Like wine, olive oil, and lots of other serious eats, there are so many varieties of cheese in the world that it is often all one can do to find just one that they really like. And despite one's best efforts to branch out and discover new tastes, often the risk of veering off course is too high (especially with the current wave of rising food prices) and we end up sticking with what we know. If you feel like you're in a cheese rut, here are some easy upgrades that will get you going again.
Upgrade Cheddar to Lincolnshire Poacher
There's Cheddar, the cheese, and Cheddar, the place, but there's also cheddar, the verb, which refers to the back-breaking process of cutting and stacking blocks of curds during manufacture. This process aids in the draining and acidification of the cheese and is what gives cheddar its unique tangy flavor and crumbly texture. A similar process is used to make the delicious English cheese Lincolnshire Poacher, but the latter is fruitier and nuttier than most cheddars, making it a worthy next step if you enjoy Cabot Extra Sharp and the like. More upgrades, after the jump!
Swiss: Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Swiss is a generic term for cheeses that are low in acidity, high in calcium, and are made with specific blends of bacterial starter cultures. They may or may not have holes (or eyes as they are called in the cheese world), and the best known examples are Emmenthaler, Gruyère, and Appenzeller. Most real Swiss cheeses are made in the mountainous regions of the western part of the country, where cows turn Alpine meadows of wildflowers into some of the greatest tasting cheeses anywhere in the world. You wouldn't necessarily think of Wisconsin as America's answer to the Swiss Alps, but the Uplands Cheese Company is doing its best to change that. Its Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a great bet for someone who loves Gruyère; it's got the same sweet nuttiness and elastic, meltable texture, but with a really unique fruitiness that sometimes reminds me of pineapple.
Provolone is in the family of pasta filata cheeses, which is an Italian term that means "spun paste." Like its cousin mozzarella, provolone is made by pulling and stretching the curds like taffy, until the texture becomes stringy and elastic. But whereas mozzarella is served fresh, provolone is aged at least four months. Scamorza is another pasta filata cheese, but is traditionally made with sheep's milk and so its flavor is a bit fuller and funkier than provolone's. Smoked scamorza is also fantastically good and worth seeking out.
Gouda: Real Gouda
Supermarket Gouda is as far from the real thing as one could imagine. Real Dutch Gouda (properly pronounced how-da with a hard 'h') is a revelation for those who've only had the American processed variation. It is beautifully nutty and rich, and the really old ones are so sweet they almost taste like butterscotch. Look for Amsterdam Reserve, Van Gogh, or Prima Donna.
'Chèvre': Vermont Butter & Cheese Bonne Bouche
Chèvre is actually a blanket term referring to any type of French-style goat cheese, but has come to refer in particular to fresh goat cheese. For those ready to branch out from there, Vermont's Bonne Bouche is waiting for you. Similar to the French cheese Selles-sur-Cher, Bonne Bouche is a mold-ripened, ash-covered goat cheese whose texture is similar to fresh chèvre but whose flavor is noticeably tangier and more interesting.
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