Say Cheese Please !!

                  There are hundreds of different types of cheese.

So many choices and so little time. Raw, skimmed or pasteurized milk, cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, horse or camel milk. Around 4000 years ago people began breeding animals and processing their milk. That's when cheese was born. On the one hand, cheese contains good amounts of zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and phosphorus. On the other hand, it's often high in fat calories, and salt. When you choose the right type and eat it in moderation, cheese can easily fit into a healthy diet. First a little history.

 Cheese is an ancient food whose origins, predate recorded history, according to Wikipedia. There is no conclusive evidence indicating where cheese making originated, either in Europe, Central Asia or the Middle East, but there is convincing evidence of dairying in Egypt and Sumer, in 3100 BCE. Cheese-making had spread within Europe by the time the Roman Empire came into being, when valued cheeses were exported long distances to satisfy elite Roman tastes. Many cheeses today were first recorded in the late Middle Ages or after. Cheeses like Cheddar around 1500 CE, Parmesan in 1597, Gouda in 1697, and Camembert in 1791.

Consuming cheese in small amounts, on a daily basis is recommended for calcium in most healthy diets. So, cheese need not be a taboo for weight watchers, not if you exercises regularly. Then you need not worry about calories from cheese. Cheese contains a lot of sodium, which may not good for hypertensive people. Unless it is natural salts. The label of the cheese will tell you how much sodium the cheese contains and what type it is. Cheese is not only high in calcium content, but is also one of the best sources of calcium. Calcium is an important mineral, required for the body, as it along with other minerals like phosphorus strengthens our bones and teeth. It also regulates our muscle contractions, assists blood clotting, regulates hormones and helps maintain regular blood pressure. An adult (18-50) requires around 900 mg of calcium every day, while people beyond 50 require 1200 mg of calcium every day. Besides being rich in calcium, cheese is also high in protein. It is also easily digestible, thereby not putting too much strain on the digestive system. Cottage cheese or goat cheese are less fattier than the other types of cheese. Cottage cheese in particular has a higher content of protein casein, which promotes muscle tissue growth and repair. As cheese ages, the lactose sugar in the cheese gradually transforms into lactic acid. Lactose intolerant people are unable to digest the lactose because of the absence of enzyme lactase, however, lactic acid causes no distress to such people. As the cheese ages, the less lactose it contains and the less trouble it will cause. My only reason to take it easy on the cheese would be because of the excessive antibiotics and hormones used on cows in the dairy industry. Seek out cheeses from grass fed cattle raised with no hormones or antibiotics, for your healthiest choices. Here are some guidelines for finding a healthy cheese:
Low-Fat Cheeses: While typical natural cheeses like cheddar are about 30% to 40% fat, cheese from skim or partly skim milk have fat contents between 7% to 15%. Harder cheeses usually contain more fat than soft cheeses, but you can cut back on your fat intake by choosing brands labeled "low fat" or "fat free." For soft cheeses, look for cheeses made from skim or part-skim milk. Natural cheese may have a higher fat content than processed ones, but even so, you're better off with natural cheeses, which contain more nutrients and fewer additives than processed cheeses.

Low-sodium cheeses: The salt content of cheese tends to be high, Parmigiano Reggiano is naturally lower in sodium. Also, soft cheeses are usually lower in salt. In general, try to avoid cheeses with more than 400 mg of sodium per serving.

Low-lactose cheeses: If the lactose in milk products doesn't sit well with you, there still may be cheeses you can eat. Cheese from sheep's or goat's milk, such as feta, is naturally lower in lactose. Choosing aged cheeses, like cheddar, gruyere, Parmigiano Reggiano is another option. As cheese ages, the lactose transforms into lactic acid, which doesn't adversely affect those who are lactose intolerant. Another benefit of aged cheese is that it's often higher in calcium. 

