It’s unavoidable advice:
If you’re going to eat cheese, it should be the fat-free or low-fat kind. Trouble is, that usually limits your choices to mass-produced, vacuum-sealed cheeses that have had much of their flavor sucked out along with the fat. So it’s hardly an appetizing proposition. And for what real benefit? Fewer calories and a lower risk of heart disease? Not so fast.
“The combination of protein and fat in regular, full-fat cheese is very satiating,” says Alan Aragon, a nutritionist in Westlake Village, California, and the Men’s Health Weight-Loss Coach. “As a result, eating full-fat cheese holds your appetite at bay for hours, and I’ve found that it cuts down my clients’ food intake at subsequent meals.” Aragon’s advice: Enjoy snacks of full-fat cheese especially if you’re on a diet. “Just don’t eat it mindlessly,” he says.
And if you’re worried about your cholesterol, chew on this: Danish scientists found that when men ate a whopping 10 daily 1-ounce servings of full-fat cheese for 3 weeks, their LDL (bad) cholesterol didn’t budge. Which isn’t to say you should live on the stuff—just that you don’t need to fear it. Full-fat cheese can be a healthy snack and a great way to make a bland meal taste better. “Cheese is the new wine,” says Terrance Brennan, chef and owner of Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro & Wine Bar and Picholine restaurant, both in New York City. “There are thousands of different aromas, textures, and flavor profiles.”
So look beyond the singles and strings and into the gourmet cheese section of your supermarket (or shop online at artisanalcheese.com), and use our guide to discover the best cheeses you aren’t eating.
Step away from the Cheez Whiz: Robiola is the best way to top a Triscuit. This Italian cheese is soft, like Brie, and it tastes as rich as butter. Spread it on a whole-grain cracker or baguette slice, and round out the snack with grapes or cantaloupe. For another great spread, try Brillat-Savarin, which is so creamy it’s been called the cheese equivalent of ice cream.
Roncal: Anytime Snack
A firm sheep’s-milk cheese, Roncal’s nutty flavor and chewy texture make it a fine stand-alone snack. Or, to add a touch of sweetness, you can give it a light glaze of cherry or raspberry preserves. A delicious alternative is Comté, one of the most popular cheeses in France. Besides being a great snack, Comté can also be a tasty filling for a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Sainte-Maure: Salad Enhancer
This French goat cheese makes any salad taste better. But don’t try to crumble Sainte-Maure like you would other kinds of goat cheese—it’s too soft. Instead, serve it on the side of a mixed-green salad. For the dressing, combine 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, ⅓ cup walnut oil, 1 tablespoon finely diced shallots, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and some black pepper. Nab a bit of cheese with your fork, stab some lettuce, and bite down. The lemon and black-pepper flavors of the cheese blend perfectly with the earthy walnut oil.
Aged Gouda: Flavor King
Most cheeses can be aged for weeks to months, but a well-produced Gouda has spent 3 to 5 years in a cave. “Cheese is aged to develop its flavors,” says Scott A. Rankin, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The result is like a good Parmigiano Reggiano, but with rich caramel flavors. Eat thin slices with a green apple or pear.
Montgomery’s Cheddar: Beer Buddy
When you chomp into this cheese, don’t expect it to taste like the factory-formed orange bricks you find in your supermarket’s dairy section. This is authentic cheddar, from Manor Farm in Somerset, the county in England where the cheese originated. Its lingering flavors of buttermilk and horseradish balance well with any kind of beer and make American cheddar seem bland. “English farmhouse cheddars from Somerset are the cheddars of choice,” says Steven Jenkins, the author of Cheese Primer.
Hoja Santa: Wine Companion
This creamy goat cheese from Texas is wrapped in leaves of hoja santa, an herb that imparts licorice and mint flavors. Serve it with a glass of Riesling or sauvignon blanc. White wine is usually a better complement to a cheese plate than red is, because its acidity balances the fat in most cheeses, says Brennan. Another great cheese to eat with vino is Cypress Grove Chevre Purple Haze, a goat cheese from northern California.
Bayley Hazen Blue: Dessert Cheese
After biting into this Vermont-made blue cheese, many of our tasters exclaimed, “It tastes like chocolate.” The fudgelike flavor even has a hint of apricot—quite a feat considering this is just moldy milk. Eat it alone, or drizzle a drop or two of honey on it for an even sweeter (but still healthy) treat.