesan. This was nothing more than a business decision for Kraft: less time on the shelf opens up costly plant space and cuts down on production costs. Both Italians and smaller U.S. cheese makers scoff at the idea. Paul Bauer of Wisconsin’s Antigo Cheese Co. says cheese cured in six months “is not parmesan. Parmesan is cheese that develops its flavor over time.”

Be that as it may, the FDA stands behind Kraft’s shorter-production “parmesan” cheese. Let’s not even get into the fact that it contains ingredients such as “cellulose powder” and “potassium sorbate.”

All I know is, my meatballs did not taste the same, and based on everything I’ve read, I can blame it on the fake cheese.

 

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Categories: Dairy | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

282/365: National Moldy Cheese Day*

You’re probably feeling blue if you aren’t into mold, but I’m a fun guy, so I was excited for this holiday. October 9 is National Moldy Cheese Day!

Quit turning your nose up. It’s also National Submarine-Hoagie-Hero-Grinder Day, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, we’ve already celebrated hoagies this year. If the thought of eating moldy cheese disgusts you, get over it. Most cheeses are made with mold! Some, of course, are moldier than others, and that’s the point of today’s holiday. Think blue, gorgonzola, roquefort, or stilton. These last three all carry a “protected designation of origin” in the European Union, meaning they must be made in a particular region or country to be labeled with those names. Blue cheeses without the protected origin name are simply called “blue cheese” (or, alternatively, bleu cheese).

Blue cheese is injected with penicillium mold cultures and aged in temperature-controlled environments. Not surprisingly, it was discovered by accident, when cheese stored in caves developed a harmless type of mold. Hats off to the first person who actually decided to take a bite! Roquefort appears in texts dating back to 79 AD, so folks have been feeling blue for a long, long time. Gorgonzola was created around 879 AD, while Stilton didn’t appear until the 18th century.

I’m a big fan of blue cheese, so I for one was looking forward to this holiday. Tara, on the other hand? Not so much. So I find it highly suspicious that she got sick today and had to leave work early with a bad cold. Hmm. Blue cheese dressing would have been the obvious and easy choice, but I consider myself a bit of a Renaissance man. Which mean, a hamburger topped with blue cheese crumbles instead. Delicious! And to her credit, my “sick” wife did take her requisite bite of the burger. (OK, I’ll take away the quotation marks. She really is sick, poor thing. I’m just glad this was a relatively easy challenge and did not require a trip to a restaurant or a lot of serious baking).

National Moldy Cheese Day

Categories: Dairy | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

246/365: National Welsh Rarebit Day

You’re toast if you don’t hop on over to the pantry and celebrate today’s food holiday with us. September 3 is National Welsh Rarebit Day!

At first, I was worried that we were going to have to eat a bunny today, but it turns out the name “rarebit” is an ironic stab at humor. It turns out that Welsh peasants weren’t allowed to eat the rabbits caught in hunts; these were reserved for nobility (in other words, rich wankers). While rabbits were considered “poor man’s meat” across the pond in jolly ol’ England, in Wales they fetched a much higher price. Cheese, on the other hand, was considered a meal for the poor. So the crafty Welsh simply substituted cheese and called it “Welsh rabbit.” Since there wasn’t any actual rabbit in the dish – a minor detail, to be sure – the name was jokingly changed to rarebit. Oh, those humorous Europeans!welshrabbit

Welsh rarebit is similar to fondue, but cheddar is used instead of Swiss. The dish is simple to make, and considered a hearty and delicious tavern dish in Wales. It’s made by melting cheddar cheese, adding beer and other ingredients (butter, mustard, Worcestershire, seasonings), and serving over toast. Kind of an inside-out grilled cheese sandwich, if you will. I’m game!

Tara and I made welsh rarebit as an appetizer. We turned to Alton Brown for a basic recipe, and just made a few minor substitutions.

