A cheese for every occasion
For me, the fine line between vegetarianism and veganism is etched in cheese. Growing up, my love for cheese was limited to Sweetmilk, Cheddar and Gouda, slowly extending to Mozzarella when I acquired a love for pizza, but still not quite to Feta until much later. Only in my adult years have I ventured ankle deep into the vast expanse of cheese varieties. On a trip to the Natal Midlands a few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the goat farms for my first experience of artisanal goats milk cheese, sampling the produce of the farms. I was pleasantly surprised to find the cheese appetising, and found myself thoroughly enjoying a salad made with goats milk feta, fresh figs and nuts for lunch later on. Quite pleased with my apparent acquired taste for goats milk cheese, I went so far as to buy some to take back home with me. This didnt end as Id hoped back home I was almost sure I could taste the goat. I havent been tempted to buy it since, as the flavour is quite distinct. On the same trip, I did however develop a love for Camembert, particularly since my first sampling was served with a delectable red wine reduction. Still my first snack of choice, I can easily be appeased with anything accompanied by, or topped with cheese in most forms.
With types of cheese produced worldwide reaching the upper hundreds, sampling all would be a mean feat, but looking at just some of the more familiar cheeses in each category there is already a list of twenty-one common cheeses used frequently on our menus. For example:
Hard cheeses: Gruyere, Halloumi, Blue, Parmesan, Pecorino and Swiss
Semi hard cheeses: Cheddar, Cheshire, Edam, Gouda and Roquefort
Semi-soft cheeses: Feta, Mozzarella
Soft cheeses: Brie, Camembert, Cottage Cheese, Cream Cheese, Creme Fraiche, Gorgonzola, Mascarpone and Ricotta
According to cheesesa.co.za, approximately 82 000 tons of cheese is produced in South Africa per year from 800 million litres of milk. Around 51% of this is Cheddar and Gouda and the rest is a mix of Feta, Mozzarella and Cream cheese, with the average consumption of cheese per person per year being 1.9kg. This is way below the leading cheese consumers the French at an average of 25kg of cheese per person per year.
When it comes to health, being an animal product, certain cheeses have a high saturated fat content so should be eaten in moderation, though they are a good source of calcium and protein. Soft cheeses are a healthier choice than hard cheeses and traditional cheeses better than processed cheese, with cottage cheese having the lowest fat content of the cheeses. It is good to remember though that when serving, cold cheeses should be removed from the fridge one and a half to two hours before, and should still be allowed to breathe when stored, preferably in wax paper as opposed to plastic wrap. Cheese should not be stored with other strong smelling foods as it absorbs odours.
This versatile food has many uses from very basic snacks to gourmet dishes. Whether served on sandwiches in childrens lunchboxes, set on snack trays at cheese and wine functions, or served up in 5-star restaurant dishes cheese seems to be a popular choice. Some personal favourites include fried Haloumi on a bed of lentils in a tomato and herb sauce; grilled mushrooms with Mozzarella; cheese platter and crackers; any bake with a cheese sauce, and so many cheeses I still hope to try.
In the words of Clifton Paul Fadiman: 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.”
The annual cheese festival is held at Sandringham outside Stellenbosch, between Cape Town and Paarl on the N1 from Friday 26 to Sunday 28 April 2013