Why It's A-OK to Eat Cheese This Season
How to Make the Most of Every Bite
Cheese's complexity and intensity, along with its ability to stretch, crumble, melt, and slice thin, makes it a secret weapon in a healthy cook's kitchen. Though it can be a concentrated source of sodium and saturated fat, cheese is also nutrient-dense, flavor-packed, and satiating: A little goes a long way. Use it to elevate the flavor of good-for-you foods like vegetables, greens, lean proteins, and whole grains.
How and When to Use Lower-Fat Cheeses
Fat determines a cheese's texture; higher fat content makes cheese smooth and velvety. Remove all the fat, and you'll remove not only calories (there are about 100 calories per ounce of cheese) but also the luscious mouthfeel and meltability. Click on to learn how to get the most from lower-fat cheeses (and what to avoid).
Lower-Fat Cheeses - Try It
• Use 2% reduced-fat cheddar in casseroles or mac and cheese. Layered and saucy dishes help insulate the cheese and encourage melting.
• Try part-skim ricotta (splurge on Calabro brand) or 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel) in any dish.
• Reach for 2% reduced-fat Mexican-blend cheese for tacos and enchiladas.
• Use part-skim mozzarella cheese on pizzas.
• Buy part-skim string cheese for snacking.
Lower-Fat Cheeses - Don't Buy It
• Reduced-fat cheeses with gums and stabilizers: These additives help mimic a creamy texture but create a plastic feel when melted. The cheeses are often tasteless.
• Reduced-fat crumbly cheeses like feta, blue, or goat cheese: Texture tends to be rubbery and dry, and flavor lacking.
• Fat-free cheese. Exception: Fat-free cream cheese, when used with reduced- or full-fat cream cheese, works well in some creamy desserts.
An ounce of cheese can have a different look, depending on how it's prepared.
Cubed - An ounce looks like a pair of dice.
Shredded - One ounce equals ¼ cup, packed.
Crumbled - One ounce fits into a ¼-cup measure.
Finely grated - An ounce of hard cheese can fluff up to ¾ cup; if packed, it would measure ¼ cup.
Cheesemakers use starter bacteria, called cultures, to convert milk into cheese, and some manufacturers add more cultures to the cheese after pasteurization. While this makes for a tastier product, the microbial content varies, and any probiotic benefits are undetermined.
A Few Words About Lactose
People with mild lactose intolerance often have less trouble with hard, aged, and fermented cheeses than with other forms of dairy, as the lactose content is nearly zero.
Snacking Smarter - Apples, Pears, and Cheddar
1 cup sliced apples and pears + ½ oz. sharp cheddar cheese
SERVES 1: 126 calories; 5g fat (2.8g sat); 4g protein; 3.5g fiber; 93mg sodium
Snacking Smarter - Parmesan Popcorn
½ oz. finely grated Parmesan + 3 cups air-popped popcorn
SERVES 1: 152 calories; 5g fat (2.3g sat); 7g protein; 3.5g fiber; 258mg sodium
Snacking Smarter - Feta Nachos
1 oz. bean-based tortilla chips (such as Beanitos White Bean) + ½ oz. crumbled feta cheese + 3 Tbsp. refrigerated fresh salsa
SERVES 1: 189 calories; 10g fat (2.6g sat); 7g protein; 5g fiber; 291mg sodium
Snacking Smarter - Cinnamon Goat Cheese Toast
1 (1-oz.) slice whole-grain cinnamon raisin bread + ½ oz. soft goat cheese
SERVES 1: 118 calories; 4.5g fat (2.1g sat); 6g protein; 2g fiber; 171mg sodium
Foolproof Cheese Fondue
Fondue is forever tied to the kitschy themed parties of the 1960s and 70s, but the dish is worth reviving: It's a casual, fun way to entertain. Nutritionally, fondue is a great way to stretch the calorie and saturated fat content of rich cheeses over several servings without losing any melty goodness. We add evaporated milk to make the base even creamier with fewer calories and less saturated fat. Guests will keep coming back for more. Any Gruyère works wonderfully here, but the aged kind has a bigger, nuttier flavor. While a double boiler is used in many recipes, you'll need a heavy saucepan and direct heat here to activate the cornstarch and thicken the fondue. Serve with tart, crisp apples and crusty whole-grain bread.
The Ultimate Cheese Board
For easy entertaining, you can't beat a well-built cheese board. Create one that will encourage guests to assemble bites of crisp toast and creamy/salty/nutty cheese and a sweet or tart topper. Accoutrements like grapes and gherkins cleanse the palate so you can start fresh with the next cheese type or focus on the meal to come.