Cheese

Fresh Unripened Cheese

These are the simplest of cheeses. With no rind and a soft and smooth texture, they are high in moisture, generally lower in fat and not pressed. As fresh cheeses have a short shelf life, they have little time to develop any distinctive taste and are delicate and milky in flavour. Fresh cheeses are most often known for their versatility for cooking. Their mild flavour can help to balance bold flavours or complement subtle flavours without overpowering.

Cottage cheese (baker's cheese)

History
Mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, cottage cheese was probably discovered around 9,000 years ago. Its discovery was likely by accident when warm milk was left and became sour. Later, the soured milk was placed into muslin cloth to drain. In about 1915, modern industrial cottage cheese was developed in the USA and spread to many countries. This is the granular cottage cheese packed in tubs with cream added. The original form (Continental-style cottage cheese) is still sold.

Characteristics
With its high moisture content, cottage cheese is a soft, white cheese with a mass of pea-sized curds giving it a slightly lumpy texture. It is generally low in fat. Continental-style cottage cheese is smoother and firmer in texture and is often an ingredient in Eastern European recipes, it is usually sold in a block. 

Flavour
Granular style cottage cheese has a delicate mild and creamy flavour. Additives are often included. Continental style has a sharp acidic flavour.

Selection and storage

  • Select if snowy white, fresh and moist.
  • Be guided by the use-by date.
  • Store in a tub or plastic wrap covered bowl in the refrigerator.
  • Use preferably within a week of purchase.
  • Freezing is not recommended unless used in cooked foods such as pastries and quiches.

Serving 

  • Use as a base for sweet and savoury dishes such as dips and lasagne and desserts such as cheesecake.
  • Great as a sandwich filling.

For recipes using cottage cheese see The Dairy Kitchen.

Cream cheese & neufchatel

History
Neufchatel cheese was named after the town in France where it originated. An early version of cream cheese, it was most likely discovered by collecting the soured cream off the top of the soured milk. With the advent of the mechanical centrifuge (separator) our current more refined cream cheese was developed and mass-produced.

Characteristics
Australian cream cheese is light and smooth with a creamy consistency and milder flavour than the European version. Neufchatel is a French name given to a style of cream cheese in Australia. It is very similar to cream cheese, but with a lower fat content and slightly softer texture.


Flavour
Both have a mild and creamy flavour, with a slightly sour tang. 

Selection and Storage

  • Choose if creamy white in appearance and without signs of dryness or excess moisture.
  • Store in original package, tub or foil.
  • Consume within 2-3 weeks of opening.
  • Freezing is not recommended unless used in cooked foods such as pastries, cheesecakes and quiches.

Serving 

  • As the basis for savoury appetisers, quiches, pâtés, dips, cheesecakes and gelatine-based desserts.
  • Substitute for butter in sandwiches.

For recipes using cream cheese see The Dairy Kitchen.

Feta

History
Feta (meaning 'slice' in Greek) grew out of necessity. It gave shepherds a way to preserve their milk. Traditionally made with sheep milk, or a mixture of sheep and goats' milk, feta was then pickled in brine to enable long-term storage without refrigeration. Australian feta is usually made with cows' milk. It is milder and creamier than imported varieties, crumbles less and therefore is much easier to handle. Although not a traditional style, Persian-style feta has become increasingly popular in Australia over the last 10-15 years, this marinated soft feta is popular for its creamy smooth texture and mild flavour.

Characteristics
Distinctively white in colour, feta has a moist, often crumbly texture that varies from soft to firm. 

Flavour
Feta has a fresh, clean, slightly acidic flavour. It can be quite salty as it is stored in brine.

Selection and Storage
  • Choose feta that is moist and looks fresh, and is fully immersed in the brine solution. 
  • Avoid if dull, dry, sticky or yellowing in appearance, as these characteristics indicate the cheese is old.
  • Store fully immersed in its brine solution.
  • If packaged in vacuum-sealed packs, make up a new brine solution to store it in, or re-wrap in plastic film once opened and use within one week.
  • Freezing is possible, but it will change the texture of the cheese. Feta can be successfully frozen in cooked foods such as pastries, quiches and pies.

Serving 

  • Traditionally used in Greek salads, feta is a versatile cheese that lifts a salad or pasta.
  • Marinating feta gives it an extra dimension of flavour.
  • Crumble over ripe sliced tomatoes and finish with olives, olive oil and oregano.
  • Use in Spanakopita (spinach pie).
  • Toss through warm pasta, with olives and chopped fresh tomato.
  • Include on an antipasto platter.
  • Crumb and deep fry cubes of feta and serve with toothpicks and salsa.
  • Crumble over pizza.
  • Sprinkle with olive oil and oregano and serve on crusty bread.
  • Mash with roasted peppers and serve on Turkish bread - simply delicious!
  • Cube and combine with finely sliced red onions and watermelon pieces.

