Getting to Know: Fresh Cheese
Soft, supple fresh cheeses prove what all teenagers think they know: Older isn’t always better. Here are a dozen of our fresh, flavorful favorites.
This creamy cow’s-milk cheese is curdled and drained but is not pressed like most other cheeses. Cottage cheese has a fresh dairy flavor and little tang. We’ve found it to be a solid substitute for ricotta in high-heat dishes like baked ziti and lasagna. We also use it as the surprising creamy cheese base in our Breakfast Pizza (see related content).
Most commercial varieties of this tangy, spreadable cheese add stabilizers for a supersmooth consistency and to prevent curdling when cooked. We use it to create a velvety texture in the sauce for our Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole (see related content). To read about our tasting of stabilizer-free artisanal cream cheeses, see related content.
Mozzarella has a creamy, slightly salty milk flavor and melts incredibly well. While originally made from the milk of water buffaloes, most of today’s mozzarella is made from cow’s milk. Fresh mozzarella is sold in spheres packaged in whey or water or shrink-wrapped. Try fresh mozzarella in our Spicy Sausage Stromboli (see related content).
Ricotta is made from the liquid (whey) that is discarded when making most other cheeses. The result is fluffy, buttery, and slightly sweet due to the milk sugars; it’s no wonder, then, that ricotta is used both in desserts like cheesecake and in savory dishes like our Spinach and Tomato Lasagna (see related content). Our taste-test winner is Calabro Part Skim Ricotta Cheese.
Mascarpone is the rich, creamy cow's-milk cheese that gives tiramisù its velvety texture. It has a “sweet and fatty” flavor and a texture similar to Greek yogurt. Dollop it on a dish of fresh berries or a tangy fruit pie, or try it atop boiled, roasted, or baked potatoes. Mascarpone is usually sold in small containers due to its short shelf life.
Fresh Goat Cheese
Goat cheese is available fresh or aged, but fresh goat cheese is the soft cheese you often find in a log shape. Fresh goat cheese has a creamy, slightly grainy texture and an unmistakable tang that can veer toward “grassy” or “lemony.” Avoid precrumbled cheeses; they tend to be chalky and dry. Our favorite goat cheese is Laura Chenel’s Chèvre Fresh Chèvre Log from California.
Boursin is a garlic-and-herb-flavored triple- cream cheese (meaning it contains more than 75 percent butterfat) developed in France in 1957. It has a spreadable yet slightly grainy consistency. It melts beautifully and makes an easy substitute for a béchamel or Mornay sauce. We use it in our creamy Boursin-Parsley Pan Sauce (see related content) for pan-seared steaks.
This salty, crumbly cheese often hails from Greece, where it must be made from at least 70 percent sheep’s milk by law, but supermarket feta is often made elsewhere with cow’s milk or goat’s milk. The brine in which the cheese is stored extends its shelf life. Our favorite is Mt. Vikos Traditional Feta, which is made in Greece and contains 80 percent sheep’s milk. To keep feta moist and fresh, store it in its brine.
This fresh cheese, called queso blanco in its native Mexico, has become widely available in the United States. Made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk, queso fresco is a soft, mild cheese that crumbles easily. It is frequently used as a topping for tostadas, chilaquiles, and other Tex-Mex dishes. Like feta, it holds its shape when warm and resists melting. Feta and farmer’s cheese are good substitutes.
This subtly tangy fresh cheese is pressed into a semisoft texture that is reminiscent of fresh goat cheese. Use it as a stuffing for omelets or blintzes, or try it crumbled over enchiladas or tacos. We love the creamy element it adds to our Watercress and Cucumber Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette (see related content).
A staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, haloumi has an elastic quality similar to mozzarella, but it’s firmer and more dense. It’s so sturdy, in fact, that it is frequently sliced and then grilled or fried; instead of melting upon contact with heat, the exterior actually firms and hardens into a crispy shell. Mild and milky in flavor and less salty than feta, it is often packed in brine and sold in blocks.
You may have had paneer with saag, the Indian dish of sautéed spinach and other hearty greens. This mild cheese made from cow’s milk or water buffalo’s milk is easy to make at home by using buttermilk, lemon juice, or vinegar to curdle steamed milk. The thickened curds are drained to remove excess water. The chilled cheese block can be sliced and sautéed or roasted with vegetables.