Cheese sure is popular. Did you know that the Pilgrims brought cheese over on the Mayflower? Or that the United States makes over 25% of the world’s cheese supply, producing roughly 9 billion pounds each year? Wisconsin, California, Idaho, New York, and Minnesota are the top cheese-producing states. Last cheese fact: A professional cheese seller is called a cheese monger. (These facts may come in handy if you ever go on Jeopardy!)
But cheese can be tricky. On one hand, it tastes good and can really spark up a food (think cheeseburgers) or a dish (think homemade macaroni and cheese). But on the other hand, its fat, saturated fat, and sodium content are enough to take some of the pleasure out of indulging, especially if you are at risk for or have heart disease or are watching your waistline. As with many higher-fat foods, the solution is to compromise. Cutting cheese completely out of your eating plan could be a solution, but certainly not a palatable one. Instead, explore some of the lower-fat options, and as one reader suggested, have a little bit of the real thing every now and then.
Some cheeses are naturally lower in fat than others:
- Mozzarella. Traditional mozzarella cheese is made from water buffalo milk, which is very expensive. Most mozzarella is made from cow’s milk. “Regular” mozzarella is actually quite high in fat, but lower fat versions are available. This type of cheese is not an aged cheese; because it’s fresh, it’s best eaten very soon after purchasing (if you’ve ever had fresh mozzarella go bad a day or so after you’ve bought it, you know how frustrating that is!).
Mozzarella is made by heating curds in water or whey until they form strings (“string cheese”). These strings are stretched and kneaded until smooth and then formed into balls. Fresh mozzarella is truly the best, but if you buy processed mozzarella for, say, topping a pizza, buy the part-skim version to save on fat and calories. One ounce of part-skim mozzarella has 72 calories and 4.5 grams of fat. It’s not a low-fat food, but it’s low enough to indulge in a little bit! My favorite way to eat fresh mozzarella is with some sliced garden tomatoes and fresh basil, drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with pepper.
- Ricotta. The word “ricotta” means “cooked again.” This cheese is made from the whey drained from other types of cheese, such as mozzarella or provolone. Ricotta can be made from whole, low-fat, or skim milk. If you’ve had ricotta, you know that it has a slightly sweet flavor with a light, almost fluffy texture. It tends to be lower in sodium than other cheeses. One ounce of part-skim ricotta contains 40 calories and 2 grams of fat. It’s also a good source of calcium. Ricotta perishes quickly, so use it soon after you’ve bought it. Top fresh fruit with ricotta or mix some of your favorite pesto into it to use as a dip. Make your own “white” pizza by adding dollops of ricotta and some fresh mozzarella.
- Cottage cheese. I’ve found over the years that people either love or hate cottage cheese. Maybe it’s all the time people have spent eating cottage cheese as a “diet food” that brings back bad memories. Or it could be because cottage cheese has a pretty bland flavor and a sometimes-soupy texture that just doesn’t appeal.
Like mozzarella, cottage cheese is a curd cheese that is drained, but not completely so that some of the whey remains. And like ricotta, cottage cheese can be made with whole, low-fat, or skim milk. The size of the curd can vary, from large to small. One half-cup of low-fat (1% milkfat) cottage cheese contains 80 calories and 1 gram of fat. I like cottage cheese added to a salad and drizzled with some lower-fat salad dressing. It’s also good topped with fresh fruit. Blended up, cottage cheese works well as a base for dips and sauces. I’ve even read that cottage cheese can be used in place of mayonnaise to make tuna salad, for example. How do you use cottage cheese?
- Farmer’s (farmer) cheese. If you like cottage cheese, you’ll probably also like farmer’s cheese. This soft cheese is made in the same manner as cottage cheese, but is pressed to remove a lot of the whey, resulting in a drier cheese. Neufchâtel cheese is a ripened farmer’s cheese, and Indian paneer is farmer’s cheese curdled with vinegar or lemon juice. Farmer’s cheese is made from cow, goat, or sheep milk (and even yak milk!). One ounce contains 50 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. Use farmer’s cheese as a topping for baked potatoes or as a spread, mixed with dill and chives, on crackers or whole-grain bread.