While the rest of the world focuses on the chocolates, heart shaped candies and lobster tails, why not take the alternative route and focus on the most prominent of Valentine’s characteristics: its cheesiness. And if one was to take that literally, that would mean talking about cheese, the greatest dairy product in the galaxy.
There are over 900 types of this milk based product, which vary based on fat content, the origin of the milk and other various factors. But how does milk turn into cheesy goodness, you ask? First, milk is heated. This milk can come from any mammal that you can imagine: cows, sheep, goats, water buffalo, camels, yaks, reindeer, horses, what have you (because who doesn’t want reindeer cheese).
Then, to make the milk into a solid that can eventually blossom into a cheese, it must be curdled to separate the solids (fat and protein) from the liquid (whey and water) that make up the milk.
To do this, either an acid like vinegar or lemon juice or an enzyme that occurs naturally in the stomachs of cud-chewing mammals called rennet is added. Once the curds form, the next steps vary depending on what type of cheese is being made. Typically, the whey is drained, the cheese is salted, and then aged in a specific temperature and humidity.
Such a prominent food is cheese in American culture that there is an American Cheese Society, comprised of a network of cheesemakers who promote American cheese, cheese making education, sustainability and networking, complete with an annual conference. You too can become a member of the American Cheese Society, with different levels of membership available for cheese lovers everywhere.
If you don’t do anything else with your life, do yourself a favor and visit this website. It offers all sorts of delightful activities: under the “I ❤ cheese” tab, click on “just for fun” to take the “cheese or font” quiz where a word is shown, like ‘blarney’, and you must choose whether it’s the name of a cheese or the name of a font (it’s a cheese fyi). There are also cheesy quotes and a ‘cheese in your pocket’ app.
The types of cheeses are so vast that to list them all would take too much of our precious time that could be better spent actually eating cheese. Of course there are the common types like cheddar (which is orange because of a natural dye called annatto), mozzarella (whose most authentic form is made of water buffalo milk and eaten within hours of its creation) and swiss (whose holes come from bacteria that leave little air bubbles that create holes as the cheese is aging), but there are countless other types that deserve a little spotlight.
Mascarpone is the Italian version of cream cheese; lighter, creamier and slightly sweet, this delicious alternative is most commonly found in tiramisu, an Italian dessert which consists of layers of sweetened mascarpone and coffee soaked ladyfingers.
Burrata is the fancier version of mozzarella, and is a like a little Easter egg: the outer shell of this cheese is solid mozzarella, while the inside is a combination of more mozzarella and cream, making it soft and buttery and amazing.
On the Swiss side of things, there’s gruyere. This hard yellow cheese named after a town in Switzerland is slightly salty and sweet and is used in quiche, fondue, hot sandwiches and on top of French onion soup.
Mexican cheeses ranging from cotija to queso blanco to Oaxaca are all white or very pale in color, able to be crumbled on top of things like tacos and are flavored simply with a little salt.
There’s also parmigiano-reggiano, (or parmesan as it’s known to most people in the United States, whose true form is much more than the powdered stuff in the green cylindrical container). The country of Italy takes this cheese so seriously that under Italian law, a cheese cannot be called “Parmigiano-Reggiano” unless the cheese in question was produced in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena or Montova Italy. This hard cheese is sharp, fruity and nutty tasting and is commonly grated over pasta or stirred into soup or risotto (a rice dish).
Parmesan rinds can even be turned into a broth which can be used for soups and such. Cheese broth may sound strange, but is actually a very lovely combination of aromatics (onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, parsley, pepper, etc.) and the saltiness of parmesan that would make any soup a winner.
It can be stirred into mac and cheese, melted into fondue, grilled in a sandwich, used as a topping for pasta, soup or salad, baked into a cheesecake or just eaten by itself: geez cheese is versatile! So this Valentine’s Day, celebrate all the cheesiness with a big ol’ plate of cheese.