Welsh Rarebit

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup beer
3/4 cup heavy cream (or milk)
6 ounces (approximately 1 1/2 cups) shredded Cheddar
2 drops hot sauce
4 slices toasted bread

Directions:

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to brown the flour. Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add beer and whisk to combine. Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth. Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth; this will take 4 to 5 minutes. Add hot sauce. Pour over toast and serve immediately.

We thought it was delicious, very much like fondue!

National Welsh Rarebit Day

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155/365: National Cheese Day

You’ll have to reach whey back in the dairy case to celebrate today’s food holiday. June 4 is National Cheese Day!

Which is not to be confused with National Cheese Lover’s Day. Or cheese fondue day. Or grilled cheese day. Or…well, there sure are a lot of holidays devoted to cheese! And in my not-so-moldy opinion, that’s a good thing. Since I’ve already discussed cheese ad nauseum (fancy way of saying “a lot”), I’ll leave you with some fun cheese facts and quotes instead.

Remains of cheese have been found in 4000 year old Egyptian tombs.

While cows, goats, and sheep are most often used to make cheese, it is occasionally made from the milk of other animals. A farm in Sweden makes moose cheese, and there’s a mozzarella made from the milk of a water buffalo.

The U.S. is the top cheese producer in the world, but Greece consumes the most cheese, with France a not-so-distant second.

Mozzarella is the most popular cheese in the U.S., having recently surpassed cheddar. We can thank pizza lovers (and string cheese manufacturers) for this trend.

Swiss cheese has holes because of gases that expand in the curds during the ripening period.

The term “big cheese” referred to people who were wealthy enough to be able to purchase a whole wheel of cheese.

The best cheese accompaniments are fruit, olives, and nuts.

Cheese tastes best when it’s served at room temperature. Remove it from the refrigerator about an hour before serving.

“A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be over sophisticated. Yet it remains, cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality.” – Clifton Fadiman

“A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” – Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” – Charles De Gaulle

“Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.” – Luis Bunuel

“The clever cat eats cheese and breathes down rat holes with baited breath.” – W.C. Fields

To celebrate National Cheese Day, we made the ultimate comfort food dish: macaroni ‘n cheese. And not out of a blue box, either. From scratch, of course (thank you, Fannie Farmer). It was scrumptious, even on a warm day like today!

Macaroni & Cheese

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138/365: National Cheese Souffle Day

There’s no need to feel deflated today, not when you’ve got the perfect excuse to enjoy a puffy, flaky, cheesy treat. May 18 is National Cheese Souffle Day!

Back in February, we celebrated National Chocolate Souffle Day by having a friendly little bake-0ff. In front of a live audience. It was our first (and only) interactive food challenge, and we had a blast. It doesn’t matter who won – the point is that we had fun! (Which, of course, means Tara won. Whatever). We were looking forward to repeating the challenge when cheese souffle day rolled around, only minus the streaming video feed this time. The camera was simply too distracting to me. We would, instead, rely on real-time Facebook posts charting our progress. Either way, I wanted an opportunity to avenge my initial souffle misdeeds and earn the title of Souffle King, which has (through a very odd childhood quirk) been a lifelong dream of mine.

And then, we learned that we would be in Seattle the day of the challenge. In an unfamiliar kitchen, with unfamiliar utensils and an unfamiliar oven. And busy as hell, to boot. So another interactive challenge seemed like too much trouble. It would be tricky enough just finding the time to make a cheese souffle in the first place. But persevere we must, regardless of the circumstances! So it was full speed ahead, strange kitchen or not. I was much more focused on my souffle this time. We mixed, we whipped, we stirred, and we baked. And in the end? Well, let’s take a look at some photos first.

Whisking action.

Whisking action.

Tara's recipe.

Tara’s recipe.

Waiting anxiously for some rising action.

Waiting anxiously for some rising action.

Mark's souffle doesn't look half bad!

Mark’s souffle doesn’t look half bad!

Souffle

Tara’s souffle is pretty impressive, too.

But in the end, there can be only one winner. And though the results were close – both souffles were delicious – in the end, the victory went to…surprisingly and shockingly, I’ll be the first to admit…Mark! So, HA! Redemption is mine. Mine, all mine. Tara’s sharp cheddar and garlic rose impressively and tasted great, but my gruyere and parmesan had a slight edge. Even according to Tara. Yes!!

