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In the Kitchen: Best Cheeses For Cooking 2020


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Grana-style wedges are a no-brainer choice for grating liberally over a bowl of long-simmered Bolognese. But to elevate a quick dish such as spaghetti aglio e olio or penne with sausage and broccoli, changeup your grating game with Sartori’s Black Pepper Bellavitano, which took home gold at the 2018 World Cheese Awards (WCA). Its rich, Parmesan-Cheddar-esque paste gets a good kick from the coarsely ground black peppercorns that coat the wheel. For a more decadent pasta topper, spoon on a generous portion of BelGioioso’s Stracciatella. Local milk is used to make this “inside-out burrata”—mozzarella shreds swimming in a bath of sweet cream—which won Best in Class at the 2019 WCA.


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Shortly after we all went into lockdown in late March, photos of at-home experiments with sourdough bread began proliferating on Instagram. “Ok I understand everyone is freaking out but why are ALL of you baking sourdough?” tweeted Los Angeles filmmaker Jessica Ellis (voicing what all of us who weren’t baking sourdough were wondering). Still have some of that starter hanging around? Give your loaves a cheesy upgrade with creamy Shelburne Farms’ Six-Month Cheddar—the mildest of the Vermont nonprofit’s raw milk cheeses and first place winner at the 2018 American Cheese Society Awards—or nutty and complex Cello Reserve Copper Kettle Parmesan (which won a first place at the ACS Awards in 2015). 


Thomasville Tomme | Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee

Not all cheeses are good for melting, a quality determined by a number of factors, including moisture and fat content (read the whole science-y explanation here).Alpine-style cheeses, which show off their melting chops in raclette and fondue, are one of our go-tos, and two of the best are made right here in the US. Thomasville Tomme, winner of a 2020 Good Food Award, was the first cheese that Jeremy and Jessica Little produced at Sweet Grass Dairy. The raw milk, natural-rind wheel remains a Little family favorite for grilled cheese sandwiches and mac and cheese. American Cheese Society 2019 awardee Everton, from Jacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheese, is a bit sharper than a Gruyère, and gets more piquant as it ages. Young goudas also make superb melters. Marieke Gouda Smoked Cumin (Top 20, 2020 World Cheese Awards) adds zest to quesadillas or atop a bowl of chili or lentil soup.


Sheep’s Milk Feta | Photo by Nicole Wolf

There’s a reason the Greeks have been making feta for centuries—it’s as versatile as it is delicious. Feta works well mixed in casseroles and savory pastries; crumbled on flatbreads; stuffed in burgers; and whipped with olive oil and lemon juice for a dip. Of course, the easiest way to enjoy this traditional cheese is crumbled over a salad—for this purpose, we especially like the Sheep’s Milk Feta from Tucker Family Farm in Montana. Rich, full-flavored, and pleasantly salty, this cheese (a first-place winner at the 2017 ACS Awards) lifts your basic greens from good to great.


Photo: minadezhda/Adobe Stock

Using cheese in sweet baking isn’t all that unusual (see our Winter 2020 issue for tasty examples) but when it comes to cookies, the field narrows. Leave it to the Italians to step into the breach with a classic, easy-to-make cookie starring ricotta, iced with a lemon-scented glaze (and, for the holidays, sprinkled with colored sugar). The cheese gives these perennial favorites a pillowy tenderness, and quality matters; we recommend Calabro’s Hand-Dipped Ricotta, which took third at ACS 2017.

Susan Axelrod

Susan Sherrill Axelrod is a former editor of Culture. Her love affair with cheese began at age 12, when she bicycled to a gourmet shop to taste an exotic newcomer—French brie. She lives with her partner in midcoast Maine, where she enjoys a well-made cocktail, hiking with their dog, Lucy, and spending as much time as possible on the water.

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