How to choose the right cheese for your needs

One of our most versatile and popular foods, cheese is used for everything from snacks and appetizers to main courses and desserts. It's an ancient food that can be made from the milk of almost any animal — cows, sheep, goats, yaks, camels and buffaloes. Here are some tips on choosing the right cheese.

How to choose the right cheese for your needs

Most cheeses are made by adding a mixture of enzymes, known as rennet, to milk to curdle it.

  • The main enzyme in rennet, which traditionally has been isolated from the stomach lining of calves, is chymosin.
  • Today, it can also be produced by inserting the gene responsible into bacteria. This allows for a more ready production of chymosin and can also cater to consumers who do not favour the idea of an animal extract in their cheese.
  • The liquid that remains after the curds have formed is known as whey.

When whey is drained away, we are left with cottage or farmer's cheese. Or the curds may be mixed with other ingredients, injected with special molds or bacteria, soaked in wine or beer, pressed or molded, or smoked or aged to make any of hundreds of different cheeses.

Cheese and calories

On average, it takes about 3.8 litres (four quarts) of milk to make 450 grams (one pound) of cheddar, Muenster, Swiss or other firm cheese.

  • A typical 30 gram (one ounce) serving of cheese contains 115 calories, about 200 milligrams of calcium, and nine grams of fat.
  • Cottage cheese has the fewest calories — about 90 in a 125 millilitre (1/2 cup) serving, but it has only half the calcium of milk.
  • Cream cheese, Brie and other soft cheeses are comparable to hard cheeses in calories and fat, but have less calcium.

Low-fat cheeses

Fat gives cheese its rich texture and delicious taste, but it also adds calories and cholesterol.

  • About 70 to 80 percent of the calories in cheese comes from fat.
  • Even reduced-fat or part-skim milk cheeses can be high in fat; more than 50 percent of the calories in part-skim milk mozzarella come from fat.
  • Historically, low-fat cheeses often lacked flavour, and tended to be high in salt to improve flavour.
  • Cholesterol-free imitation cheeses are often made of soy or tofu; they still can be high in fat and sodium.
  • Fresh cheeses made from skim milk — for example, nonfat ricotta and cottage cheese — are low in fat and calories.
  • Whipped or blended versions of these cheeses can be substituted for regular cream cheese, which is 90 percent fat.
  • Nonfat yogurt, strained through cheesecloth, is another possible alternative.

Cheese: dentists' secret weapon

Studies have shown that cheese can help you take a bite out of tooth decay.

  • The fat naturally contained in cheese coats your teeth and acts as a natural barrier against bacteria.
  • Also, all cheese contains casein, which provides a natural tooth protectant.
  • The calcium and phosphorus found in cheese help restore minerals to tooth enamel. 

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