I can has what kind of cheezburger!?
December 26, 2012 12:46 PM   Subscribe

What exotic cheeses should we try in place of the ordinary (american, cheddar, muenster, mozzarella)? Recommendations for exotic cheese dishes also welcome!

I successfully made this sweet potato gratin for the holidays and now we want to take full advantage of the worldly and well-supplied cheese shop across the street. We'd like to try some new varieties in place of the traditional as well as dishes (sides and mains) that incorporate said cheeses.

*What cheeses would be a great substitute for our typical daily cheeses (american/ cheddar/ muenster/ mozzarella) on sandwiches, burgers, etc.?

*What exotic cheese dishes would you recommend to us experimenting cheese lovers? We're open to dishes that range in difficulty. Detailed recipes very much appreciated!

(For simplification, let's say anything other than the 4 cheeses listed above are exotic. However, if you've got a great american/ cheddar/ muenster/ mozzarella recipe, please do share!)

Thanks all!
posted by chaiwawa to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Blue cheese on hamburgers is awesome. My favorite is hamburger, crumbled blue cheese and sliced tomato. Also my favorite potato salad has blue cheese in it.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 12:54 PM on December 26, 2012

For anything melty, try a fontina or a fontinella.

Manchego is a nice sharp cheese, good for a variation on anything you'd use a sharp cheddar for.

On that note, definitely try some cheddar varieties, if you've mostly been eating the mass-produced orange stuff. There's a wide range there.

Goat cheese is lovely - try a chevre on anything you'd use cream cheese on for more flavor.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:54 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Steak and Stilton pie is fantastic and perfect for winter.

More recipes with Stilton cheese as an important ingredient.
posted by lstanley at 12:54 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Brie and camembert are soft, creamy cheeses with a delicious flavor - makes great sandwiches and melts smoothly. I prefer brie but you should try both.

If it's really a good cheese shop, you should be able to ask them for a lot of advice, and even sample a bunch of cheeses - just make sure you buy stuff after your sampling to be welcomed back.
posted by jacalata at 12:55 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

OMG, welcome to the world of cheese!

I'm no expert, but here are some of my favorites that are on the mild side of things: red wax gouda is great for sandwiches or eating with crackers, triple cream brie (like Saint Andre) is a great eating cheese as well, and although you listed cheddar, I would encourage you to try a really sharp cheddar from Vermont or Wisconsin. Personally, I love havarti (with or without dill) for sandwiches as well.

Regular French brie is wonderful warmed in the oven with honey, toasted walnuts, and cranberries. It's also good with some jam (and makes for a great breakfast when served on toast.) For harder, slightly more sharp cheeses, Mahon is lovely eaten straight up with some almonds on the side, perhaps.

Chevre is a great, mild, soft goat's cheese that won't make your eyelashes curl. It's nice on crackers, goes well with savory dishes (like roasted butternut), and can be mixed with ricotta for lasagna filling (e.g., roasted butternut squash lasagna with chevre and bechamel!) It also makes for a great mix-in for pasta, especially vegetable based recipes (e.g., sauteed veggies with garlic and olive oil with chevre mixed in at the last minute to make the pasta creamy.)

Ask the cheesemonger for recommendations. They should be happy to give them, as well as a sample!
posted by absquatulate at 12:57 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gruyere is FANTASTIC in gratins.

The best cheese dish is as follows: cheese on plate. Put cheese on water crackers. Eat.

There's literally a world of cheeses to try. Soft triple-creme cheeses are amazing and great gateway cheeses to the funkier stuff. Don't look past great English cheddars or mozzarella di bufalo.

Ask the cheesemongers-- tell them what you like and they'll give you samples to try. Blues, washed rind, aged... There's so much to try!
posted by supercres at 12:58 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

*What cheeses would be a great substitute for our typical daily cheeses (american/ cheddar/ muenster/ mozzarella) on sandwiches, burgers, etc.?

Aged provolone, good aged cheddar, smoked cheddar (for burgers or grilled cheese), REAL muenster cheese (totally different than the supermarket kind), blue cheese (Roquefort would be a decent choice for burgers), dry jack cheese for sandwiches of all sorts.

