Cheese and soup are no strangers, from a grated Parmesan garnish on minestrone to a layer of Gruyère in French onion soup.
But soft cheeses have their place as well. Today‘s tip is to consider how to use them in your favorite soups…and beyond.
Fresh cheeses also have a place in salads and other everyday dishes. As you peruse the list below, think of how you can add them to everything from eggs to vegetable dishes.
Depending on the texture, fresh cheeses can be crumbled, diced, sliced, shredded or, in the case of very soft cheeses, scooped/spooned.
A scoop of fresh fromage blanc, flavored with herbs, makes an impressive (adnd delicious!) soup garnish. Photo courtesy BigFoto.com.
WHAT ARE FRESH CHEESES
Fresh cheeses are those that are not aged (some are aged for a very short amount of time) and do not have a rind, which is a result of aging.
Jennifer Meier, an About.com Guide, has grouped fresh cheeses by similarity of texture. When cooking with fresh cheese, you can typically substitute the cheeses in every group for their group-mates. We’ve adapted her groupings (here’s the original article).
GROUP 1: SALTIER FRESH CHEESES WITH A DRIER, CRUMBLY TEXTURE
Cotija, a slightly aged Hispanic cheese, is always served crumbled. It’s a drier version of feta that is also compared to a younger Parmesan. More about cotija cheese.
Feta, the best-known cheese of Greece, is tangy, salty and firm. It can be sliced, cubed or crumbled. More about feta cheese.
Queso Fresco is a fresh Hispanic cheese with a crumbly curdy texture, and mild, slightly salty flavor, popular for cooking (it is often fried) and snacking. It softens but holds its shape when sliced and heated, and is shredded over beans, casseroles, enchiladas, green salads and potatoes. Try it on soups, too. More about queso fresco.
GROUP 2: FRESH CHEESES WITH A SLIGHTLY RUBBERY TEXTURE
This popular group is delicious for snacking or in recipes.
Halloumi, from Greece, can be salty or mild, depending on the manufacturer. The rubbery texture softens but does not melt when heated. It is a real treat when pan-fried or grilled, and grilled slices or strips can garnish soup and salad. More about halloumi cheese.
Mozzarella, from Italy, is one of the most familiar fresh cheeses in the U.S. Firm and creamy, it can be diced, sliced and shredded onto just about anything. It is an excellent melting cheese. More about mozzarella cheese.
Panela, from Mexico, is similar in taste and texture to mozzarella. It’s commonly added to salads or sandwiches or served with fruit. With a texture that softens but does not melt when heated, panela can be pan-fried or grilled. You can make panela “croutons” as a soup garnish. More about panela cheese.
Queso Oaxaca, from Oaxaco, Mexico, is the “Mexican mozzarella.” It is braided into ropes, which are said to mimic the braided silver for which the town is famous. More about queso oaxaca.
Queso fresco, ready for soup or salad. Photo
by Claire Freierman | THE NIBBLE.
GROUP 3: MILD, CRUMBLY FRESH CHEESES THAT DO OT MELT
Farmer’s Cheese or Farmer Cheese is cultured (soured) milk that has been drained into a dry and crumbly texture. It is made in two styles: one similar to cottage cheese, and a semi-soft version cured for a short time and pressed into a loaf, which can be diced or shredded. Farmer’s cheese is used as an ingredient in cheesecake and served like cottage cheese with fruit or yogurt. It can also be crumbled atop soup or salad. Farmer’s cheese was developed on farms all over the world, as a way to use the milk left over after skimming the cream for butter.
Paneer, from India, is cultured milk pressed into a sliceable cheese with a crumbly, creamy texture. More about paneer cheese.
Queso Blanco, another popular Hispanic cheese, is cultured milk pressed into a crumbly cheese with a mild flavor and texture. More about queso blanco and all Hispanic cheeses.
GROUP 4: SOFT, SPREADABLE CHEESES
This group of spoonable, smooth cheeses looks similar to sour cream, and each makes an excellent soup garnish. Some might wonder why they are classified as cheeses. The answer is in the recipe: Production techniques differentiate between what is cheese and what is cream.
Crème fraîche, a French specialty, comprises milk or cream that has been cultured so that the texture thickens. It is similar to sour cream, but with a more elegant tangy flavor; and it is cheese! More about crème fraîche, and a recipe to make it at home.
Fromage blanc, also from France, is also milk that has been cultured. It is thicker than crème fraîche but not as thick as ricotta. More about fromage blanc.
Mascarpone, the “Italian cream cheese,” is softer than American cream cheese with much more complex and delicious flavors. It is made from cream that has been thickened and drained, and it has a slightly sweet flavor that makes it a much more sophisticated garnish than whipped cream. It is best to garnish sweeter soups, from carrot soup to fruit soups. It is used to make tiramisu and cheesecake in Italy. More about mascarpone cheese, including a recipe to make your own.
Quark, more popular than yogurt in Germany, is a nonfat or lowfat cheese. The texture can vary greatly depending on manufacturer, from one that resembles fromage blanc or sour cream to another that is smoother and creamier than cottage cheese. More about quark cheese.
GROUP 5: SOFT CURD CHEESES
This last group of fresh cheeses doesn’t work well with soup or salad. But the cheeses are very versatile in other recipes.
Cottage cheese, made for milennia on farms worldwide, is cheese curds with milk or cream added to create a spoonable consistency. The flavor can be bland or tangy, depending on manufacturer; the curds can be small or large.
Pot cheese, or dry curd cottage cheese, is lowfat cottage cheese, drier in style.
Ricotta, an Italian cooking staple, is a textured but creamy, spreadable cheese with a slightly sweet, milky flavor. The word means “re-cooked”: Ricotta is made from reheating the rennet and whey drained from curds in the production of other cheeses. More about ricotta cheese.
MORE ABOUT FRESH CHEESES.
DISCOVER MORE OF OUR FAVORITE CHEESES IN OUR GOURMET CHEESE SECTION.