I AM PREGNANT; WHAT CHEESES ARE SUITABLE FOR ME?
First, let us say congratulations.
The best advice we can give you on what cheese is suitable for you during your pregnancy is to consult with your health care professional.
We however recommend only hard pasteurised cheeses produced without moulds growing either in the pate (i.e. no blue cheeses) or on the pate (i.e. bloomy or washed rind cheeses). Most of the bacteria that are dangerous to pregnant women are carried in contaminated water. And even pasteurised cheeses can carry bacteria such as Listeria.
It is for this reason that we feel consistency – hardness or softness of the pate – should in some ways overshadow the state of pasteurisation, and to strictly avoid soft cheeses as a rule. The exception to this is if you are cooking the cheese (e.g. Raclette). Pasteurisation occurs at 72ºC, so if you heat any cheese beyond that temperature, you are, in effect, self-pasteurising
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO KEEP MY CHEESE?
Cheese should be stored in the refrigerator. If your fridge has a humidity controlled drawer that is the ideal place. For harder cheeses – such as Cheddar, Gruyère, or Parmesan – place your cheese in an air tight container with a few cubes of sugar. The sugar helps to regulate the moisture, and can extend your cheese’s life up to two months.
HOW SHOULD I EAT MY CHEESE?
We recommend that you take your cheeses out of the fridge 30 minutes before eating. This will allow them to warm up to room temperature and let their full flavours emerge.
If you have purchased a full cheese board (that is a goat, a soft/bloomy, a hard, a washed and a blue cheese) and would like to replicate how we do it in the shop, try them in ascending order of strength, starting usually with the goat’s cheese and finishing with the blue. This will ensure that your milder cheeses are never overshadowed by the bolder more intense flavoured cheeses.
I AM A VEGETARIAN; WHAT CHEESES ARE SUITABLE FOR ME?
Cheeses with vegetarian rennet. Rennet is an enzyme, and is in all but a few cheeses; it acts as the coagulant that separates curds from whey, and is vital in the production of most cheese.
Vegetarian rennet cheeses fall into two camps: those made with rennet extracted in a lab from bacterial or fungal sources and those made with a natural coagulant derived from the flowers of the Cardoon plant – a wild thistle.
I’M LACTOSE INTOLERANT; WHAT CHEESES CAN I EAT?
Lactose is a sugar that is found only in milk. It is water soluble, and over 90% is lost in the whey. The remaining lactose provides food for the bacteria that produce fermentation. During fermentation, lactose is converted into lactic acid, which is essential for the preservation of the curd. When all the sugars have been broken down into lactic acid, there is nothing left for unwanted bacteria to feed upon, and the remaining curd stabilises.
Contrary to popular belief, hard cooked cheeses contain little-to-no lactose, as most of it is drained off with the whey. People with lactose intolerance should avoid Ricotta, which is made from whey, as well as fresh cheeses where the whey is only partially drained (Mozzarella and Feta).
Cheddars aged over six months will be fine. Aged hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano is a perfect cheese for the lactose intolerant as its age is two-years plus. Aged cheeses like Comté d’Estive or other hard cheeses aged at least six months are fine.
Finally, the sort of starter used can affect the way you react. Finding cheeses that have had a starter made from the previous day’s milk – as opposed to a manufactured one – are much better, as it is a more natural path for the cheese making to follow. A farmhouse-made cheese has a much slower and less invasive production process, with less salt used as an additive and preservative.
I’M HOSTING A DINNER PARTY; HOW MUCH CHEESE SHOULD I BUY?
Obviously a number of factors determine the amount of cheese you should purchase – are you eating only cheese? Will the cheeses be served after multiple courses? Is everyone eating cheese? – however for a cheese board comprised of five cheeses we usually recommend between thirty and fifty grams per cheese per person. If you are after just one cheese, the weight goes up to between 100 and 200 grams per person. The golden number for Raclette and fondue is between 200 and 300 grams per person.
However like most things cheese related, these are all approximate numbers, and it is perhaps best to discuss in situ with your cheesemonger. We here at Hilary’s like the phrase ‘little and often.’ It is not in our best interest to sell you too much, as the leftover cheese will fade in quality, and we would rather you eat everything in its best condition. Domestic fridges tend to dehydrate, and cool cellars – where cheese is best stored – are less and less common. In the event that you have leftover cheese, please do not hesitate to contact us and inquire on ideas. We spend a good portion of our days discussing cooking amongst ourselves, and we are delighted to make suggestions.
SHOULD I EVER FREEZE MY CHEESE?
No. However if you are left with a great deal of a hard cheese (such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Gruyère) and wish to save it for cooking, first grate the cheese and then place it in a sealed plastic bag, removing as much air as possible before freezing.
CAN I EAT THE RIND?
Ask. But usually the answer is yes. Obviously we do not recommend gnawing the wax rind of a Gouda, but most rinds are edible. Even the hard ones. Especially the goat ones. It becomes tricky (and this is why you should ask ) with cheeses like the Lincolnshire Poacher Double Barrel, which has been coated in a material called ‘plasticote,’ inconspicuously sealing the cheese in the Dutch style. More than anything it is a personal choice. Many of us at Hilary’s nibble on a bit of the rind to understand the subtler flavours of the pate. One can often taste hints of the cellars and maturing rooms in which the cheeses have been aged.