Sliced tomatos and onions with Stilton (a blue).

You can use Manouri or goat cheese in place of cream cheese on bagels.
posted by Jahaza at 12:59 PM on December 26, 2012

I think the best thing to do with a new cheese is to put some on a cracker and eat it (or eat it without the cracker.) I would not first use a new cheese in a dish calling for a cheese, because cheese is excellent on it's own, frequently meant to be eaten on it's own, and will best be understood without other things getting in the way. Later, if you want, you can use the new cheese for dishes (although, most "exotic" cheeses are far too expensive to be used for a dish that calls for a lot of cheese.) A lot of the cheeses listed here (gouda, fontina, feta, provolone) are really just other versions of the house cheeses you are already familiar with.
posted by OmieWise at 1:04 PM on December 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

One of my favorite cheese dishes, when you can get your hands on it is Vacherin/Mont d'Or.

Just buy the cheese in its wooden box, put some foil around it, poke it with a knife, add a little wine and garlic, stick in the oven, the spoon it out on bread or potaoes! Delish.

As for introductory cheeses to taste by themselves (with bread) - I like good quality Tome.

posted by Riton at 1:04 PM on December 26, 2012

Tomme is a great cheese with not too strong a flavor in any direction, but is still very distinct. IMO it's a very good intro-to-the-wide-world-of-cheeses cheese, interesting without being scary.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:08 PM on December 26, 2012

Is Swiss so exotic as not to yet be mentioned? Let me put in a good word for feta in salads or, lacking that, Gorgonzola.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:09 PM on December 26, 2012

I definitely agree that the best way to try a new cheese is on its own or with a plain cracker, but here's a super basic 'recipe' for eating with some lovely ricotta from your cheese shop (not the Polly-O tub from the supermarket):

On a round of good toasted bread, spread a generous spoonful of ricotta; add a squirt of honey; and a healthy sprinkling of fresh ground pepper.

You're welcome.
posted by telegraph at 1:11 PM on December 26, 2012

My absolute favorite thing to eat, bar none, is the saganaki at my beloved Greek restaurant. It's made with kasseri, a sheep's milk cheese, and it's basically an exotic version of a grilled cheese (sans "wich") or cheese stick. Delicious recipes here and here. O-pah!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 1:13 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is the world's best sandwich.

Chiabatta or other crusty bread.
Triple Cream Brie

Toast the bread and spread the room temperature brie on it. It should glide on. The gorgonzola should also be room temperature. It may spread or be sprinkled on in sticky crumbles. Slice the pears thinly, they should be soft and super juicy. Put them on top of the cheeses.

Put in the oven for a few minutes.

Then eat it all up! Oh, it is SO good!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:15 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Taleggio is great eaten on its own, or used in risotto.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:16 PM on December 26, 2012

My favorite "so easy it's cheating" appetizer is to put a log of chevre (goat cheese) in a dish, drown it in red sauce and microwave it until it's melty. Serve with baguette slices.

In summer I keep a bowl of cold quinoa salad in the fridge as it absorbs its mustard-lime dressing. Top with crumbled feta cheese for an umami delight.
posted by workerant at 1:17 PM on December 26, 2012

Seconding baked Vacherin Mont d'Or. My roommate made it once a few years ago and I still think about it sometimes. And baked brie! And brie + apple + walnut sandwiches.

If there are cheesemakers local to where you live you can also experiment with those -- I found a whole bunch of cheeses that I liked at a local cheese fair. Talk to your cheesemongers and tell them what you like. They'll also let you taste things in the shop. You should try some blue cheeses -- if you like it, then blue cheese is fantastic.

I rarely cook with cheese -- I usually just eat it with good bread.
posted by oranger at 1:23 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese is one of my favorites.
posted by Grandysaur at 1:23 PM on December 26, 2012

Try aged cheeses - an aged gouda, for example, will develop a denser texture and bits of crystalline structure, plus a deeper taste. I don't like gouda too much in its natural state - a bit bland if you ask me - but I love aged gouda.

Also when you are trying bries you should try brillat-savarin, not as mild and sweet as St Andre (if my memory serves) but so rich and fruity.

