From the Dairy Aisle
Any food made from cow’s milk is classified as a dairy product, and as you stroll along the dairy aisle looking at all the cheeses, yogurts, milks, creams, and butters, you can start planning some menus. Indeed, you could probably whip up a week’s worth of dishes based on these fresh dairy basics.
You can expand your cooking repertoire if you consider such products as canned evaporated skim and whole milks; sweetened condensed milks; and powdered skim, buttermilk, and whole milks.
Because milk and its products are considered one of nature’s almost perfect foods, its protein and high calcium content make it a desirable meal component. According to the USDA, Americans get nearly 72 percent of their calcium from dairy foods. However, some research shows a possible correlation between high milk consumption and the incidence of prostate and ovarian cancers.
Because cheese contains many of milk’s proteins, minerals, and fat-soluble vitamins, including cheese in your menu planning is a dietary bonus. Because it’s an excellent source of calcium, cheese helps build bones and strengthen teeth, and might even help adults avoid certain health problems.
It takes 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese, says the National Dairy Council. That means, depending on the type of production process, that milk’s many nutrients are condensed in a portion of cheese.
For children, cheese is a delicious way to add protein and calcium to their diet. But as rich as cheese is in protein and minerals, full-fat cheeses also have a relatively high fat and cholesterol content. So cheese lovers beware: moderation. Otherwise, stick to such lower-fat options as ricotta, part-skim mozzarella cheese, and cottage cheese.
For cooks, the charm of cheese lies in its versatility and in its range of flavors and textures. Cheese can work well in savory and sweet dishes, making it a desirable component for breakfast dishes, entrées, and desserts. And you can use its many forms: it crumbles, melts, slices, spreads, grates, cubes, and shreds.
Because of consumer demands for high-quality cheeses, many entrepreneurs have responded by initiating their own artisanal cheese makers’ groups and relearning the art of cheese making. The result: artisanal cheeses that are produced in small batches, often by local artisans who milk their own cows and goats, produce their own cheeses, and sell them at farmers’ markets. Fortunately, many fine artisanal cheeses are available online. Check out such websites as Artisanal Cheese.
Did you know that people crave cheese more than any other food? That’s according to the USDA, and in 2007, the U.S.’s cheese production totaled nearly 10 billion pounds.
Dairy Substitutes and Products
If you have eliminated all dairy products from your diet, you should consider such nondairy options as soymilk and the soy-based products, including soy cream cheese, soy sour cream, soy yogurt, soy margarine, and soy flavored cheeses. You’ll also find in most health food markets nut- and rice-based “milks.” Whipped toppings and nondairy creamers are sold in most supermarkets.
In general, dairy and cheese alternatives have no cholesterol, fewer calories, and less fat. For more information about soy-based, dairy-free products, check out Soyfoods.org.
You can make yogurt cheese by draining plain yogurt, either the fat-free or whole-milk variety, in a cheesecloth-lined colander. The longer it drains, the thicker it becomes. Once it’s as thick as you want, spoon it out of the cheesecloth and store it in a clean container. If you want, you can stir in seasonings to make it a sandwich or cracker spread. Otherwise, put dollops on your veggies, cereals, or cooked grains.
Yogurt and Your Health
Fermented and cultured milk products such as yogurt have been around for thousands of years, but they are easily one of modern man’s most popular dairy items. Yogurt has a wide following in many countries, and it is appreciated by vegetarians and nonvegetarians for its health-promoting properties. Dieters also love yogurt in all its many flavors.
Among its many benefits, yogurt promotes longevity, some believe. Others eat yogurt because its beneficial live cultures of bacteria regulate the digestive tract and settle gastrointestinal upsets, aid the absorption of certain minerals, help reduce cholesterol levels, and may help prevent osteoporosis.
As with almost any food today, yogurt comes not only in many different flavors, but also with many different classifications. Whether you buy fat-free or whole-milk yogurt, look for one that is not heat-treated, contains active live cultures, and preferably is organic. For detailed yogurt information, visit the National Yogurt Association.