For recipes using feta see The Dairy Kitchen.

Quark

Quark
Known as Topfen in Austria, quark was a term used to describe a number of fresh low fat cheeses produced in several countries. In Germany and Austria, it describes the preparation of sour milk cheese. Quark can be described as a cross between yogurt and cottage cheese. It is a fantastic filling for cheesecakes and other desserts. Being lower in fat and rich in protein, quark is fast becoming a popular snack for active people and gym goers. 

Characteristics
Generally low in fat and rich in protein. Quark has a fresh white appearance and a soft smooth texture of spoonable consistency.

Flavour
Delicate in flavour, it is both milky and slightly acidic, a little like natural yogurt.

Selection and storage
Be guided by the use-by date.
Quark should look fresh, moist and snowy white in colour.
Freezing is not recommended unless used in cooked foods, such as pastries and quiches.

Serving 

  • Include in both sweet and savoury dishes.
  • Use in cheesecakes instead of cream cheese.
  • Fold through fresh mixed berries and serve with homemade muesli or Bircher Muesli.
  • Use as a base for dips.
  • Spread on sourdough bread and top with avocado, lemon and olive oil or your favourite sandwich fillings.
  • Fold into a basic soufflé mixture with lime juice and zest.
  • Make an Austrian strudel with a quark and sour cherry filling.
  • Fill crepes with citrus and orange liqueur-flavoured quark.
  • Creamed cottage cheese can be used as a substitute for quark.

For recipes using quark visit The Dairy Kitchen.


Mascarpone

History
Mascarpone was created as a practical way to use cream left over from the making of parmesan. Acidified with vinegar, tartaric acid or lemon juice, the cream is left to thicken.

Characteristics
Mascarpone is appreciated because of its natural flavour. It has a light cream colour and a satin-like creamy thick texture.

Flavour
Mascarpone has a rich, buttery and subtly tangy flavour.

Selection and storage
  • Keep in refrigerator in original container
  • Be guided by the use-by date
  • Freezing is not recommended

Serving
  • Well-known as a major ingredient of the dessert, Tiramisu.
  • An excellent alternative to double cream.
  • Try flavoured with coffee or chocolate or mixed with tropical fruit.
  • Use to complete a risotto or seafood pasta sauce.
  • Delicious served with macerated berries or poached fruit.
  • Combine with freshly made pesto and serve over salmon.
  • Stir into pasta with roasted peppers, anchovies, capers and chopped fresh parsley.

For recipes using mascarpone cheese see The Dairy Kitchen.


Ricotta (Whey cheese)

History
Ricotta in Italian means 're-cooked' as it evolved as a use for the 'whey' left from the making of parmesan. Today, ricotta is commonly made with a mixture of whey and whole milk. Small quantities may be made directly from whole milk.


Characteristics
A mass of snowy-white, fine and moist grains, ricotta should be medium-firm in texture and not too wet or too solid. Ricotta is sold in large round wheels that look like an upturned basin with a patterned surface, the result of being drained in a colander or in smaller tubs. Smooth ricotta is usually available in tubs and more suitable for spreading rather than cooking.

Flavour
Ricotta is delicately mild and milky. It has a slightly sweet, eggy flavour with a fresh aroma.

Selection and storage

  • Preferably purchase ricotta as fresh as possible and eat within a few days.

  • Be guided by the use-by date indicated. Drain off any whey as it can sour the cheese.

  • Discard if it has lost its pure white shiny look and becomes yellow and sour.

  • When packed in an airtight bag or tub, ricotta has a longer shelf life than unpackaged fresh ricotta. However, handle as a fresh cheese once opened.

  • Ricotta is one of the few cheeses that freeze well but is best used in cooking after freezing. As with all frozen goods, it should be used immediately once thawed.


Serving

  • Use as a base for sweet or savoury dishes.

  • Add to sandwiches, lasagne, dips, or cheesecakes.

  • Use as a lower fat alternative to cream for fruit salad and cakes.

  • Serve chilled as a dessert cheese with fresh or poached fruit.

  • Bake and drizzle with honey or serve with fresh fruit.

  • Blend with honey, and use as a light alternative to cream.

  • Combine with pesto for a quick, low fat dip served with grissini sticks or as a spread.

  • Fill poached or grilled peaches with ricotta mixed with toasted almonds, honey and cinnamon.

  • Combine with spinach and fresh basil, or pumpkin and red pepper to fill cannelloni.

  • Fill crepes or top pancakes with ricotta, liqueur-soaked dried fruit and cinnamon.


For recipes using ricotta cheese see The Dairy Kitchen.


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