Say ‘Cheese’ and you have to smile. Or else the photographs won’t come out well. But cheese on the plate also makes you happy and elicits smiles. Whether is it Macaroni and Cheese or Broccoli and Cheese or Wine and Cheese — cheese tastes good in every form. While we are aware of our very own Indian Paneer (Cottage Cheese) and popular dishes made with it like Paneer Butter Masala, Palak Paneer, Paneer Tikka and so on, we may not know the other varieties. City chefs Sarika Kamble, executive chef, Crowne Plaza Pune City Centre, Bund Garden Road, and Sangram Uday Sawant, sous chef, Courtyard by Marriott Pune, Hinjewadi, break it down for us.
Each dish requires a specific kind of cheese for a perfect taste.
According to Sawant, cheese is an excellent source of non-meat protein which adds flavour, richness and consistency to food.
When asked about the most popular varieties of cheese used in cooking, both Sawant and Kamble mention that Parmesan (a hard, granular cheese), Emmenthal (a yellow, medium-hard Swiss cheese which has a mild savoury taste), Cheddar (a relatively hard, off-white, sometimes sharp-tasting, natural cheese), Bocconcini (small Mozzarella cheese which is white, semi-soft, unripened mild, and rindless), Feta (a brined curd white cheese made from sheep/ a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk), Mozzarella (a traditionally Southern Italian Cheese), Raclette (a semi-hard cow’s milk Swiss cheese), Brie (a soft cow’s milk cheese named after Brie in France) and Philadelphia (a soft, mild-tasting fresh cheese made from milk and cream) are some of the most popular variants.
Sawant, who explains that cheese is categorised by texture, milk source and country of origin, says, “Every cheese has a texture that defines it. This texture refers to the degree of hardness, how much moisture remains in the cheese when it is ready to eat. The method of manufacturing the cheese and the length of time it is aged determine the texture and degree of firmness.”
Kamble adds, “Cheeses are classified depending on their firmness and the moisture content. Classification is based on hard, soft, semi-hard, semi-soft cheese, and cream cheese and blue vein cheese.”
In Indian Cooking
While we love cheese in pasta, pizza, cake, tarts and so on, not all varieties of cheese can be used in Indian cooking. “Cheese is mainly used to flavour the food and to improve the taste. With regards to Indian cooking, Cottage Cheese (paneer) is mainly used since it is bland in taste and can go well with every spice and flavour. However, in continental cooking, each variety of cheese is used for a specific reason. For instance, Mozzarella is used in pizza due to its stringy consistency. Light and airy fillings made from Mascarpone Cheese is used in Tiramisu. Feta, a crumbly textured cheese with a sharp, salty taste, is used in Greek Salad,” informs Sawant.
Kamble explains that while cheese is mostly used in pizzas and bakes, the Indian way of using cheese is to make dishes like sandwiches, poppers, burgers and pastas with an Indian twist.
Do's and Don'ts
You can use cheese in whatever way you want and add to any dish to make it more flavoursome, but there are a few things that you must remember while working with cheese. Temperature control, constant stirring and using the right quantity are some of the precautions that you must take.
Kamble advises, “Grate cheese when it is cold and never cook cheese at a very high temperature as it tends to get dry. Cook cheese at the recommended serving temperature, which varies according to type. When using cheese in pasta or risotto, toss the cheese in only at the end.”
Make at home
Cheese is a versatile ingredient. But can we create one at home? Says Sawant, “Each and every cheese has its own unique taste, but can be modified in a simple way by addition of different flavours. For example, Cottage Cheese can be marinated in tandoori marinade and pan-fried to have some nice Tawa Tandoori Paneer. Similarly, for Brie Cheese, you can make small balls and roll them in roasted sesame seeds or cajun spice or dust them with sweet paprika, and can serve them as a good accompaniment for wines. Varieties of herbs can also be used in flavouring cheese such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.”
Kamble believes that there are many simple tips that can be followed to make a cheese variety of your choice at home. “Heat and curdle unpasteurised milk by adding white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. It will instantly split and curdle and a yellowish liquid called whey will form. As soon as they separate, stain the curd in a strainer, and wash thoroughly. Remove in a muslin cloth and squeeze out the excess water. Now you can add any flavour to the cheese — sea salt, herbs, spices, etc. Tie the cheese in the preferred shape in the cloth and rest in fridge for a minimum of 2-3 hours,” she concludes.