Thank You, Cheeses!
Experimenting with new cheeses, in moderation, can be a delightful way to add complex taste to different meals. Cheese is a simple, easy to fix snack if you are tired, and offers some protein to boot. If you are worried about fat content and calories, consider reduced-fat or skim versions, or try stronger tasting cheeses, i.e. sharp cheddar over mild cheddar, so less can be used for more taste.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) advises that people undergoing chemotherapy or stem cell transplant treatment should avoid unpasteurized cheese. This includes a host of cheeses with mold such as blue cheese, Stilton and Gorgonzola, or sharp cheddar, Brie, Camembert, feta cheese, farmer’s cheeses, or any Mexican-style cheeses like queso-blanco and cotija. The ACS advisory stems from the fact that microbes like the bacteria found in some cheeses, should be avoided when in therapy. People undergoing treatment are also advised to avoid buying cheeses from delis or butchers to avoid bacterial contamination.
So, is cheese really safe during cancer treatment? Though it is advised to be cautious with cheese, you don’t have to shy away completely. The addition of pasteurized cheese to many dishes can actually be a great way to add flavor, calories, protein, and calcium to meals and snacks, which can be very beneficial if your appetite is lost. Most cheeses made in the United Sates are required to be pasteurized, and usually you can find pasteurized mozzarella, Parmesan, American, and Swiss, among others — just look at the label to see what’s available.
Even for those who are lactose intolerant, cheese is not necessarily off limits. Aged cow’s milk cheeses like cheddar or Swiss can sometimes be tolerated because the bacteria that give these cheeses their great taste often end up digesting lactose, the offending enzyme found in milk. If cow’s milk cheese doesn’t work, try sheep or goat’s milk cheese, particularly goat cheese, often the best choice for the lactose intolerant. Goat and sheep cheeses come in all kinds of shapes, varieties, and sizes, and are all equally delicious.
That said, not all cheeses are created equal. What we know as American cheese can still be found in it’s natural form, a simple combination of Colby and cheddar, but more often what we get is not really cheese at all, but is made from a combination of processed dairy ingredients including milk, milk fat, milk protein, whey protein concentrate, and salt. Just like any other food, it’s best to look at the ingredients list to know what you’re buying.
When it comes to certain ingredients in the kitchen, investing in better quality varieties of cheese can make all the difference, even if the prices are higher. You may need to spend more for really great cheese, but it’s well worth it. Processed cheeses will never provide the taste and satisfaction that a small piece of a great cheese will.
We love Parmesan and use it in many of our recipes. Parmesan cheese has ‘umami,’ the fifth taste, which enhances the savor of the foods it’s used with. For the best results in any recipe, be sure to buy it in a chunk and not pre-grated. You will need very little of a great aged Parmesan cheese to yield an incredible, rich taste. This not only makes it a must on pastas and on risottos like our hearty Mushroom Risotto, but it also adds extra zest to all kinds of vegetables, soups and sauces.