Essential Ingredient: Cheese

Learn about our go-to varieties of this multifaceted, much-loved staple.

Essential Ingredient: Cheese
Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Cindy Barr

No matter how tasty a dish may be, it's almost always better with cheese-whether it's a tangy feta on a green salad, salty Parmesan with juicy fruit, melted fontina on pizza, or pungent blue cheese with figs.

Cheese's allure stems from its texture and flavor. The consistency can be buttery-think goat cheese, fontina, or Gorgonzola-to hard and grainy, as in fine Parmesan cheese or other aged cheeses. You'll notice these textural differences when enjoying cheese on its own, but the same qualities can also enhance a recipe by adding contrast, as in creamy goat cheese with crisp asparagus, or by smoothing out and binding other ingredients once melted, as in our Bacon-Cheddar Corn Muffins.

There are hundreds of specific cheese varieties, ranging in flavor from sweet and nutty to bitter and acidic, so we focus here on the ones we turn to most often. Because cheese is naturally high in fat (particularly saturated fat), it's important to use it wisely. We frequently use certain cheeses because they deliver big flavor in small doses, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, sharp or extrasharp cheddar, goat, feta, Gruyère, blue, and smoked cheeses. We also use more subtly flavored cheeses such as Brie or fontina when their superior melting qualities benefit the dish. The following tips and recipes will show you how to use these different cheeses to success, to both enhance the recipes in which they're used and to allow the cheese the spotlight as an ingredient.

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