Truthfully though, this was a lot of fun, and souffles are so technically challenging I’m just proud that both of us could make a souffle that rose impressively and tasted great. Good job, babe!

Categories: Pastry | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

107/365: National Cheeseball Day

Much like fruitcake and Rodney Dangerfield, the food we are honoring today gets no respect. April 17 is National Cheeseball Day!

This kitschy party favorite has gotten a bad rap for years. New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser once wrote, “Cheese balls tend to be associated with shag rugs and tinsel, symbols of the middle-class middlebrow.” But wait. I happen to be a fan of all things ’70s – including shag rugs and tinsel! In fact, I received a box of tinsel as a Christmas gift last year, after complaining that I could no longer find it in stores. (Thanks, future mother-in-law!). Which probably explains why I was looking forward to celebrating the cheeseball.

Nobody knows its exact origins, but Virginia Safford’s 1944 cookbook Food of my Friends contains the first known recipe for a cheeseball. Typically made with a blend of cream cheese and another softened cheese, cheeseballs are popular party dips that, over the years, have fallen out of favor with the American public. This article has some great information as to why, and the explanation is right there in the opening paragraph: cheeseballs are viewed as “an orange softball filled with garish industrial cheeses, smacking of an untraceable sweetness, and coated with stale, often soggy, nuts.” But they don’t have to be this way! Recipes for gourmet versions are abundant. Even Martha freakin’ Stewart has come up with ways to class up the lowly cheeseball. So get on the bandwagon, folks! Let’s bring cheeseballs back into vogue!

Tara and I bought one from WinCo. Kaukauna brand. It was…well, it was a cheeseball. Maybe there’s a reason these things receive so much derision. It made an “okay” appetizer for dinner, anyway.

Cheeseball

Categories: Appetizers, Dairy | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

102/365: National Grilled Cheese Day*

You just might melt with desire over today’s food holiday. April 12th is National Grilled Cheese Day – a favorite of kids and adults alike! At least these two adults. In fact, last year Tara and I did a grilled cheese challenge on my regular blog…long before this one ever got started. You can read about it here. Suffice it to say, we both love grilled cheese, and were happy to be able to celebrate it today.

For the record, it’s also National Licorice Day. We both despise licorice, so choosing which holiday to celebrate was a no brainer! Besides, not only is today National Grilled Cheese Day, but April is Grilled Cheese Month. How could we resist?

Bread and cheese have been served together at mealtime for centuries – a practice dating back to at least Roman times. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s – at least here in the U.S. – that the bread and cheese actually joined forces, when people who were flat-ass broke and struggling to survive the Great Depression took two inexpensive ingredients, sliced bread and American cheese, and turned them into a cheap meal. They were a staple of the armed forces during World War II; navy chefs prepared countless “American cheese filling sandwiches” aboard ship. Early versions of the sandwich were served open-faced and initially called Cheese Dreams, and then “toasted cheese” or “melted cheese” sandwiches, remaining popular well into the 1960s. That was when enterprising chefs realized they could add a second slice of bread and create a more filling meal, one that was capable of being eaten by hand. And also when they were first referred to as “grilled cheese” sandwiches. The very definition of comfort food, grilled cheese sandwiches fell out of vogue for a number of years, but starting in the 1990s have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. They can be made with any cheese that will melt, and an endless array of toppings (see link to our blog post above).

For today’s challenge, we kept it simple and went back to basics. Just bread and cheese (cheddar for Tara and American for moi). After all, why mess with perfection?

Grilled Cheese

Categories: Bread, Dairy | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

101/365: National Cheese Fondue Day

I’ll spear you the suspense and get right to the point: April 11th is National Cheese Fondue Day!

