Most people love cheese, whether in chunks or strips, or melted on bread for a grilled sandwich. It is a part of the cuisine of nearly every culture, and variations on the theme are legion.
Cheese is usually categorized into four types: soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard. The designation refers to the amount of moisture in the cheese, which directly affects its texture. Making cheese is an ancient practice, dating back thousands of years, and the home makers can usually find recipes that fall into any of the four categories.
Soft types includes cottage cheese, cream cheese, ricotta, brie, bleu, Roquefort, mozzarella, muenster and similar varieties. These cheeses generally pair well with fruit or meats, or can be used in breakfast foods in an omelet or as pasta fillings. They are usually mildly flavored and very high in moisture.
American, Colby, co-jack and similar cheeses are in the semi-soft category. These are slightly stronger in flavor and cover a wide range of uses. Co-jack, a blend of Colby and Monterey jack, is one of the most popular. This allows the sharper flavor of Colby to be combined with the milder jack, and also melts better than plain Colby. Grilled cheese sandwiches often use American, and Mexican cheeses such as Asadero and Quesa Fresca are becoming more popular.
Semi-hard cheese has an even bolder flavor than semi-soft, and is often paired with fruit, used on cheese trays and eaten with crackers. Cheeses in this category include cheddar, provolone, Gouda, Jarlsberg and others. Those in this category may come in a smoked varieties. Smoked cheddar and gouda are very common. Milder cheddar, Gouda and Jarlsberg all melt well, and may be used in casseroles or as stuffing for chicken breasts or pork chops.
Hard cheeses include Parmesan, Romano, asiago, Swiss, Gruyere and others. Parmesan and Romano are most familiar as the grated powder used to top spaghetti, but they are also used as accompaniments for fruit, wine, nuts and other appetizer items. Swiss is popular on sandwiches and melts well, unlike some other hard varieties.
Cheese is one of the most versatile foods in a cook's arsenal. It can add flavor and texture to a dish — and may even cover a few mistakes.