Calaveras Enterprise

Think cheese when the spice rack stumps you

Gorgonzola dolce is milder and sweeter than other versions of the Italian cheese.

Gorgonzola dolce is milder and sweeter than other versions of the Italian cheese.

With so many cheeses and flavors in the world today, I can never get bored eating cheese. With 12 flavor families of cheese, each represents a cheese-making style or milk or aging process that delivers a substantially different flavor experience.

Cheese can give a wonderful gift to your menu as an appetizer, a main course, in a salad or as part of or the dessert. But have you ever thought of using cheese as a spice or seasoning? It’s one of the world’s oldest seasonings. There are so many choices, so knowing your cheese’s personality and background will help you use it in just the right places.

We often sprinkle some Parmigiano over Italian dishes. It’s rich and nutty in flavor and has a deep mellow character. If you want something tangier, then use Pecorino Romano, an Italian, aged, sheep’s milk version instead. To get lighter, mellower flavors, using American parmesans is a choice since they’re not aged as long. However, you’ll never regret the deep complex flavors of the original Italian versions. Be careful, once you fall in love with Reggiano, that’s all you’ll want to use. By the way, there are two Italian, aged, hard cheeses: Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, and both are magnificent!

Think cheese when the spice rack stumps you

Think cheese when the spice rack stumps you

Fresh goats’ milk cheese crumbled over a salad gives added tang, and French Roquefort, a pure sheep’s milk blue, is unequaled for its buttery, salty spiciness. Feta is a common cheese, but knowing that there are two Feta flavors is important. The original Greek Feta is made with sheep’s and goats’ milk, so it has a nutty, savory flavor along with the tang. American-made feta, however, is made from mild cows’ milk and delivers a slightly salty and creamy taste. Knowing the difference in these two styles of cheeses, Greek Feta and American feta, is important to get the right flavors that you want for your dish. Note the use of a capital F for Greek Feta since it’s the original and has Protected Designated Origin status considered uniquely Greek, whereas American feta is made using cows’ milk. It’s OK to like both of them, but Greek Feta is a must for Middle Eastern dishes that need that wow flavor factor.

There is also a tasty feta-style cheese from Australia that gets its special flavors from blending goat and sheep milks that are then marinated in olive oil and black peppercorns.

Blue cheeses are delicious salad companions, but there are many different types and flavors to try. They’re not just for salads either; many melt very nicely. Getting to know them is half the fun.

Start with the classic Italian Gorgonzola – but beware, there are several types that again will give a specific flavor or lack of it. Creamy Gorgonzola Dolce from Lombardy near Milan, Italy, has a unique creamy “sweet” personality when it’s young and it has a depth that comes from its washed rind. It’s perfect melted in polenta or risotto or just spread over sourdough bread. Its country cousin, Gorgonzola Piccante, from the mountains, is a firmer, sharper blue that pairs well with salty cured meats like prosciutto and salami on a salumi tray. American gorgonzola is mild, buttermilk-like and lightly salty, so it is great on salads. If you’re using an Italian recipe that calls for gorgonzola, use the Italian versions. If you can’t find Gorgonzola Piccante, then find an artisan American blue, such as Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue Cheese or Big Rock Blue from Central Coast Creamery to give your dish the flavor punch that you want. Even stodgy old Stilton will perform well sprinkled over a salad.

Spicing your dish up with cheese can also mean using a cheese that already has spices or herbs blended into it. There’s a long list to melt in your cheese market: Tintern is a mellow English cheddar with shallots and green onions and its cousin, Red Dragon, flavored with ale and mustard; Goudas are made with a whole range of herbs and even cumin seeds; and fresh goat cheeses with lavender. Look for a whole range of spiced cheeses with garlic, peppers, onions, sun-dried tomatoes and many herbs at your market. All of them can be used to spice up your cheese cooking enjoyment. Since the seasonings are added as a part of the cheese-making process, the flavors are longer lasting and fuller, and these cheeses will meld into the rest of the ingredients in your dish.

Give some zing to your dishes, be creative and see what new flavor combinations you can create.

Judy Creighton presents Second Sunday Cheese and Wine Classes from 2 to 3 p.m. for $20 at the Lavender Ridge Vineyard Rhone Room in Murphys. Reserve at

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