In this blog series, Erica discusses ways introducing children to the diverse flavors of cheese. Starting with the challenges of new and unfamiliar cheeses on a young palate and moving through ways to make try new foods fun, Erica will explore expert advice, nutrition facts, and a world of recipes with the goal of making cheeses of all kinds accessible to kids. Last week, we talked about the health benefits of cheese, and some of you shared your stories in the comments below for a chance to win a free issue of culture! Follow along and try some of the tips in these post to see if we can get your child from string cheese-lover to stinky cheese-lover.
Kids can be shy around new cheeses, just like they can be shy around new people. And some cheese can be perceived as overwhelming and scary to a kid who’s never tried it before – in all its’ stinky, moldy, and crumbly glory. Your child may love cheddar and American, but what about blue cheese or Camembert? That’s a little trickier. Thankfully, we’ve got some tips to help introduce your child to the wonderful world of fine cheese – hey, maybe you’ve even got a future cheesemonger on your hands!
In terms of introducing your child to stronger cheeses, you have a few options, depending on pickiness level and personality. If your kid enjoys trying new things and being adventurous, take advantage of it! Set aside a couple of hours for a fun, kid-friendly cheese tasting. Get the whole family involved, or let your child invite some friends over to join in on the fun. Find a cheese you know your child enjoys and choose other cheeses that share some of the same characteristics: texture, flavor, milk type, or even color. This can be a fun way to explore the similarities and differences found in the world of cheese.
If your child is very picky, you’ll have to be a bit more stealthy. Melt some Gruyère into their usual grilled cheese sandwich or mac ‘n’ cheese bowl, or casually place some sliced Gouda among a snack plate of grapes and crackers. Don’t feel like you need to completely hide these new cheeses, but also don’t make a big deal of them. The concept of novelty is the enemy here, so using a familiar and comfortable setting and food can really help, as can sharing food and expressing your own enjoyment of it.
Whether you’re introducing new cheeses over minutes of months, start mild – like with havarti and cheddar – and gradually get stronger. Avoid asking your kids whether they like the cheese or not – not only does this draw attention to the fact that this is a new and unfamiliar food, but they may say no out of pure habit, which can be frustrating! According to parenting and food expert Karen Lebillon, author of Getting to Yum, when kids say “I don’t like it” they often mean “I don’t know it.” Instead, ask them to say one interesting thing about the cheese that they’ve tried.
Once a child is familiar with a couple of new cheeses, stretch the boundaries and bring in a few more. Take aspects of the cheeses that your child has enjoyed so far and use that to choose new cheeses. For example, if he or she liked mild and creamy cheese like havarti or Monterey Jack, you might try a more adventurous – but still creamy! - Camembert or Brie. If they know and enjoy simple, mild American-made Swiss cheese, they may enjoy the stronger imported Swiss Edam or Emmentaler.
Nora Singley, a former cheesemonger and contributor to thekitchn.com, tried a cheese tasting with her nephew and niece and recommends to “use what you know your kids already like as a springboard for other cheeses to try.” She continues, “If they’re into cream cheese and mozzarella, introduce them to other fresh cheeses that are stronger, like fresh goat cheese. And if they like the fresh goat, go towards aged versions, like Humboldt Fog, Haystack Mountain’s Haystack Peak, Coupole, Chevrot, Chabichou du Poitou, and Crottin de Chavignol…And if they don’t like what you give them, try and try again.”
Like we mentioned in the first post of this series, studies show that it takes eight to fifteen separate introductions for a child to grow familiar with a specific food, so remember to stay patient! Share with us your stories of introducing your kids to unfamiliar foods in the comments below–a lucky commenter will get the chance to win a free copy of our summer issue. Comments must be posted by 11:59 p.m. EDT on Thursday, July 3, 2014 to be eligible to win. So comment today and stay tuned for next week’s post!