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.