Cheeses contain living organisms that must not be cut off from air. Do not store cheese with other strong-smelling foods. A cheese breathes, and it will absorb other aromas and may spoil. Wrap soft cheeses loosely. Use waxed paper rather than cling film. Let cold cheese warm up for about half an hour before eating to allow the flavor and aroma to develop. Cold cheese has no aroma or flavor. It's like eating a piece of plastic. Unpasteurized cheese with a range of flavors should not be sliced until purchase, otherwise it will start to lose its aroma. Wrap blue cheeses all over as mold spores spread fast, to everything in your refrigerator!                                                                                                         
Match The Cheese and Wine:
Cheese and wine, with their centuries-old traditions, are frequently consumed together. As a rule, the whiter and fresher the cheese the crisper and fruitier the wine should be. The great advantage of this combination is that cheese and wine are both foods that can be enjoyed in their "raw" state, with little or no preparation, making them an ideal choice for quick healthy snacks. Wine for it's anit-oxidents and cheese for its protein. There are no hard and strict rules about which wine should be selected to accompany a particular cheese as the best selections are almost always based on individual tastes. However, Here's a few tip's

    • A smooth, fatty cheese may go very well with a similarly smooth, slightly oily wine.
    • Sweet wine contrasts very well with a cheese with high acidity.
    • White wines go better with many cheeses than reds.
    • Not all red wines match with cheese. (the fruity, light red's are ok)
    • Dry, fresh red wines are ideally suited to soft cheeses, especially goat ones.
    • A wine with good acidity may be complemented by very salted cheeses.
    • Dry champagnes are good with hard cheeses.
    • Cheeses can be matched with beer. ( My favorite is smoked Gouda)
Now here's my favorites of some of the healthiest cheeses on the market:

Parmigiano Reggiano
Slightly fruity, this granular moist cheese is one of the healthiest cheeses you can eat. It's made from half naturally skim milk, so it's lower in fat than many natural cheeses. The best Parmigiano Reggiano is aged for at least 3 years, giving it another advantage. Because this cheese grates easily, it makes the perfect topping for soups, salads, eggs as well as pasta dishes. Be careful when you shop for it, though. In the U.S., the French word parmesan is used for all cheeses similar to Parmigiano Reggiano. True Parmigiano Reggiano bears the Italian Consorzio markings.

Italian ricotta is naturally low in fat (around 5% fat) because it's made from whey, rather than whole milk. Good ricotta should be firm and moist, with a slightly grainy texture. Its delicately sweet flavor and light texture are what make it the classic filling for rich Italian desserts like cheesecake and cannolis. Ricotta also makes a great spread for bagels or crackers or as a topping for fresh fruit.

Cottage Cheese
There's a good reason cottage cheese is so popular with dieters and body builders. Cottage cheese is low fat, yet contains a large amount of casein protein for muscle-building. With its lightly sweet flavor, cottage cheese is good paired with fresh organic fruits. If you really want to cut back the fat, use cottage cheese to replace ricotta cheese. Cottage cheese tends to be rather high in sodium, but there are reduced sodium varieties available, too.

Greece's most famous cheese is also one of the healthier ones around. Soft, pure white feta is made from ewe's and goat's milk, so it's unlikely to bother the lactose-sensitive. Because it crumbles easily, it works well in salads, wraps, and gyros. If you've tried feta, but found it to be unpleasantly salty, it's probably because you got a poor quality cheese. In good feta, the salt should never overwhelm the mild pungency of the cheese itself. If you do end up with salty feta, soak it in cold water or milk for a few minutes and drain in a colander to cut down the salt content.
This creamy Dutch cheese made from cow's milk is known by its yellow color and sweet, nutty flavor. Whole milk Gouda is fairly high in fat, some Goudas are made from partly skim milk, reducing the fat content. Standard Gouda is also lower in fat than cream Gouda and Goudas are aged for over a year have a lower lactose content. They go great with Oktoberfest beer.

Wow, wine and cheese I'm hungry ! So what we know now is you don't have to give up cheese just because you're trying to eat a low calorie diet. Just don't eat a lot of it and sit on your butt, or you'll be sitting on a lot of butt! You can eat cheese often but in moderation even with the healthy cheeses. Here is the USDA link for the nutritional comparison of common cheeses http://www.cnn.com/FOOD/resources/food.for.thought/dairy/compare.cheese.html if you like to look at the numbers. Good Luck...

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