I myself like raclette, a cheese that is supposed to be for melting but that is mild and tasty on its own.

My grandfather was very fond of Bondost, a mild Swedish farmer's cheese that often contains caraway seeds. Not an exciting cheese, but satisfying.

I know it's a mere marketing ploy, too, but I like Dubliner far more than one would expect. It's very rich.

Of course, in strict technical terms I am vegan - although I did have a cheese-based episode this year when I made that gratin that you reference! - so I haven't eaten these for a while.

So uh, if you're looking for a vegan imitation of grilled American cheese, you cannot go wrong with the nutritionally empty but definitely meltable Daiya cheddar shreds. There is no vegan product that really stands in for cheese in other applications, but you can have a very dairy-like grilled cheese sandwich.
posted by Frowner at 1:25 PM on December 26, 2012

Cheshire is "different" without being too outré. Very crumbly so difficult to use sliced in sandwiches, but a great thing to put on salads.

Gorgonzola is great in a mac and cheese. Parmigiano-Reggiano is pretty unrelated to the Kraft parmesan you may be used to. Buffalo mozzarella is a delight on a simple margherita pizza (see also Caprese salad. I did not expect to like grilled halloumi but it's wonderful (also, I thought, faintly reminiscent of cooked paneer; cheese eaten hot but not melted is a nice thing)

Potted Cheddar and Welsh rarebit are not really "exotic," but they are delicious and not particularly complicated and not difficult to make exceptional versions of.
posted by kmennie at 1:36 PM on December 26, 2012

My favorite is Jarlsberg cheese
posted by JohnR at 1:38 PM on December 26, 2012

A little browsing round igourmet might give you more than a few ideas.
posted by adamvasco at 1:40 PM on December 26, 2012

I used to not really like cheese all that much, but in the last year or so that has changed.

Port salut and manchego were my gateway cheeses.
posted by phunniemee at 1:49 PM on December 26, 2012

There's a sheeps-milk cousin to Parmigiano (aka Parmesan) called Pecorino Romano in its original Italian, but of course Wisconsin produces tasty knockoffs of both, as far as I'm aware. Pecorino has a lightly different flavor, but the two can almost be used interchangeably.

Queso Fresco ("Fresh Cheese," if my bar-spanish has any merit) is a young cow-milk cheese that's just barely firm enough to crumble onto any mexican or tex-mex dish instead of the usual shredded cheddar. My supermarket carries it in the same fridge section as the cheddar. Queso Fresco over molé negro enchiladas is muy excelente! (Molé sauce is not hard to make, it's just sometimes challenging to get all the many ingredients.)

Baked brie is mentioned above. Once you taste it, you'll see why I mention it again. Add a small amount of honey for dippin. You can also bake a small wheel of brie into a phyllo crust, along with the walnuts, as a great party dish.

Also, bleu cheese is commonly and rightfully paired with bacon. On or off the burger, these go great together. Do it on a cracker for a 1-2 bite hors d'oeuvre (maybe whip the bleu with a smaller amount of cream cheese so it's less crumbly and spreads better). Then try not to eat them all before the guests arrive. Then fail, and then make more. So, always buy extra cheese.

Next time you make grilled cheese (or ham'n'cheese) try mixing a few cheeses-- same mass as before, but shred/crumble (as appropriate) and combine a few cheeses you like. 4 would be overkill on grilled cheese, but not on your next Quattro Formaggio pizza!
posted by Sunburnt at 1:56 PM on December 26, 2012

I also second Dubliner, and salted goat cheese is also a good way to expand your cheese experience.
posted by lineofsight at 2:00 PM on December 26, 2012

Saint Agur is a creamy blue much beloved in our house. We also like Valdeon - a strong salty blue and cave aged gruyere that has those yummy salt crystals in it.
posted by oneear at 2:01 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a sweet potato gratin, I could see Norwegian gjetost cheese as a nice addition. It's a brown sugary type of dessert cheese.
posted by effluvia at 2:10 PM on December 26, 2012

These are all entry-level but you gotta start somewhere. So, for putting on sandwiches, I offer:

Havarti is nice on a sandwich, or when eaten with grapes or apples.