Fondue originated in Switzerland as a method of using up hard cheese. One can only have so many paperweights, you know? It comes from the French word fondre, which means “to melt.” OK, logical enough. It was a traditional peasant dish, made with white wine and served in a communal pot; stale bread is most often used for dipping. Stale bread and old, hard cheese, eh? Those Swiss really knew hot to stretch leftovers. Fondue really took off in the 1950s when Konrad Egli introduced it at his Chalet Suisse restaurant in New York. We’ve discussed him before; he’s the dude who invented chocolate fondue as a promotion for Toblerone. Before long, every bell-bottom and polyester-clad cook in the 1970s was serving fondue; it’s as much a symbol of that decade as disco, Watergate, and Farrah Fawcett. It remains popular in Switzerland, too, where it is a symbol of Swiss unity; the Swiss Cheese Union promotes it aggressively with marketing campaigns featuring slogans like Fondue isch guet und git e gueti Luune – “fondue is good and creates a good mood.”

I happen to agree. Fondue IS good and it DOES create a good mood. Tara and I met for lunch at Gustav’s, a German restaurant down the street, midway between where we both work. It doesn’t get more convenient than that. This is the second food holiday we have celebrated here; we also had the fondue for National Cheese Lover’s Day. What can I say? Their fondue is really good! And I’m thinking Tara and I need to break down and buy our own fondue set already. Hey…maybe we’ll get one as a wedding gift!

When the check arrived, I asked our waiter if he knew it was National Cheese Fondue Day, and he had no idea. Then he said, “The cheese fondue is our most popular dish…this would be a great marketing idea!”

Yeah. No kidding. It still amazes me how rarely people in the food business realize when there’s a food holiday celebrating a dish they are known for. Talk about a lot of missed marketing opportunities. Maybe I should consider becoming a food consultant or something…

Cheese Fondue

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64/365: National Cheese Doodle Day*

Orange you glad we chose to celebrate cheese doodles today, rather than Absinthe? (Actually, I have to confess to a curiosity about the “Green Fairy.” Absinthe was banned in many areas of the world up until recently. I almost bought a bottle, but I despise black licorice (it supposedly tastes like anise or fennel) and so we decided, instead, to honor National Cheese Doodle Day).

Which, in itself, almost proved a challenge. There are cheese doodles and there are Cheez Doodles, a brand of cheese doodles. Confused yet? Cheez Doodles, the brand, are manufactured by Wise and available on the East Coast, but tough to find out West. Believe me, I tried. One of my trusted research sites said, “Common brands in the United States include Cheetos, Cheez Doodles, and Chee-Wees. They are called by something else in other parts of the world.” Since it’s cheeSE doodle day and not cheeZ doodle day, we were able to get away with eating Cheetos, which are fortunately easy to find out here.

I’m not sure if the fact that there are dueling brands of cheese doodles means “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” or is a testatment to the collapse of western civilization as we know it. Nothing in Nature is that orange – not even oranges! Neon color aside, cheese doodles are pretty damn irresistible. They are made from puffed corn (and heaps o’ orange dye) and have been around since the 1930s. Two people claim to have invented cheese doodles. One is Edward Wilson, whose Flakall Corporation in Wisconsin manufactured animal feed but one day decided to deep-fry, salt, and add cheese to a batch of the puffed corn made by their machines. He applied for a patent in 1939 and named his creation Korn Kurls. The Elmer Candy Corporation of New Orleans claims to have invented the same product in 1936. Sales manager Morel Elmer held a contest to name the new snack, and the winning entry was CheeWees (still manufactured today by Elmer’s Fine Foods). In the battle between Cheetos and Cheez Doodles, Cheetos debuted first (in 1948) and were invented by the same guy who pioneered Fritos, Charles Elmer Doolin. Cheez Doodles followed a few years later, developed by Morrie Yohai of the Bronx.

It wasn’t real tough to honor cheese doodles. Tara and I both had a handful with lunch. Good stuff, and our fingers were a luminescent shade of day-glo orange for hours afterwards! Or would have been, if we hadn’t licked them clean afterwards. Let’s face it, that’s the best part about eating cheese doodles, right?

Cheese Doodles

Categories: Snacks | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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