7 Myths About Cheese You Shouldn't Believe
We're here today to bust some cheese myths. Buckle your seatbelts, cheese eaters!
Most of us know that we love cheese, but the details beyond that can get hazy. Some people worry that they shouldn't eat cheese rinds; some worry that you have to. There are many kitschy illustrations of brie with red wine, but when you tried that at home, the two weren't great together. And, do you really need to shell out for the fancy 10-year aged cheddar in order to buy quality cheese? The fact is cheese isn't as cut and dry as you may think. In fact, there are a lot of myths in the cheese case.
Read on for seven cheese myths that we're busting wide open.
1. All brie is mild and buttery.
In the U.S., we think of brie as a mild, buttery cheese. In France, many of the bries smell like onions, cabbage, broccoli, and garlic. That's both due to cultural preference and a U.S. law mandating that we pasteurize milk that will be made into any cheese aged fewer than 60 days, which brie always is. When milk that hasn't been pasteurized (called "raw milk") is turned into cheese, the resulting flavors can be much more assertive.
That said, in the U.S., you can sometimes find brie and brie-style cheeses that have been made to imitate those more aromatic, vegetal French Bries. If you'd like to try one, look for "Brie Fermier."
2. You need to avoid cheese if you're lactose intolerant.
People who have been diagnosed by a doctor as lactose intolerant (i.e. if dairy upsets your stomach, it may not exactly be lactose/milk sugar that your body is specifically reacting to in dairy) may think all cheese is off limits. For some people with a milk allergy or people with an extreme intolerance, this might be the case, unfortunately.
But the good news is that if you've been diagnosed as lactose intolerant, you can still eat most cheese! The first step of cheesemaking is adding lactic acid bacteria to milk, which converts lactose into lactic acid. Even the freshest of cheeses have lost up to 90 percent of the lactose originally present in the milk. Once a cheese has been aged for more than a month, no lactose remains.
3. Blue cheese is always metallic and aggressive.
Most of us grew up eating blue cheese crumbles meant to top a steak or be stirred into salad dressing. But, there's a huge difference in flavor between cheese that's meant to be an ingredient and cheese that's meant for snacking! If you think you hate blue cheese, it's worth giving it another chance — the good stuff is complex and flavorful, especially when balanced out with a little swipe of honey or caramel. And, yes, some blues are stronger than others! If you'd like to test out a milder version, look for Gorgonzola Dolce or Cambozola (a creamy dreamy hybrid of Camembert and Gorgonzola).
Related: How Does Milk Become Cheese?
4. Red wine is always best to pair with cheese.
Red wine can be very good with cheese. It can also be very bad with cheese.
Of the thousands of wine grapes in the world, only a handful have red flesh. Most have pale flesh and a skin. Therefore, if a wine is red, that red color comes from contact with the grape skins after the juice been pressed. The skins (and stems and seeds) of grapes have a compound called "tannin" that is primarily found in red wine. Tannin is astringent and can also be found in black tea and walnut skins — think of how your mouth loses all moisture when you drink an oversteeped cup of black tea.
On top of that, red wine often has higher alcohol than white or rosé. Add those two things together, and you've got a bigger wine. If you pair red wine with sturdier cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano or an aged gouda, the two should be at worst fine together. But, if you pair a big red wine with a brie or fresh goat cheese, the wine will very often overwhelm the cheese.
Always feel free to try your favorite wine and cheese together, of course, but if your pairing doesn't work with a red wine, a sparkling wine or even a beer may be a better pairing.
5. The crunchy bits in aged cheese are salt crystals.
Salt is an important ingredient in cheese, but those crystals in your aged gouda aren't salt.
As cheese ages, the fermentation process breaks down fat and protein. Protein is made of amino acids, and as those amino acids break off, they crystallize. The first amino acid to break off is called "tyrosine," and most of the crystals in your cheese are tyrosine crystals.
Fun fact: tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine, one of the "happiness" chemicals. So, aged cheese may just be giving you a bit of a mood boost!
6. Good cheese has to age for a long time.
There are wonderful young cheeses and terrible aged cheeses. The quality of any cheese is much more about the quality of the milk and the skill of the cheesemaker than it is about how long it sat in a cheese cave. And, most importantly, it's about how much you enjoy it.
If you love more aged cheeses, that's great. If you don't, that's great too. The longest most cheeses are aged is about a year, though you can certainly find older versions too. Whether more age than that is a useless gimmick or a beautiful unlocking of flavor is really up to your palate.
7. You should never/should always eat cheese rinds.
You always can eat your cheese rind, but whether or not you want to remains your decision.
With brie-style cheeses, the rind can be mushroomy and delicious or it can be soapy and bitter. With harder cheeses, the rind can sometimes have a nutty or earthy flavor, but sometimes it's just like chewing on fossilized cardboard. It's always worth nibbling up to the rind to see if you'll enjoy it. If you don't, don't keep eating it!
One thing to keep in mind: thanks to the ripening process, the middle part of the cheese will have a slightly different flavor profile than the stuff immediately next to the rind, so it's always worth tasting through the cross-section to get the full experience, even if you have no intention of eating the rind.
Wax, paper, and cloth won't add much to the flavor, so don't eat those, but if you happen to accidentally take a bite, it's not a big deal — it all has to be food-grade.