With character and flavor, cheese has become as complex and artful as winemaking. As spring approaches, think about bringing cheesiness to your life, whether it’s adding a twist in a new picnic recipe or spreading a mound of creaminess on crusty bread.
Cheese Central: Lodi’s hub for the food that goes with nearly everything
Cindy Della Monica has been called a cheesemonger. And she’s OK with that. It’s a title she’s earned after 35 years of working with, studying, tasting and loving cheeses from all over the world.
Lucky for Lodi, she has been sharing her rich, creamy and puckery world of cheese with the community at her shop, Cheese Central. The cheese store carries 80 or more cheeses from local domestic, as well as U.S. domestic and classical international.
There are many facets of Cheese Central, including a seating area near books that cover cheese and cooking. Along the wall, you can choose different wines and beers that pair well with cheeses. You can also taste a variety of cheeses when you visit.
A long counter is home to rounds and wedges of cheeses that are each unique: creamy and buttery, sharp or earthy, for example.
In the back of the store, a tall, long counter in a quaint kitchen area serves as the classroom, where Della Monica and guest teachers offer regular classes on food- and cheese-related topics.
For Della Monica, her business is about sharing her passion.
“I love the stories of cheese, the cheesemakers, the complexity,” she said, adding that all cheeses start out with the same initial process in the beginning of the recipe, and then diverge.
Savor a new flavor
Cheddar and Monterey Jack aren’t the only cheeses with a lot to offer. Try some of these Cheese Central favorites that hail from Europe with their rich flavors — and history.
Cotswold — A cow’s milk Double Gloucester cheddar from England that is flavored with chives and spring onions. It is very flavorful and a great melter, which makes it terrific as an ingredient cheese, as well as a table cheese.
Cashel Blue — A cow’s milk blue cheese produced in County Tipperary, Ireland. It is aged a minimum of four weeks, but up to 12 weeks. It is tangy when young, spicier and richer when older.
Lamb Chopper — A sheep’s cheese from the creamline of Cypress Grove Cheese Co. in Arcata, which is produced in Holland. It is a gouda with a mellow and buttery flavor with the natural sheep’s milk sweetness being very much evident.
Domaine du Vallage — A triple creme cheese from France. It has a bloomy rind, a very buttery texture and a slightly salty finish.
Morbier — A cow’s milk-washed rind cheese produced in France. It is noted by its thin line of salted vegetable ash in the middle. Its smooth and firm paste is nutty and grassy in flavor.
Fiscalini Farms’ Lionza — An alpine-style cheese of cow’s milk produced by Fiscalini Cheese Co. in Modesto. The paste has some desirable granulation , and a sweet milky flavor with caramel overtones.
Fleur Verte — A fresh, young goat’s milk cheese from France. The entire wheel is coated in thyme, tarragon and pink peppercorns for a pronounced herbal flavor.
Chimay — A cow’s milk-washed rind cheese produced in Belgium by the same monastery that makes the beer. It is aged six weeks, and has a smooth texture, pungent rind and nutty flavor.
How to choose cheese when watching the scale
Sure — cheese is a good way to sneak in a dose of dairy, as well as a little calcium, vitamins B12, A and D, phosphorus, zinc, iron, sodium and magnesium. But with that comes lots of calories and fat, which might be a concern since there are so many delicious cheeses to temp you.
So, when choosing a cheese, which ones are the lowest in fat? Here are a few, though you’ll be safe if you aim for those made with 2 percent milk fat or less and no more than 6 grams of fat per ounce.
Whole cottage cheese is approximately 4 percent milk fat, light is 1 to 2 percent and nonfat has no milk fat at all. For 1 ounce, cottage cheese provides about 5 grams of fat overall.
Feta cheese contains 6 grams of fat per 1 ounce, making it between 40 and 50 percent fat. Reduced-fat feta products are available.
Gouda is 40 percent fat, containing approximately 5 grams of fat per ounce. Gouda is excellent melted on a sandwich or with fruit.
Parmesan is 61 percent fat, containing 7 grams of fat per ounce.
Mozzarella is low in fat, containing 6 grams of fat per ounce, or 40 percent milk fat.
It is 45 percent fat with approximately 7 grams of fat per ounce. Brie is versatile, often served as a dessert with fruit, toasted bread or melted on sandwiches.
Did you know ... not all cheeses keep their cool factor?
Limberger cheese was once the popular choice in the market. Twenty-five years ago, 1 million pounds were produced annually.
But now, only 1 million pounds are produced. Eek — sorry, Limberger.
The one cheese that hasn’t gone out of style is gorgonzola dolce, which has been made since the 10th century. It’s good for gorgonzola sauce for fettuccini or tortellini.
Don't know which cheese to use with which dish? Try these tasty suggestions for pastas, sandwiches and other favorites.
Turkey sandwich: Young gouda
Lasagna: Fresh sheep's ricotta from Bellwether Farms and an Italian cheese, Pecorino Romano
Cheese enchilada: Handmade artisan cheese, like double jalapeno jack from Sierra Nevada, which is creamy, not rubbery
Fondu: Pesto brie
Omelet: Cotswold, a British double Gloucester cheddar with chives and spring onions
Become an aficionado (or at least give it a shot)
Cheese Central offers classes regularly. One of the most popular classes is Cheese 101A, which is being offered today.
In the class, the students taste the different milks and follow up by tasting the typical cultures in the cheese-making process. Students taste two cheeses in each of the first four cheese families.
There are cooking classes too, where the goal is either to enhance someone’s cooking skills or teach a new technique.
For more information about Cheese Central classes, stop in to Cheese Central or visit www.cheesecentrallodi.com.
Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at email@example.com.