If your cheese eating has been limited to your supermarket's dairy case, you're missing out on some delicious varieties. Expand your horizons with these buying tips.
Step 1: Go to a cheese shop Make your selections in a cheese shop or specialty foods store. Besides offering a wider selection, the staff will be more knowledgeable and will likely offer samples. If you have access to a farmer's market, check out locally produced cheeses.
TIP: Cheeses that are handmade by small companies or farms, often in limited batches, are called artisanal cheeses.
Step 2: Ask for suggestions Let the cheesemonger know the kind of taste and texture you like. Do you prefer a mild, medium, or strong flavor? Do you want something creamy, crumbly, semi-hard, or hard? Can you handle stinky?
Step 3: Plan a cheese plate If you're planning a cheese platter for several people, include at least one aged cheese; a blue one; a soft cheese; and a hard one.
Step 4: Put together a cheese course Put together a post-entree cheese course featuring 5 or 6 cheeses with different flavors, textures, colors, and rinds. Be sure to include a blue cheese. Let them come to room temperature before serving.
TIP: Try arranging them like a clock face: Put the mildest cheese at one o'clock and progress clockwise to the sharpest.
Step 5: Consider its purpose Choose how you're going to use the cheese. The best melting cheeses include mozzarella, cheddar, Jack, and brie. If you need a cheese to grate over soup, salad, or pasta, choose a hard, aged cheese like Pecorino Romano, Asiago, or Parmigiano-Reggiano. Strong, crumbly cheeses like feta, blue, or goat cheese are great on salads, even fruit ones.
Step 6: Don't stock up To ensure the best flavor, buy cheese as close as possible to when you're going to eat it, don't cut or grate it in advance, and try not to buy more than you can consume in a week. The exception is a hard, aged cheese, which can stay good for up to a month.
FACT: Cheese judges spit out the cheeses they taste, just like wine tasters do.