17 September 2010

Simple meals

I had plans for you, oh handful of people who read this blog. I had big, important plans. I had a list. And then the week went not so much wrong as agley. It wasn't Murphy's Law that got me, just Burns'. So I've been in survival mode, which doesn't make for great blogging. Do you need a picture and instructions for spaghetti with tomato sauce? I doubt it. But, as I go into another day of slapping dinner together, I do have some wisdom to impart. It's even something I learned during a graduate school seminar, so you know it's crucial to the future of humanity.

Are you ready?

Here we go:

Pre-shredded cheese is crap. And not in a snooty, “processed food is EVIL” kind of way. It is demonstrably, scientifically, factually less delicious than block cheese. (This is graduate school level knowledge, remember?)

There are two reasons. First pre-shredded cheese has anti-caking agents in it. I don't blame the food companies. They don't have a choice. Without anti-caking agents the cheese shreds will stick to each other and become a giant, ill-formed cheese lump. And who needs that? Nobody. So, they add anti-caking agents, which keeps the shreds separated. But anti-caking agents don't taste like cheese because they are not cheese. So with every shred of cheese you are adding a tiny amount of not-cheese. That just seems to be counter-productive when the goal is to add cheese.

Only slightly less well known is this: never go in against a Sicilian...

No, wrong list, sorry.

The second reason why block cheese is scientifically better than pre-shredded cheese is that pre-shredded cheese is shredded on ginormous industrial shredders. When you shred cheese at home, do your shreds come out perfectly shaped? Or do you sometimes get clumps and crumbles and those bits that stick to the back of the shredder and have to be cleaned off by hand? All those clumps and crumbles are waste for the big industrial shredder. So they have to use younger, softer cheese to reduce the mess and waste. The problem is that younger cheese has had less time to develop flavor. So pre-shredded cheese has had less time to develop wonderful cheese flavor than a block of cheese of comparable quality.

I learned all of this from a presentation given by a fellow graduate student who was studying methods of making a better tasting low-fat cheese. She had lots of graphs and charts, as you do when you're a graduate student, including one which showed that low-fat cheese shredded at home had as many cheese-flavor compounds as pre-shredded full-fat cheese.

So, in conclusion, spend a few extra minutes and shred your own cheese. You'll be glad you did.

This message was brought to you by today's “you don't need me to tell you how to do this.” meal: black beans and rice. I do cook my black beans from dried in my handy-dandy slow-cooker, because they really are better than canned, but it's a much longer process and a lecture for another day. If you want to use canned beans, I won't judge.

beans and rice


  1. You're right, you're right. Will try to do better. Will go back to buying block cheese. (All regular American cheese is tasteless anyway. If you can bear to spend more, I highly recommend Dubliner for a really tasty cheddar. It was my standard cheese of choice at home, but it's pricey over here.)

  2. Yum. I love black beans and rice ... reminds me of childhood. And I'm an offender, too ... while I don't do it often, I do sometimes buy pre-shredded cheese. Bad monkey, me.



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