There comes a time in every man’s life when you have to venture beyond the familiar—exchanging good old boxed wine for a dry chianti, upgrading from the varsity cheerleader to the hottie marketing exec, or even swapping out the old Playstation for a shiny new Wii. The same goes for cooking and kitchen basics, since few things scream “lonely bachelor” than a massive box of Ramen Noodles and a few Natty Lites. Trust us, when your hottie exec finally decides to stay over, she won’t exactly be turned on by your refined expertise with a pack of Easy Mac.
So let’s talk about that stack of pre-packaged, transparent orange squares that Kraft refers to as “cheese.” We’ll start with a basic rule of thumb: if you can see through it when you hold it up to the light, it probably won’t stand up well against a good glass of wine. Here’s the good news: you don’t have to be a cheese monger (or a Frenchman) to have a basic understanding of this culinary staple.
FETA—The Zeus of Greek cheeses. Feta has a sharp, strong flavor. Impress her by using feta in a salad (with cherry tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, and balsamic vinegar), adding it to hummus, cooking it in an omelet, or even whipping out your Greek cooking skills with some spanikopita. Opa!
MOZZARELLA—surprisingly, not only found in those fried breadsticks you devour at your local sports bar. And don’t be too satisfied with yourself if you have a Ziplocked pack of the Kroger version for your pizzas. We’re talking about real mozzarella—soft, moist, and normally kept in brine to preserve its flavor. Don’t be intimidated, because mozzarella makes up one of the easiest Italian recipes in existence: slice the mozzarella balls horizontally over fresh tomato slices, and top with basil, pepper and olive oil. This is an Insalata Caprese, which is Italian for “you are definitely getting lucky tonight.”
ROMANO—the ass-kicker of Italian cheese. Seriously. Romano is made from more milk and less water than most other cheeses, so it delivers a sharp, salty, tangy punch in its flavor. The texture of the cheese is very hard, so romano usually will be grated. Serve it over a pasta dish in which you would normally use parmesan to kick the flavor up a notch.
BRIE—soft, pale, slightly pretentious… yup, definitely sounds French to us. But brie is probably one of the most popular French cheeses in the world, and the ladies love it. Don’t be freaked out by the white rind encasing it; yes, that is technically mold, but it is also technically delicious and meant to be served with the cheese. Unless you’re really working on your French gourmet cooking skills, the best way to serve brie is by itself with just a cheese knife and a good Bordeaux wine.
GORGONZOLA—much more manly than brie, with a cooler name and a much sharper bite of flavor (compliments of the blue-green mold that make gorgonzola particularly distinctive). Gorgonzola is soft and crumbly, depending on how long the cheese has aged. A little bit goes a long way, but if you can manage it, try introducing gorgonzola to your steak recipes for a twist.
GRUYÉRE—A Swiss cheese, but not the hole-filled kind you probably became familiar with by watching Tom and Jerry. Think of Gruyère as Switzerland’s answer to the pansy brie cheese: hard, yellow, and very flavorful. Though the flavors change as the cheese ages, Gruyère is mostly known for having an earthy, sometimes nutty taste and a grainy texture. The complex flavoring lends itself to fondue very well, so whip out the fondue pot and the bearskin rug.