Cheap Cheese – Worth It?

I am yet to become a cheese expert, however, I like to think I know a thing or two about the quality of cheese.

When it comes to British Cheddars (my all time favourite type of cheese), the quality and price vary quite exponentially. This is truer as sales of cheese and cheddar in general grow.

Though price can affect the quality of a cheese, you don’t have to buy the top end of the market for the very best. Especially when money is tight and you have a cheese obsession like myself.

Sometimes when you buy an expensive supermarket cheese, you will be paying for the label. I find it is best to try a varying amount of cheeses to find the type of brands and types of cheeses you prefer. Definitely turn your nose up at the bargain basement ‘supermarket value’ cheeses. When you want quality, you need to look for:

  • Ingredients use.
  • Ageing process.
  • How the cheese is cared for.

Ingredients

Dairy is not a requirement when making cheese, however, I will only focus on this variant to keep things simple.

Not Just Cows

Just as dairy is not a requirement within cheese, cow’s milk is also not required. Any form of milk (that I know of) can be used to make cheese such as goat and buffalo. The different types of milk will bring a different, flavour, texture, taste and nutrition, where varying levels of fat, casein and casein structure will exist.

However, the end product will depend on the entire cheese making process.

To further complicate things, dairy from the same animal will differ in quality, taste, texture and nutrition that depends on such factors as the geographical location and what they are fed.

For example, cows from different regions will have a varying amount of fat and protein content. A cow that is primarily fed on grass rather then grains will yield better milk and thus a healthier and delicious cheese.

Since cheese will be derived from milk, only the best milk should be used.

The essential part needed for a good cheese within dairy is the fat content. The fat is needed to provide texture and flavour. You will clearly be able to taste the difference between a light and full-fat version. Of course, it is not just about the fat content.

The Milk & Bacteria

This brings us to the next most essential part of a good cheese. Well, a lack of. Dairy cheese should only contain a single ingredient. Milk. That is unless you are buying a cheese that is infused with another flavour or natural ingredients. However, as like with any healthy choice, we want to remove ourselves from products that contain too many ingredients and products that are heavily processed.

Another thing to take note of is pasteurised and unpasteurised. Pasteurised refers to heating the milk to kill off bacteria. This process also kills off many good bacteria which is not ideal as it’s these bacteria that produce the many reasons why we love cheese.

Unpasteurised will always yield a unique smell and taste in the cheese from within the same herd in each batch.

To keep things simple, some cheeses such as Parmesan must be made with unpasteurised milk (Italians demand this), however, on the whole, unpasteurised does not mean better and it depends on all the other facts of the process covered in this article. This can be chalked up to personal preference, taste and your health (those who are pregnant must stick to pasteurised products).

Cheese Production

Short one as I don’t know much about cheese production as of yet, however, I prefer cheese that is handmade from local producers rather than machine made ones. Of course, you must stay away from the fake and overly processed variants!

Ageing Process

Different cheese types have a different ageing process (affinage). Ageing is the most vital part of the cheesemaking process as it is responsible for creating the unique flavours and aromas. Multiple factors come into play during the ageing process such as temperature, the air circulation, the wrap around the cheese, the length of maturity and cheese type specifics such as processes related to the rinds.

The only factors we should be interested in is the maturing length and other processes to affect the flavours. Of course, we are looking for quality here and some essence of this process is down to personal tastes. But, a longer maturing process where the cheese is cared for in a controlled environment will be a far superior compared a to supermarket/factory made slab of cheddar.

Often, cheaper hard cheeses are wrapped in clingfilm to hasten the ageing process. Due to the process of factory-made cheese, they develop without a rind and have a softer curd.

As cheese ages, the texture changes and the flavour is intensified due to microbes and enzymes. The breakdown of casein proteins and milkfat is the cause of this and result in a complex mix of amino acids, amines, and fatty acids.

Simply put; the longer a cheese is aged for will have stronger qualities as long as it is matured in a natural way.

Quality cheese that you bring home from the supermarket will have an expiry date and more often then not, you do not have to adhere to this. As long as you care for your cheese sensibly, you can gain a stronger/mature cheese as time goes on.

Of course, fresh cheese such as ricotta, cream, etc are not aged and are consumed as fresh products (hence the term fresh!).

Cheese Care

Cheesemongers go to a lot of trouble to ensure cheese is cared for correctly. Cheeses will be turned regularly and regularly wiped to provide no unwanted mould to develop that will affect the flavour.

Similar to the ageing process, the cheese will be kept in a temperature controlled environment to promote longevity and still allow it to mature further.

So, What Is Deemed A Cheap Cheese? What Should You Buy?

There is cheap cheese and then there is very cheap cheese. For love of baby cheeses, avoid the supermarket value cheese.

I recommend cheeses to be bought straight from the producer who handmakes their products from well-pastured animals, or a cheese specialist that you know will care and further age the cheese they bring in to sell.

The quality vs price will depend on your personal preference on tastes and smells. Though at least this method will ensure the quality of ingredients used and the welfare of the animals.

However, if you have no choice and buy supermarket cheese, you will be limited on selection and information. Especially when it comes to the UK. Supermarket cheese and the brands they sell often to keep the information we need to determine quality a secret. You will be lucky to find the maturity length.

I recommend trying various of brands from the available cheese. Depending on tastes, choose a cheese that is not processed and has a decent ageing length of at least 18months.

Above everything else, do not go for low-fat versions!