Beemster is a Gouda which seems to be readily availably in my neck of the woods.

I really like grilled cheese with Beecher's Flagship, it also makes nice mac & cheese.
posted by cabingirl at 2:18 PM on December 26, 2012

Garlic-and-herbs cream cheese is ambrosia. Spread it on toast, or eat it on crackers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:25 PM on December 26, 2012

chaiwawa: "I successfully made this sweet potato gratin for the holidays and now we want to take full advantage of the worldly and well-supplied cheese shop across the street."

Honestly, the best thing you can do is go there and talk to someone who works there. The great thing about a cheese shop is that they typically let you sample anything. Tell them what you like, and ask for a couple recommendations. Get small amounts of a bunch of different kinds and go from there.

In general, I'd shy away from aged cheeses in favor of younger, milder ones. The "sharp" qualities cheese gets over time can be off-putting if you're not accustomed to it. Though, if you're already into cheddar, a good quality British or Irish cheddar can be a good intro to aged cheese.

Lastly- find out what's local. Support artisanal cheesemakers!
posted by mkultra at 3:18 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for dishes, don't be afraid to mix a few cheeses on something regular. A grilled cheese with swiss, feta with some real Parmesan or whatever is handy. A mix of strong cheese with softer meltier is a good combo. Do hunt down a good cheese shop.
posted by sammyo at 3:30 PM on December 26, 2012

Aged gouda with spicy mango chutney is fantastic.
posted by elizeh at 3:51 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh! Manchego cheese was a recent discovery.

And I would like to second Havarti cheese, which is deliciously creamy and wonderful in sandwiches.

I haven't cooked with either of these cheeses, and probably never will, Manchego in particular is wonderful on its own or on a cracker.

Has anyone said bocconcini? Great replacement for mozzarella, and DELICIOUS torn up or sliced in a simple salad with sliced tomatoes and basil. SO GOOD.
posted by mooza at 4:22 PM on December 26, 2012

The best way I know of to introduce yourself to a lot of exotic cheeses is to frequent the "under $3" cheese bin at Whole Foods. Every WF in my city does it so I am assuming they do it nationwide.

The bin is the home of small cuts of cheese from the big cheeses in the main cheese display case. When a big cheese gets too small to display, they cut it up and wrap it and throw it in the "under $3" bin, complete with label so you know what you're getting and can ask for it later if you like it. These pieces are not always under $3, but they are a wonderful way to try different cheeses without asking for tiny pieces to be cut for you (which Whole Foods always tells me they will gladly do, but I love the serendipity of unknown cheeses in one- or two-person quantities).

In this way I have been introduced to triple-cream bries, local raw goat cheese, stinky Sicilian
cheese, $25/lb artisanal cave-aged bleu, you name it. If you can't find the bin, ask for it. Bon apetit!
posted by caryatid at 5:41 PM on December 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you are new to cheeses and want to try some that would be similar to those you have mentioned then I would recommend (as some others already have) the following: gouda, edam, havarti, asiago, and parmesan. Those cheeses tend to have flavors that wouldn't be too out of the ordinary for cheese newbies. If you try to start with some of the stronger flavored blues, goat milk, and sheep milk you may find them too much at first.
I have found some great recipes for cheese here.
posted by catseatcheese at 5:54 PM on December 26, 2012

If you can get your hands on imported Greek feta cheese (made from sheep's milk and possibly some goat's milk, not cow's milk like American feta usually is), it is wondrous in a traditional Greek horiatiki salad. It tastes very different from the American feta cheese sold in most supermarkets. The salad is easy to make and is very satisfying.

Greek feta adds a delicious dimension to lots of things you'd usually put some other kind of cheese in. Baked pasta dishes, omelets, crumbled onto lamb burgers... mmmmm.
posted by wondermouse at 6:21 PM on December 26, 2012

Cambozola is a soft ripened cheese like camembert or brie, but with blue/green mold, like gorgonzola. I like it a lot.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:56 PM on December 26, 2012

My holy trinity for a good mac n' cheese sauce? Equal parts baby fontina, Irish cheddar and pecchorino romano cheese. Add bacon or smoked salmon to it for extra goodness.

