The Pleasure of Choosing a Delicious Cheese

Creamy, firm, rich or delicate, little else says pleasure like a good piece of well-made cheese. Paired with ripe fruit, crusty bread or a delicious wine, cheese makes for anything from a perfect time out to a complete meal.

With an infinite variety spanning every place on the globe, the world of cheeses is as diverse as the countries which produce them. Yet, narrowing the focus to Europe and further to the Mediterranean, a history of cheese and culture permeates the diet of locals and those fortunate enough to visit and enjoy. In fact, cheese is a staple of the Mediterranean Diet. Italy produces hundreds of unique cheeses and from these cheeses spawn regional versions, and on and on it goes until one doesn't know which cream colored wedge to try next. Some of the country's best known cheeses are: Provolone, Asiago, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gorgonzola, Pecorino Toscano, Taleggio and Mozzarella di Bufala. Shops and markets abound with these cheeses and many others, and many Italians know that a few extra minutes spent on selecting the perfect cheese can make for a meal that is beyond just good.

Read along to follow a few short tips on choosing your next great piece of cheese.

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Start off by giving a closer look at the label or, if possible, asking the producer directly for a bit of information regarding how the cheese was made. Consider if it is the product of pasteurized or raw milk, since the former creates a product that presents without a few of its natural characteristics. Remember that cheese made from raw milk will generally have higher nutritional value and present aromas of freshly cut grass. This is especially true for those cheeses made from milk from animals which have been allowed to graze freely in pastures and fields. If it's possible to get to know the area where these animals graze keep in mind that milk which comes from animals foraging in lowland fields can be quite different from that of animals bred high on hills and mountains due to the difference in vegetation. These factors are subjective and it's important to know what an individual prefers.

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Another important factor when exploring the world of cheeses is its aspect. Giving a good look at the appearance and form of the cheese can help in making a better selection. For example, tiny molds and irregularities in the cheese are typical of handmade products created without the addition of preservatives. Though perfect visually, some commercialized cheeses are actually altered to result in this perfection. One such example is cheeses which contain saffron, an ingredient used to give the appearance of a cheese made with milk from animals grazing in certain types of open pastures that contribute to a cheese that is creamy and yellow.

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After having given a good look at the cheese, it's time to consider its smell and flavor. If a cheese can give a sense of its distinct personality through smells and flavors, then it's probably worth bringing some home. Overall, when it comes to cheeses, the different grazing habits of the animals and the techniques used to make the cheese can have a significant effect on the quality and taste of the product. Finally, if the opportunity presents, taste a small bit of the cheese. Make sure that the piece isn't cold but is at room temperature, if necessary warm it slightly in your hand before tasting, because this allows for the cheese to release all of its aromas and flavors.

Most of all, remember to keep exploring the world of cheeses.

Liana Bicchieri