Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fun with Slicing Cheeses

Most people know that you can try interesting cheeses if you visit a cheesemonger or if your local grocery store has a well-stocked cheese counter.  But most people don't usually think of the deli counter as a great place to experience and enjoy different cheeses.  And that's a shame, because you can often try a slice for free or get just a few slices at a time to take home and experiment with.

Every so often, I get on a sliced cheese kick.  I'll pick-up a half-pound of this or that when I'm buying deli meat to add a little pizazz to sandwiches, tuna melts, pannini's, or more often than not, just to snack on after work with a handful of Ritz crackers.

So what kinds of things can you get at the deli that are more interesting than plain old American?  Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Provolone - This cheese is usually available in either mild or picante (sharp).  A quality mild one has a gentle nutty flavor and the same kind of chewiness as firm mozzarella.  Its sharper sibling isn't sharp like a cheddar, but definitely has a more distinctive flavor.  Provolone is delicious sliced thick and will melt without getting stringy, making it a great topper for toasted Italian sandwiches, Italian subs, or chicken or eggplant parmesan.  If you happen to have a real Italian deli near you, you may find aged Provolone, which is extra-picante and firm enough to be grated over pasta like Parmesan.
  • Cheddar - I like to buy cheddar at the deli (Cabot makes a great slicing cheddar) because you can get thin bread-sized slices that are kind of brittle and break easily.  I'll sometimes just munch on a slice (it almost melts on your tongue) or put it on crackers, but it tastes great on a nice roast beef sandwich.  It adds a salty, strong cheesy goodness that really compliments the meat.
  • Smoked Gouda - I was first introduced to Smoked Gouda cheese by way of Panera Bread's Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich (which almost deserves a post of its own).  It's the consistency of provolone with a firmer chew, the color of cheddar, and the smoked version has a mild and pleasant smokey background flavor.  It pairs really well with any sandwich containing mayonnaise or a mayo-like sauce.  It's also a great snacking cheese and works well on a fried egg sandwich.
  • Muenster - This cheese is hard to describe.  It's a little like provolone, but softer and creamier like American or Colby Jack.  It has a slightly picante flavor and an interesting orange halo around the edges from being heavily dusted with annatto, a nutty orange spice that's often used to add color to cheese.  It's great on most sandwiches, but it's my favorite as a snacking cheese.  Children often like it and you can call it "monster cheese" to appeal to to their sense of whimsy.
  • Pepper Jack - This is essentially a Jack cheese, a softer milder cheddar-like cheese, which has had hot pepper seeds added to it.  When sliced thinly for sandwiches, it adds just a little heat without overpowering the sandwich.  It's great on grilled meats like burgers and chicken breasts.
  • Harvati - This cheese is extra-soft and creamy, almost lacy and is usually found in rectangular blocks.  You'll want to buy it from a deli that is willing to slice it carefully and lay a piece of paper between every 1 or 2 slices and fan it out, as the slices will literally melt back into each other before you can get it home.  It's a real treat on almost any cold deli sandwich.
So head on over to your favorite store and have the delicatessen slice-up a few slices of some interesting cheeses for you!

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