By Joan Brunskill
Americans can savor, taste, study, read about, buy and cook cheese from an unequaled range of sources. Along with increased production of fine domestic cheeses has come more awareness of all kinds of cheese, at all levels.
Books focused on cheese
"The Cheese Lovers Cookbook and Guide" by Paula Lambert (Simon & Schuster, $35).
"The Cheese Course: Enjoying the Worlds Best Cheeses at Your Table" by Janet Fletcher (Chronicle, $19.95).
"French Cheese" by Kazuko Masui and Tomoko Yamada (DK Books, $18.95 paperback).
"The Cheese Bible," edited by Christian Teubner (Penguin, $32.95).
"The Cheese Companion: The Connoisseurs Guide" by Judy Ridgway (Running Press, $24.95).
"The World Encyclopedia of Cheese" by Juliet Harbutt (Anness Publishing, $24.95).
Cheese courses, cheese carts and boards are firmly back in favor at many restaurants, and food markets are overflowing with variety.
The American Dairy Association says supermarkets are the leaders in sales of gourmet and specialty cheeses, with 55 percent, followed by gourmet and specialty shops, with 30 percent. Other outlets, including mail order, the Internet, wholesalers and kitchenware stores, account for the rest.
The American Dairy Association suggests taking time to study the wide choices in the store, including domestic artisanal cheeses, before you buy. Since there are now around 200 of these artisanal cheeses to choose from, read the labels and chat with a knowledgeable store person about them.
Remember that because artisanal cheeses are made by hand, theyre irregular in shape, and their rinds are not wrapped in plastic or paraffin-coated. Artisanal Cheddar is usually cloth-wrapped. Ask the cheese seller to cut the cheese fresh from the block for you.
In "The New American Cheese" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), author Laura Werlin advises the purist on how to taste, rather than just eat, cheese.
"Treat cheese tasting a little like wine tasting," she writes. Consider the cheeses smell, color and texture; chew it slowly in your mouth; try not to talk, pay attention to the cheese; dont mix it with other foods except for palate cleansers such as unflavored crackers; drink only water, not wine.
Serving your own cheese course when youre entertaining is less austere.
"We usually recommend serving a variety of four to five cheese selections with different textures, flavors and milk types," says Rob Kaufelt, proprietor of Murrays Cheese Shop in New York City. The mix of flavors could include mild, strong and sharp, he adds, with a mix of different milk types: cow, goat and sheep.
Keep the selection simple, he warns. Dont include too many.
He also suggests that you decorate cheese platters or boards with fresh and dried fruits, nuts and olives. Serve the cheeses with crusty French bread, rustic sourdough (especially good with creamy, soft, ripened varieties), or specialty breads.
Cheese is meant to be tasted at room temperature, so take it out of the refrigerator 30 minutes to an hour before serving, depending on size and texture.
If youre serving cheese with other food, serve each person portions of about 1 ounce of each type of cheese. If cheese is the main course, serve portions of about 2 ounces of each cheese (estimate 8-16 servings per pound).
Most important, Kaufelt says: Buy what you like. That way, you get to enjoy all your favorites when you eat up the leftovers.
On the Web:
www.ilovecheese.com (American Dairy Association)
www.cheesesociety.org (American Cheese Society)
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