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The Cheesy Truth

I’m not sure where my love affair with cheese started, but I have discovered that I am definitely not the only one loving on cheese. I am often asked what cheese is the best, or whether cheese is allowed if you are on a weight loss programme, and I would like to resort to a quote I recently read: “there are no fattening foods, only fattening behaviour”. In other words, cheese in itself is not the enemy; it’s the way we incorporate it into our diet.

The history of cheese is about as interesting as the history of sushi – although a little less certain, all good food seems to have originated accidentally (what a life lesson, and encouragement for struggling cooks).

Back in the day, travellers used to store milk in containers made from the stomachs of animals (sounds delicious)! The stomach lining contains rennin, an enzyme which assists in the process of milk curdling, and it was found that after travelling long distances in the sun, the milk had separated and you were left with the beginnings of cheese. This was thought to have been thousands of years ago, as cheese went as far back as the Egyptians. By the time the Roman Empire was in power, hundreds of different types of cheese were being produced and traded.

Modern day cheese is made of four basic ingredients: milk, salt (also serves as a preservative), a starter culture (bacteria) and rennet, an enzyme. It is a food high in protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A and Zinc - and therefore provides some important nutrients. It is, however, also high in fat, and an energy dense food item, which is why portion control is so important.

In general, no one cheese is superior to another, as it depends on what the end goal is – lower salt, lower fat or lower preservatives. I would recommend avoiding highly processed cheeses, often packaged as separate slices or as cheese spreads. Using cheeses with more flavour is a great way to include cheese as part of a dish without having to eat the entire block. Highly flavoured cheeses are only needed in small amounts, and a good way to see it is that cheese in salads and pastas should be used as garnish as opposed to it being one of the main ingredients (a small amount on top).

One portion of cheese is the equivalent of about 30g or a matchbox size - cut the amount of cheese that you need beforehand, and then grate it (so that it appears more). If you are using cheese such as cream cheese, a serving is the equivalent of about 1 tablespoon.

If you are worried about the salt in cheese, a general rule of thumb is that those cheeses that are harder and aged longer require more salt, while softer, less aged cheese require less salt. In general swiss, ricotta, or parmesan cheeses are lower in sodium, while you can look out for lower sodium versions of mozarella and cheddar.

Lower fat options of cottage, cheddar, swiss, parmesan and ricotta are available, but in general mozzarella is naturally a lower fat cheese.

Swiss, brie and cheddar are low in lactose for those of you with lactose intolerance.

If goat’s cheese is your flavour – it is lower in lactose, and on par with mozzarella cheese in terms of calorie, fat and sodium content.

And just as a last thought (I had to) – beware of cheese with wine, it’s a double dose of calories and the wine might negatively affect your self-control if you are hoping to shed a few kilos before summer.

Other than that, enjoy! (

Information obtained from the U.S. National Dairy Council) THE CHEESECLYCOPEDIA (Wisconsin Cheese)

Blue cheese Cheese that develops harmless, flavour-producing blue and green mould. Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Danish blue
Hard cheese Well-aged, easily grated and used in cooking. Parmesan
Processed Blends of cheeses, often with added salt and no long ripening periods. These have long shelf lives. Processed cheese spreads, cheese strips
Semi-Hard Cheese classified according to its texture. Cheddar, Gouda, Edam
Semi-soft Made with whole milk and melt well when cooked. Muenster, fontina
Soft These have a high moisture content. Cottage cheese, cream cheese, feta, mascarpone, ricotta
Soft-ripened Cheese classified according to texture. Brie, camembert
Pasta Filata Stretches when melted, great for melting. Mozzarella, Provolone
(Wisconsin Cheese: Cheesecyclopedia)