Monday, September 12, 2011

Cheese, Please!

So one of the fun things about being associated with FoodBuzz is that we get to try products out.  Through the Tastemaker program, we were given the opportunity to try out several varieties of Sargento cheeses.

Being from the Northwest now, I typically buy Tillamook or on a really good day and I'm at farmer's market or local shop, I buy cheeses made right around here so I haven't really given Sargento a second glance.

But for this challenge, we were asked to try Sargento cheese up against processed cheeses. After going on a cheese shopping spree courtesy of Sargento, I went about my Cook What You've Got thing and began trying them in different ways.

The first was simply using the shredded Mexican blends - Artisan Authentic Mexican and "Classic" 4-Cheese Mexican (they only make shredded and sliced varieties). The Artisan Mexican blend definitely had a more complex flavor with a bit more tang and subtle bite on the finish (By the way, doing a taste test on shredded cheese is a bit tricky.  The dog got what didn't make it!)  The Classic would be more comparable to mild cheddar/monterey jack blend which was perfect for quesadillas in the boys' lunches the next day.  In the end, for my enchiladas I was preparing that night, I used a mixture of both.

After trying some of the slices in sandwiches and such, we finally got to the fun part. Our "official" taste test of the processed cheeses against the Sargento slices.  Since my whole family are cheeseaholics, it was a great picnic.  Besides the cheeses, we packed a few fresh off the vine tomatoes, cocktail bread slices (my youngest's favorite), whole grain herb and garlic crackers and some cucumbers from the veggie box.

I gave the processed versions the benefit of the doubt and didn't even bother with the individually wrapped orange cheese slices or worse, the loaf of orange cheese (which my kids deemed "gross" when I made my one-time-a-year queso for the Super Bowl).  We instead went to the deli counter and found a horseradish flavored processed "cheddar" and some soft spreadable cheese featuring a humorous bovine.  As it turned out, what I thought I remembered about processed cheeses was still true.

As a child, I had a pretty complex palate.  When other kids were pleased with Ritz and squeezy cheese or saltines and American cheese, I knew that the two didn't taste right.  Too much sweet and nothing else really.  I always would go more flavorful crackers that had onion or garlic or really grainy varieties like Triscuits or Rye melba toast.  It balanced out the sweet flavor.  My favorite sandwich as a child was a Reuben.  I loved how there was so many different flavors.  I didn't know what exactly I was missing then, I just knew what I wanted and I searched until I found things that tasted right.

The two processed varieties brought me back to my childhood.  The cocktail bread was just too sweet to go with them.  They needed the whole grains and herb/garlic flavors in the crackers.  And the spreadable cheese was palatable with the cucumbers. In the end, the processed varieties were simply filler for two growing, indiscriminate (except for orange cheese loaves) cheeseaholic boys. 

The Sargento slices, however, were great as little cheese sandwiches on the cocktail bread.  Though we had Swiss and Mozzarella, my favorite was by far was the Pepper Jack.  Replete with the typical Monterey Jack tang, it also had two peppers - jalapenos and habaneros - which offered a better-than-average kick.

There's one Sargento shredded blend I haven't tried, but will as our weather is cooling off a bit.  While I don't expect it to taste like my favorite cave aged Gruyere, I have high hopes the Artisan Swiss, a blend of Gruyere and Swiss, will taste great on a Gratin Daphinois.  I'll keep you posted...

Final word?  Faced with artisanal cheeses from local fromageries versus Sargento, which would I choose?  Well, I think that's obvious if you know me (or have read more than this post) at all.  But they certainly did confirm my belief that there is no reason processed cheese should ever be in our grocery basket again.

Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, TablaVie Cooking Classes

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