An Ode to Cheese
How do I love cheese? Let me count the ways.
I love cheese to the depth and breadth and height
My taste buds can reach, when savoring with delight
For the sake of flavor and ideal taste.
I love cheese to the level of everyday’s
Most gastronomic need, by sun and candle-light.
I love cheese freely, as we strive for eating right…
I hope the late Elizabeth Barrett Browning will pardon me for my very cheesy rendition of her lovely poem. Bear with me: I have my reasons…
Cheese has recently been maligned in the media. Last month, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Detroit News and the Today Show (just to name a few) portrayed cheese in an unflattering light. In fact, the sentiment expressed by the misinformed was, “Eat cheese and die,” (my translation)—blaming cheese for the nation’s high rates of heart disease and obesity.
As a registered dietitian, I feel it’s my responsibility to clear cheese’s character. I love cheese. How do I love cheese? Let me count the ways (I’ll get to the chronic disease charges in a moment):
1. Cheese is downright delicious. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t melt when eating cheese—nearly everyone loves at least one type of cheese. My faves are Camembert (on water crackers topped with raspberries or a thin slice of canteloupe), Blue (in a mixed green salad with salmon, walnuts, strawberries and roasted red peppers), Parmesan or Romano (freshly grated over pasta with prosciutto and pine nuts)…there are many more but I’m drooling, so I need to stop here. (For more about cheese, including recipes, visit ilovecheese.com)
2. Cheese is beautiful to behold. Cheese is art: the shapes; the textures; the colors. A simple cheese tray is a masterpiece that can function as an appetizer or dessert and multitask as the centerpiece. Choose 3-5 types of cheese (that vary in flavor and texture, but compliment each other such as Camembert, Roquefort and Asiago) and serve with fruits, nuts and crusty bread.
3. Cheese is engaging. There are over 350 varieties of American-made cheese from which to choose. For the adventurous, the cheese-tasting options are virtually endless. For history buffs, cheese has an intriguing “back story”. For foodies, discovering local artisanal cheeses, trying different cheese pairings, making gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, or learning how to make mozzarella or ricotta cheese at home are captivating pursuits.
4. Cheese is versatile and accommodating. In and of itself, it’s an appetizer, snack or dessert. As an ingredient, cheese livens up appetizers, snacks, desserts, main dishes and side dishes. It can be melted, spread, sliced, shredded, diced or grated. A couple ideas: Cut cheese in shapes with a cookie cutter for fun open-faced sandwiches; thread cheese cubes and fruit slices (apples, strawberries, kiwi and/or grapes) on a skewer for an appetizer or snack that’s almost too pretty to eat. Nothing adds flavor and dresses up recipes like cheese.
5. Cheese is portable. If you buy single-serve slices, cubes or sticks, or if you cut your own, cheese is a super-convenient and healthful addition to lunch boxes or to coolers for after-game snacks, picnics or road trips.
6. Cheese is nutrient-rich. Many cheeses are excellent natural sources of calcium and good sources of high-quality protein and phosphorus—nutrients that are particularly important to bone health. Depending on the variety, cheese may also contain zinc, and vitamins A and B12.
7. Cheese has health benefits. Several of the nutrients in cheese are particularly important to help build and maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Several varieties of cheese (Cheddar, Gouda, blue, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Swiss, process) have been shown to reduce the development and progression of dental caries (cavities). Cheese, in moderation, can be a part of a heart healthy diet. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) meal plan includes low-fat cheese. More: “The Role of Cheese in a Healthful Diet” Dairy Council Digest (research review).
8. Kids love cheese. Most children don’t consume the recommended servings of the “Food Groups to Encourage” (low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains). When offered as a part of school meals or snacks, cheese can help children get their recommended servings of dairy foods. Also, adding cheese to fruit, vegetables and whole grains may increase children’s intake of these foods. More: SchoolNutrition.org
9. Most cheeses are low in lactose. Most cheeses, especially aged cheeses (Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan) are very low in lactose. Cheese can usually be enjoyed by those with lactose intolerance.
10. Cheese is the perfect party food. There’s no better excuse for a party than cheese tasting! It’s easy, fun and you’re doing your guests a favor by sharing nutrient-rich nibbles. Here’s a cheese party how-to guide and more cheese entertaining ideas.
The Truth about Cheese in Your Diet
- Cheese is a nutrient-rich food that contains calcium, protein, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamins A and B12.
- Cheese, in moderation—even small amounts of regular cheese—can be part of a healthful diet. Recent research reviews of dairy foods and cardiovascular disease conclude that there is little evidence that cheese contributes to heart disease risk.
- The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that intake of dairy foods should not be avoided because of concerns that these food lead to weight gain.
- Although cheese in general ranks first as a source of saturated fat in the U.S. diet, cheese also contains potentially beneficial type of fat such as lipids, conjugated linoleic acid, and sphingolipids.
So, tell me: What’s your favorite cheese or cheesy recipe?