Monday, August 15, 2011

Cheese: Real or Processed

I recently held a cheese tasting at my home so my friends could taste and see the difference between real and processed cheese (Photos are coming as soon as I can find my cord to download the pictures).  Personally, it was an easy decision for me, as I have always disliked processed cheese, especially when eating it plain.  However, many of my friends do like processed cheese so I was not sure how it would go.  Many of them had never eaten processed cheese side by side with real cheese to compare them directly and after doing so, definitely preferred real cheese.  So besides taste, what are the differences between the cheeses?

Sargento Natural Cheese:
       -  Is never made with processed ingredients.  Contains only natural ingredients: milk, cheese cultures, enzymes, and salt.
      -  Is naturally aged to perfection.
      -  Is tested by professional cheese graders to ensure the highest quality cheese.
      -  Is cut directly and simply from real block cheese and packaged immediately for your enjoyment.  It is never melted while it's being made (although it tastes great melted on lasagna, pizza, enchiladas, and many other dishes).
      -  Needs to be refrigerated.
      -  A 21 gram slice of Sargento Cheddar has 130 Milligrams of sodium.
      -  Is REAL cheese.

Processed Cheese:
      -  Is made with added emulsifiers such as Calcium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, and Sodium Phosphate.  It also typically has preservatives such as Sorbic Acid.
      -  Is typically heated to about 180 degrees and cooked with direct steam which strips out delicate flavors.
      -  Some processed cheeses sit on a store shelf for months without refrigeration before being sold.
      -  Often is pumped into plastic packaging and run over a series of rollers to form a slice.
      -  Is cooked into a liquid before being formed into a slice.
      -  A 19 gram slice of Processed Cheese typically has 250 Milligrams of sodium.
      -  Is MADE FROM cheese (and other ingredients).

Now that you know the differences between real and processed cheeses, you can hold your own cheese tasting in your home.  Here is how to taste cheese (as opposed to just eating it):

1) Look at the cheeses.  Natural cheese, like cheddar, come in many different colors, but in general have an understated and non-glossy appearance.  However, processed cheese have a luster or shine to them, even after the plastic is removed.  We refer to processed cheese as "plastic" cheese in our house, because it looks the same even after you remove the plastic wrapper.

2) Touch the cheese and feel its texture.  Bend the cheeses.  Natural cheese texture can vary by cheese variety, but it typically breaks in an authentic fashion when you do this.  This is also what allows you to crumble many natural cheeses.  Processed cheese is characterized by a smooth, rubbery and artificially pliable texture.  Often, you can bend and fold processed cheese without it breaking and sometimes, it can feel "mushy".  You can also tell the difference in the texture when it is in your mouth.

3) Smell the cheeses, similarly to how one would smell wine. Natural cheeses' aroma will vary by cheese type, and the range of smells vary from earthy to nutty to fruity.  Processed cheese usually lacks a strong aroma, but can have notes of cooked milk due to the heating process.

4) Taste the cheese.  Natural cheeses have an incredible array of flavors- from savory to fruity to spicy and sharp.  The dominate flavor in processed cheese is often described as salty.  We also think it tastes like cooked milk and has a mild flavor when compared to the flavor intensity of real cheese.  When tasting the cheeses, ask yourself, how does it finish?  Does the taste linger?

I did not need to be convinced of the taste difference between real and processed cheese, but I did not realize how many people did not even know that not all cheese is processed.  Real cheese is out there and if you have never tried it, you are missing out.  Sargento makes several types of real cheese including: Parmesan, Romano, Cheddar, Colby, Colby Jack, Swiss, Mozzarella, Provolone, Pepper Jack, Muenster, Gouda, and Havarti.  At our tasting we tried the Sargento cheddar slices and a processed cheese, but I think it would be fun to try other cheeses as well.  I would certainly prefer a cheese tasting where all the cheese was REAL, so maybe I will host another cheese tasting in the future.

I received the cheeses that we tasted, along with some snacks to cleanse the palate and napkins, along with a small stipend, in exchange for hosting the cheese tasting and this post.  All opinions remain my own and were not influenced by anyone.  The information about the cheeses and how to taste cheese, along with the stipend and products I received, were provided by Sargento and TheMotherhood.

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