Have you heard about the CURD Act that recently passed the U.S. Senate? CURD stands for “Codifying Useful Regulatory Definitions” and has to do with defining what cheeses can use the term “natural.”
There are a lot more important things going on in the federal government this month (and the legislation did not pass in the House of Representatives), but really, most consumers have figured this all out for themselves by reading labels and educating themselves.
Basically, the CURD Act stated that natural cheese is made by coagulating the milk of cows, goats, sheep, and/or other mammals with the use of rennet or other suitable coagulating agent, partially draining the whey, while respecting the principle that cheese-making results in a concentration of milk protein (in particular, the casein portion).
The resulting cheese can be ripened or not, can be soft, semi-soft, hard, can be coated or not, etc.
Maybe it is easier to just figure out what is not natural cheese.
What does it mean when a label says Pasteurized Process Cheese or Cheese Food or Cheese Spread? Pasteurized process cheese can be made from a single cheese (solid or powdered), or a blend of several cheeses. Cream, milk fat, water, salt, artificial color, oils, and spices may also be added. The mixture is then heated with an emulsifier, poured into a mold, and allowed to cool.
The various names are determined by the moisture and fat content of the resulting product, whether they are spreadable, and at what temperature. We know these products as Velveeta, Kraft Singles, and Laughing Cow Cheese Spread. This category also includes cold pack cheese food (because of the additives of butter, artificial colors, nuts, etc.) and cans of grated “cheese,” if they contain anything but actual cheese.
The products in this “unnatural cheese” category are inexpensive to produce compared to traditional methods of actual cheesemaking, and use low-cost dairy and non-dairy additives.
The attribute most mentioned by those who prefer to use process cheese food when cooking is its melt-ability. You can, however, easily use natural cheeses, even traditional cave-aged cheeses, in all your cooking applications by grating the cheese first, bringing it to room temperature, and then using low heat while it melts.
A little bit of care while preparing your favorite cheese dish allows you to use a good quality natural cheese and avoid all those questionable ingredients and artificial colors.
Traditional Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe makes a 9 x 13 pan of deliciousness. The recipe is easily halved.
Topping: Pulse six slices of good quality white bread in a food processor with 3 tablespoons of cold butter. Pasta: boil a pound of dry macaroni (I like cavatappi instead of elbows now and then) until completely cooked (not just al dente). Drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sauce: Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in a large pot. Add 6 tablespoons of flour and a teaspoon of salt (not necessary if you’ve used salted butter). Whisk continuously until the color deepens, about a minute or so. Add 5 cups of milk and whisk continuously until the mixture comes to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until it thickens to the consistency of cream, stirring, about 5 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in a pound of shredded cheese When the cheese is melted, add the cooked pasta. Stir to break up any clumps. Return to the heat and stir until the sauce and pasta are heated through. Put into a 9” by 13” pan, top with the bread crumbs, and put into the oven for five minutes. If your pan is broiler proof, you can turn on the broiler for a minute to brown the crumbs.
Terry and Denise Woods are owners and cheesemakers at Highfield Farm Creamery in Walworth on State Line Road. If you have a question you’d like answered in this column, please send it to Info@HighfieldFarm.com