Suggestions for direct eating:
-Irish cheddar with Irish whisky drunk neat

-Manchego, fromage d' Affinois or brie with a kiss of honey on top of a water or wafer cracker, the honey balances out the stronger flavors of these cheeses, especially if you're new to them

-Fontina or gouda with wafer crackers with good strawberries or rasberries

-Goat gouda's also a nice twist on gouda, goat cheese flavor, gouda texture

Do you have a good standalone cheese shop in your area? The good ones will let you take a taste of any cheese before you buy and their staff will guide you to some great stuff you've never heard of before.
posted by deinemutti at 8:59 PM on December 26, 2012

-I also forgot, Mahon is a nice milder Spanish cheese akin to a mild cheddar or gouda IMO, which I learned about recently, thanks to my local cheese shop.
posted by deinemutti at 9:05 PM on December 26, 2012

How about trying some out-of-the-ordinary variants of the ordinary options you've listed? This is the realm where some of my deepest cheese loves have been found. I have a new obsession with Cabot Clothbound cheddar, which will most likely bear only the vaguest resemblance to any cheddar you've tried before. And I would describe buffalo mozzarella but the first few paragraphs of this article take the words right out of my mouth. I would eat the cheddar on a cracker (ok, that's a lie...I would suggest you eat it politely on a cracker, but I would actually stuff it straight into my mouth, no crackers to sully it); I would recommend perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, sea salt, and a bit of balsamic vinegar with the buffalo mozzarella.
posted by ootandaboot at 12:03 AM on December 27, 2012

I love gouda on any sandwich, and double love it on any grilled sandwich; it melts so divinely. If you like its smokey flavor, you may also be able to find a cumin gouda that accentuates that.

I agree with the comment above that freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano bares little resemblance to the Kraft version. I would add that the next time you have a recipe that calls for it, try grating some comté instead. It's a different flavor, but works in a lot of the same contexts (though it's a bit meltier, so keep that in mind if you're going for a particular look/mouthfeel).

There used to be a restaurant around where I live that did fried camembert. So good! Camembert straight up is great too, and is a good introduction to mold-ripened cheese.
posted by solotoro at 2:59 AM on December 27, 2012

In the house at the moment I have dolcelatte, which is a lovely tangy, soft cheese, good for spreading straight from the block - it has the consistency of warm butter, and jarlsberg, which is one of those classic holey cartoon cheeses - very sweet and 'nutty'.
I also have a mature cheddar strong enough to knock over a sheep at thirty paces, but that's personal preferance.

Other things I like are both blue and white stilton - both very crumbly, the blue is tangier than the white, which is good for things like baked potatoes. And there's a local sheep's milk cheese called Mrs Bell's Blue, or Yorkshire Blue - you can tell I like strong, tangy cheeses, this one isn't overly violent but it's one of my very favourite cheeses.

Mostly I eat my cheeses on crackers. We have some amazing chutneys where I come from.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 11:32 AM on December 27, 2012

Haloumi cut into little cubes is a fantastic addition to just about any salad. Apart from being totally delicious, it squeaks when you eat it.
posted by flabdablet at 11:20 PM on December 27, 2012

A few things I'd suggest, that I haven't seen here:

Maasdammer/Leerdammer - A "failed" attempt to make budget Emmentaler. It's sweeter and milder, and melts deliciously.
Tilsiter - Definitely not for everyone, but it's like mild to strongly- fragrant Havarti.
Butterkäse - The other direction: has a bit of havarti/gouda flavour but is about as mild as a brick of grocery store mozzarella.
Tiroler Bergkäse - Nutty, delicious hard cheese. If it's too strong, there are other bergkäse all the way to mild.

If you can find it, cream cheese with mushrooms can be great, as it adds a level of umami to anything it touches. If not, garlic, herb and black pepper all go great in that. As well, there is farmer's cheese, which sits somewhere between paneer, cottage cheese and ricotta.

Finally, but only if there is a cheese factory near you, or you know what day the dairy delivers, there's cheddar cheese curd, which has the downside of only being at its best for about a day. Past that, you might as well melt it.
posted by frimble at 5:13 AM on December 28, 2012

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