Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cheese 101

Move over, chocolate, and make room for cheese. And let’s thank those cows for making cheese possible, and Wisconsin for being America’s dairyland, our home of cheese.

Cheese is very popular. In about three minutes I made a list of foods made of or containing cheese, from natural cheese to junk food: pizza, macaroni & cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, lasagna, quiche, cheesecake, fondue, appetizers, soup, chili, soup and soup topping, casseroles, deep fried cheese curds, cheese flavored chips and popcorn…and more.

Apart from eating cheese nearly every day, I have a somewhat remote connection to the cheese industry. Long ago, before I knew him, my late father-in-law was a dairy farmer who named his cows after the Presidents’ wives. He sent their milk to the Arena Cheese Company to be made into cheese. That company continues to function today and exists also at www.arenacheese.com. I bought a package of Arena cheese today at Whole Foods. It’s good cheddar cheese. Arena is west of Madison.

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is working to ensure that people will eat plenty of cheese. Its website, www.eatwisonsincheese.com, takes the person on a positive tour of everything cheese related, including how cheese is made. Everyone should know that the website has a Cheesecylopedia, a history of Wisconsin cheese and a traveler’s guide to cheeses.

Cheese has pluses and minuses. On the good side, we can find taste. Of course it tastes good because it is made of fat, and fat makes food taste good. (I don’t include soy cheese in what I just said since I never tried it.) Variety is on the list, on a spectrum including natural, processed, cheese food, and powder. On the nutrition scale, I believe that only natural cheese is good for people to eat, but the other forms have been very good for sales of cheese products. Cheese is widely available with many varieties on grocery store shelves.

Cheese is versatile. Think of lasagna, pizza and the many things I itemized above. It is available in chunks or shreds, in spreads and dips. Some cheeses are good for some dishes and others for others. Cheesecake exalts cream cheese; limburger stands in the corner by itself.

On the minus side are a few drawbacks. Products made with cheese can be junk food and not good for anyone. Cheetos anyone? Some people say cheese is constipating. Cheese must be refrigerated and molds in time. Some cheese companies age cheese for years, which seems to work for them but not for me in my refrigerator. People with dairy allergies probably stay away from cheese, as do vegans who eat no animal products. Processed cheese is among the not-for-us trans fats, although it thrived until someone discovered that trans fats are bad for people. Think of Velveeta and all those grilled cheese sandwiches.

Did I mention saturated fat and cholesterol? That brings us to cheese controversy. Dairy products have saturated fats. For more than half a century the medical people said that saturated fat causes heart disease, especially in full fat dairy products. Skim milk was in; butter was out. Now this view has changed. The medical website, www.mercola.com, says:
“People who eat full-fat dairy may have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity than those who eat low-fat dairy. When you replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates, you exacerbate insulin resistance and obesity. There is no conclusive proof that a low-fat diet has any positive effects on health.” (mercola.com, Nov. 18, 2015.) Other doctors agree with this, such as Dr. Mark Hyman, who is promoting his latest book, Eat Fat Get Thin. So let’s all enjoy the fat but in moderation.

Another issue is whether to eat raw or pasteurized cheese. Some stores sell raw milk cheese, but raw milk is mostly unavailable. Pasteurization removes or reduces some nutrients that occur naturally in milk.  In addition, the diet of the cow gets mentioned because it affects her milk; grass fed is believed to be best.

I eat mostly cheddar and Swiss cheese, and cream cheese occasionally. Low fat cheese is an oxymoron.

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