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Fromage Friday: Fresh Cheese 101

Posted Jul 17 2009 12:00am

fromagefridaysWelcome back for another edition of Fromage Fridays.  I hope everyone had a great week and has an even better weekend to come.  Since I’ve been featuring a few homemade fresh cheeses lately I thought it would be fun to do a Fresh Cheese 101 post to teach you everything you might want to know about this type of cheese.

For our purposes, the name fresh cheese is  interchangeable with unripened cheese, curd cheeses, and curd-style cheeses.  They are sometimes described as a type of cheese that is still in its childhood.  The common method of making fresh cheese is to curdle the milk with an enzyme/acid and drain off the whey.  The curds that remain are molded into cheese and ready to eat.  There is no aging involved (hence the fresh name) so they are milder and some would even say blander than their aged counterparts.  Many of them are acid set so there  no rennet (with the exception of some like cottage and Mozzarella)  involved so they are a good choice for lacto-vegetarians seeking to avoid rennet from animal sources.   Vegetarian rennet is available but not all cheeses are clearly marked so it is worth inquiring about if it it concerns you.  However, they tend to be higher in lactose than aged cheeses so they are not always the best choice for people who are lactose intolerent.

They are used extensively in cooking and make great bases for dips or fillings for pasta, crepes, and pastries.

cheeses

Examples include (numbered in order from 1 to 8): Ricotta, Cottage, Feta, Quark, Mascarpone, Fresh Mozzarella, Cream Cheese, and Fresh Chevre.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Fresh cheeses tend to break down when added to hot sauces so always add at the last minute for best results
  • Because they are higher in moisture fresh cheeses can be lower in fat, but a lot of it comes down to what they are made with, i.e. whole milk vs. skim vs. cream
  • The tend to have a short shelf life so I stick to the philosophy of ‘When in doubt throw it out.’ – You’ll want to avoid cheeses that taste or smell rancid or sour.  Fresh mozzarella especially is best eaten the day it is made so always buy cheese as close to when you intend to use it and if buying cheese from a small or artisan producer don’t hesitate to ask about storage instructions
  • Some fresh cheeses can be difficult to find but can be fairly easy to substitute for one another
  • If you are going to do a cheese tasting this is one category of cheeses that does well served cool.  They are lovely with crudites and because as well as speciality breads and interesting condiments like honey or jams.  Because of their light and slightly tangy flavor I like to serve them with light and fruity wines served cool
  • These are among the easiest cheeses to make for yourself so if you’re considering dabbling in cheesemaking this is a good place to start

Where to buy fresh cheese:

My personal favorite way to buy these cheeses is straight from the producers.  Increasingly local farms are selling things like fromage blanc and quark made from their own milk.  Fresh mozzarella cheese is also a common sight at my local farmers’ market.  Because this is one group of cheese that is best fresh I try to go as close to the source as possible however there are a lot of great brands available at your local supermarket.  My Whole Foods, for example, carries fromage blanc, mascarpone, and quark, among other things by Vermont Butter & Cheese  that are pretty close to the farmhouse fresh cheeses I’ve tried.  I also cannot stress enough that these are VERY approachable cheeses to make yourself and a great place to start, even if you never though you would make cheese.

Last, I cannot help but share some of my favorite recipes using fresh cheeses.  These have all been tried (although not conceived) by me and are very delicious:

Alton Brown’s Roasted Vegetable Spread 

Cooking Light’s Brownie Cheesecake

Epicurious.com’s Feta Pine Nut Spread

Giada’s Chocolate Tiramisu

Cooking Light’s Lemon-Rosemary Chicken Quesadilla Salad with Shallot-Mustard Vinaigrette

What about you?  Is there a recipe you make using fresh cheese that you especially enjoy?

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