Friday, December 08, 2006

No more cheese

I didn't think I'd ever hear myself uttering those words, but I just might have had my fill of cheese today. You see, one of my clients is a major cheese brand and today I attended a four hour long cheese tasting.

We started with a blind taste test of the major players in the natural cheddar cheese category. I discovered that I'm a big fan of Cabot, Tillamook and Cracker Barrel, but Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar is my absolute favorite. And store brand cheese? Pretty uniformly terrible.

I learned that East Coasters tend to prefer white cheddars, but Midwesterners and Left Coasters like their cheese yellow. I also found out that, outside of the Pacific Northwest where everyone grows up eating Tillamook, it is a very polarizing cheese Those of us who ranked it high loved it and those who didn't rank it in the top three thought it was among the worst we'd sampled.

After we'd consumed 15 pieces of cheese, we moved to the test kitchens to prepare a variety of foods with a variety of cheese brands. My partner and I were responsible for making a pizza and a traditional homemade macaroni and cheese. Other teams made equally cheesy dishes like lasagne and enchiladas. All of the dishes were made three different ways--with three different brands of cheese. So we tasted and evaluated a lot of food, and after seeing how the different types of cheese worked in cooked dishes, I was able to conclude that while the brand makes less difference in dishes than it does straight up, it is important to choose a sharp cheese for cooking since the flavors get muted. And you really sacrifice a lot when you use pre-shredded cheese since the anti-caking agent keeps the cheese from melting as nicely.