Just Say Cheese

As a kid, I remember fussing over methi and palak rotis. Like come on! You’re meant to enjoy candies, chocolates, cheese and other fun stuff while growing up. Why methi and palak? But, my mother clearly thought differently. She had decided – no matter what happens, this fussing needed to stop. Cheese was probably one of the few things I would readily eat without any drama. The word itself would bring a smile to my face. So, she very smartly started grating blobs of it on my rotis and parathas and that’s how I learnt to eat them!

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured that I love cheese. To me, it is not just another dairy product, it is everything! You pair absolutely anything with the right kind of cheese and you’re good to go. It’s versatile and oh-so-yummy! But still many people find it intimidating. I wonder why? Maybe because of its countless types, hard to pronounce names, complex textures or due to lack of knowledge. Whatever the reason, I hope this and the coming posts will be helpful as I’m all set to share some easy-wheezy recipes and fun facts about my all-time favorite cheeses. Are you ready?

#FYI – Most cheeses are made from cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk and fall into one of the below mentioned categories:
– Fresh & creamy: Mild in taste, moist and soft with a creamy texture, great choice for salads
– Soft & semi-soft: Range from mild to pungent, can melt well, best choice for grilled sandwiches and fondues
– Hard & semi-hard: Salty, nutty flavors, can be aged for several months or even several years, texture can be semi-firm or firm
– Bloomy rind: These cheeses have a white rind on the outside but are super soft, creamy and yummy on the inside
– Blue cheese: Contains penicillium so the cheese will always be spotted or veined, has a distinct smell, strong, sharp and salty in flavour.

In this post, I’ll tell you about my favorite cheeses in the first category.

1) Feta:
A famous Greek cheese, traditionally made with sheep’s milk or a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk.
Flavour: salty, slightly sour
Texture & Color: crumbly and slightly grainy, white in color
Pairings: best enjoyed when crumbled upon salads or pies

2) Ricotta:
An Italian cheese made from sheep, cow, goat or Italian water buffalo milk.
Flavour: slightly sweet
Texture & Color: similar to cottage cheese but softer, smoother and lighter, white in color
Pairings: combines beautifully with sugar, cinnamon and chocolate so is mostly used in desserts. One can also make lovely, creamy dips with Ricotta or sprinkle some over pasta. In India, it is often used as a substitute for paneer (though both are not the same) while making ras malai.

3) Cream cheese:
Originated in Europe and is made from milk and cream, available in low fat or non-fat varieties
Flavour: mild, slightly tangy and sweet
Texture & Color: smooth, creamy, rich and indulgent, white in color
Pairings: easily spreadable when at room temperature and pairs well with crackers, bagels and sandwiches. Can also be mixed with other ingredients for dips and spreads.

4) Fresh Mozzarella:
An authentic Italian cheese that’s packed in water solutions to help last longer.
Flavour: mild and milky
Texture & Color: creamy and soft, pearl white in color
Pairings: This cheese is delicious just as is or with a pinch of salt, pepper, herbs and olive oil. You can also make yourself a version of Italy’s famous Insalata Caprese that includes fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato and basil.

Recipes:
1) Watermelon & Feta Salad:

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Ingredients:
1 packet roquette (to be cleaned and soaked in cold water)
1/2 iceberg lettuce (to be cleaned and soaked in cold water)
1/2 water melon (remove seeds and cut into chunks)
1/2 cup feta cheese
3 slices bread
5-8 toasted pine nuts
5-8 caramelized almonds/walnuts

Dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp rock salt
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp pepper

Method:
– Remove the water from salad leaves and keep aside
– Cut the bread slices into croutons, toast in the oven and keep aside
– To caramelize almonds/walnuts, heat 3 tbsp sugar in a flat pan and add a spoonful of water. Once sugar changes to a light brown color, add the almonds and mix until the sugar darkens a bit. Switch off the gas and drop them quickly on a foil paper
– To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients, shake well and keep aside
– In a bowl, mix together salad leaves and water melon chunks, then pour the dressing and crumble feta cheese. Serve.

2) Herbed Ricotta Dip:

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Image sourced from Pinterest

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh, creamy ricotta
3 cloves garlic (peeled & crushed)
1 tbsp snipped chives
1 tbsp mint powder
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste, preferably freshly ground black pepper)
Oregano (to taste)

Method:
– Mix all the ingredients together.
– Adjust seasonings as per taste
– Refrigerate for 2-3 hours
– Serve with sliced ciabatta or lavash.

3) Garlic & Herbed Cream Cheese Bagel:

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic (peeled & crushed)
1/2 packet Philadelphia cream cheese
1 tbsp snipped chives
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Thyme (to taste)
Oregano (to taste)

Method:
– Mix all the above ingredients in the bowl
– Adjust seasoning as per taste. Can also add some lime juice, if required
– Spread on bagel and enjoy.

4) Insalata Caprese:

Ingredients:
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 packet fresh mozzarella
1 cup fresh basil (washed well & dried)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Seasalt (fine, to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Method:
– Thinly slice tomatoes & mozzarella, same size
– Place on a flat plate with fresh and dry basil leaves
– Sprinkle with oregano, sea salt and pepper
– Drizzle olive oil and serve.

*All the above mentioned cheeses are available at Godrej Nature’s Basket & Foodhall in Mumbai.
*Part 2 coming soon.

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