Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Frugal Low Carber: Say Cheeeeeeeese!

I was just watching a commercial that actually got me thinking -- and not in a good way.  The commercial was for the new Kraft shredded cheese with Philadelphia Cream Cheese added to it to make it creamier.  There are a couple cheeses it's been added to, but the primary one is mozzarella.

Now, at first glance, this sounds great.  But take a deeper look.  First, you're starting with regular old part-skim mozzarella.  I am not a big fan of part-skim mozzarella.  It doesn't melt smoothly, it's very stringy and easily picks up a kind of acrid flavor.  Most of the problems are due to the lack of fat.  (And as a low carber, the words "low fat" or "part skim" should be sending up red flags to begin with.)  So now Kraft is going to remedy that by adding cream cheese.

Well, pardon me, but bullshit.

If you want to add cream cheese to your recipe, add it.  Yourself.  It's cheaper for you, better tasting, and you have control over the proportions.

However, there's a better option.  Buy whole milk mozzarella.  It isn't nearly as easy to find, and you have to plan ahead, but it's far from impossible and you'll be amazed at the difference.  If you have a Gordon's Food Service (GFS), you can buy whole milk mozzarella in big loafs, which they will slice for you at no extra charge.  Many Sam's Clubs also carry whole milk mozzarella.

There are many advantages to whole milk mozzarella.  First and foremost, it tastes better.  It's delicious to eat just out of hand and even better cut in cubes and marinated in seasoned olive oil.  It melts much better than part skim, is less stringy and much more creamy, and glory hallelujah, you can actually reheat it without it turning into leather.

Also, unlike pretty much every other cheese in the world, you can freeze whole milk mozzarella, whereas part skim mozzarella, frozen and thawed, is not a good thing.  I vacuum seal packages (or sometimes just put them in ziploc freezer bags and squeeze out all the air) in about 1-pound slabs of slices and freeze them, and they thaw out nice and ready to use.  (I should add here that sliced or cubed mozzarella melts better and less stringily than shreds.  Go figure.)

Finally, you need to be cautious with grocery store shredded cheese.  It often contains starch to keep it from clumping.  Not only does this add unnecessary carbs, but the additives can change the consistency of cheese sauces.  Furthermore, shredded cheese molds faster and the mold can be hiding in the middle of the package where you won't see it till you've already dumped that cheese into your casserole.  Now, I'm not telling you not to buy shredded cheese -- I do, and I use it, too.  I'm just saying read the labels, Grasshopper, and be careful of it.

Parmesan is a cheese of many faces.  At the bottom of the quality scale is the stuff in the green can.  Next up from there is shredded parmesan.  Then chunks of "parmesan cheese," and at the top, real genuine Parmigiano Reggiano.  All have their uses, but don't get them confused.

Parmesan cheese starts losing flavor when it's grated, so I use the pre-grated stuff in the can specifically when I want less flavor -- in my beloved Joel's Magic Pizza Crust, and in low carb breadings, where a more neutral flavor is a good thing.  The shredded parmesan is fine for toppings and casseroles and the like -- it tastes nothing like genuine Parmigiano Reggiano, but it's fine in its own right.  I rarely buy grocery store chunk parmesan.  Real chunk Parmigiano Reggiano doesn't cost much more per pound (I buy from and the difference in flavor is incredible -- a little goes a long ways.  Every person who claims to like cheese should once in their life eat a bite-sized chunk of real Parmigiano Reggiano.  It'll alter your reality.

Do not try to freeze parmesan in any form.  It will take on a cottony texture and a sawdust flavor.

Think outside the bag.  There are a whole lot of cheeses out there besides cheddar, "swiss", monterey jack and mozzarella.  Instead of mozzarella, try provolone.  Instead of parmesan, try asiago.  Instead of cheddar, try edam or gouda.  Instead of monterey jack, try havarti or fontina.  Instead of "swiss," try gruyere or emmental.

If you happen to live near a Trader Joe's, they're a decent source for a large variety of reasonably priced cheeses to let you experiment.  Do read the label -- oftentimes I can buy cheese cheaper online at  Gourmet cheese shops are particularly bad in this regard.

Okay, that's my cheese tips for the day.  As usual, read the label!

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