Monday, October 8, 2007

Cheating on Cheddar


Until the autumn properly arrives and the sun's merciless heat is reduced to a lovely warm glow, I don't eat much Cheddar or even have much in my fridge. I tend to eat feta, which I buy from one of the many Greek delis in my neighborhood in Queens.

When I am sweaty and listless (like I am now, even though it's October), Cheddar seems too fatty and heavy, and its nutty sweetness too cloying. Feta, on the other hand, is refreshingly zippy and tangy. I crave it in green salads, which is often all I can face eating on humid, sticky nights. Joey Ramone may have eaten refried beans in Queens, but I want feta. It magically manages to add richness to a light salad without make it undesirably heavy. Maybe it's the salt, or the slightly lower fat content (6 grams versus 8.5 grams per oz of cheese). It's certainly feta's briny sharpness that I want as a counterpoint to the sweetness of fleshy watermelon chunks in a cooling salad of black olives, mint, tomatoes, and red onion. Too bad watermelon is now out of season even though it is still hot and uncomfortable.

Another cheese I dig during summer is fresh ricotta, the type from a deli, not a plastic container in the dairy section of a supermarket. Mark Bittman of the New York Times calls this "good" ricotta. This is the cheese I use when I want to eat something more substantial than a salad, like pasta, after a tough speed workout with my running team. Ricotta is not tangy or salty like feta, but it's light, and sometimes this is all you ask of your cheese. A favorite pasta dish with ricotta comes from one of Bittman's recipes, with fresh basil and sauteed zucchini.

Feta and ricotta are the cheeses of the Mediterranean, so it's not at all surprising that I crave them during the summer and that I avoid the cheeses of cooler northern Europe, like my beloved Cheddar. But I need to ask why Australia, a super hot country, has embraced feta but the U.S.'s own sticky South has not. Cheddar still rules down there. Think cornbread with jalapeƱos and Cheddar. Or grits with Cheddar. Or pimento cheese.

When is autumn finally going to come so I can happily eat Cheddar again? And stop sweating?

1 comment:

Jason said...

I didn't realize that there was a difference with ricotta. I will see if my local deli has the fresh stuff. I am sad that yesterday's ricotta ice cream with the expensive balsamic vinegar was made with the "bad" variety. Never again unfresh cheese! Thanks, Diana.