Using Fat in Food: The Cheesy Edition

One of the ways we add heft, flavor, and satisfaction to our food is with fat. Yes, fat. Don’t run away! We know fat has a bad reputation with some, since it’s calorie dense and should, naturally, be enjoyed in moderation. But chefs know that any meal will be more enjoyable and satisfying with a reasonable amount of oil or butter or gooey cheese, and we’re on a mission to show you how to use fat in your cooking with a deft hand. We already posted about the best oils to use in cooking and how to cook with butter, and now we’re moving onto cheese. Yum.

You likely love the cheese plate as much as we do. Of course, a cube of Swiss or a smear of brie on a cracker brings great joy at cocktail hour. Still, there’s more to cheese than that. As an ingredient in dinner, cheese contributes a savory fat factor, plus–depending on the type of cheese–a delicious creaminess, a satisfying saltiness, or an irresistible meltiness the pinnacle of which is the cheese pull. Here’s how to use your entire cheese drawer to your advantage when cooking. 

**Your Guide to Cooking with Cheese**

Hard, Salty Cheese

Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, and aged manchego are three examples of cheese that have been aged to salty These cheeses contribute a whole lot of umami to whatever you’re making, helping to build real depth of flavor. They’re especially handy in vegetarian cooking. To use, sprinkle extra grated Parmesan on pizza or meatball subs right after they emerge from the oven, scatter aged manchego on top of pasta, or shave thin slices of Pecorino on top of grains salads before serving, as we do in the Barley-Wax Bean Salad, pictured above.

Meltable Cheese

You all know how good a grilled cheese sandwich is, why we melt mozzarella on pizza, and that a quesadilla is sometimes the pinnacle of all cuisines, ever. So you already understand that melting cheddar, jack, or fresh mozz on top of a dish will make it gooey and delicious. Since most of the time you want to err on the side of savory, not greasy, be sure you use more of these cheeses with discretion. You actually need a whole lot less Monterey jack to make the Black Bean-Quinoa above than you would think. If you ever have extra melting cheese around, you can always, always, throw it into a batch of homemade Mac ‘n Cheese. 

Fresh Cheese

Fresh cheese refers to a category of dairy products that haven’t been aged at all. While they lack the depth of a salty, aged hunk of Parm, they contribute a bright butteriness to food that’s truly delicious. Paneer, feta, goat, queso fresca, and ricotta are all great examples of fresh cheeses. To make them, milk is heated and combined with an acid like lemon juice, then drained, so that the solids separate from the watery whey. That’s it! Fresh cheeses are often served raw, as a spread on our Avocado-Goat Cheese Tartines or a piquant garnish for a quinoa salad. Crisp up your paneer (it won’t melt!) for our version of Palak Paneer, and use ricotta as a filling for calzones or ravioli.