Cheese: the International Food of Happiness. And a Healthy Banoffee Pie with Homemade Ricotta

Put a group of people in a room together and there’s not a whole heap that the majority will agree on. Crunchy or soft tacos? Toilet paper scrunched or folded? Star Wars prequels – amazing or abysmal? However, through my thorough research of spending day in, day out, asking people what they do and don’t like to eat, I’ve come to a very scientific conclusion: Cheese makes the majority of people smile. Melt it on top of something, anything- delicious. It completes a salad, and is one of a few foods that effortlessly spans from entrée , to main, to dessert. Heck, Tim Minchin, one of a small selection of red haired/dreadlocked men I’d sell my firstborn for, wrote a song about it (my favourite line is “I cannot camen-bear it anymore, E-damm you, mon amour”). Yep, we go crazy for this high fat delight.

Cheese is a food that spans across continents and cultures- no one knows who invented it or where it began. The Indians have Paneer, in the Middle East there is Kanafeh, in Mexico there is Queso Para Frier, and in Italy and France, well, without being biased- they win. Brie and Camembert, Mozzarella and Pecorino; my mouth is watering.  All cheeses share the common similarities that they are made from the milk protein casein (fun fact: cheese comes from the Latin word caseus, of which casein is also derived) which has been coagulated by the addition of an acid or bacteria and enzyme. The type of milk used, the process used, the type of bacteria added, and the age of the cheese are a few factors which distinguish the hundreds of different types of cheeses that exist.

From a nutrition point of view, the differences are almost as diverse as the varieties. The media did a great job at promoting low fat dairy foods, over the past few decades, leaving people fearful of full fat milk.  However, in the scheme of things, milk is quite low in fat at only 3.5% fat. Compared to standard feta cheese, which has over six times the fat content of full cream milk, and brie cheese, with nearly 10 times the fat content, a dash of full fat milk in your coffee doesn’t seem too bad. The exceptions to cheese being a high fat food are ricotta and cottage cheese- with both less than 10% fat in their full fat varieties. 

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Hence, if you’re watching your weight or have high cholesterol levels, try to limit your daily cheese intake to the size of a matchbox, or 2 thin slices of cheese. Or, dig into the ricotta. I have been known to live off ricotta for days on end- and I have just learnt I can cut out the middleman and get it fresh within 30 minutes, any time of day or night, by making it myself. The best part of this situation is that there is the added bonus of the ricotta being warm. Buying it from the supermarket, it is refrigerated, but if you’re lucky enough to have it freshly made, off the stove, you will find it tastes like angels have died in a pot of milk (if that’s too graphic, then quite simply, when warm it tastes like a blissful dessert and I would recommend eating it by the spoonful, ideally with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon). This method of making your own Homemade Ricotta does not require any fancy thermometers, enzymes or waiting times as usually occurs when making your own cheese, and you can make ricotta at a fraction of the cost the supermarkets will charge (and at ~$10/kg in the shops, when I say a fraction of the price, I mean it’s CHEAP!).

If a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon doesn’t cut it, try the ricotta spread on toast with some fresh tomato and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or on some fruit bread with sliced pear, or stirred through warm pasta to make a creamy sauce. Or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, use it to create a Healthy Banoffee Pie with Homemade Ricotta. Cafes the cool people like to hang at are apparently all over “raw desserts” at the moment- desserts which substitute refined sugars, refined flours and ovens, for nuts, syrups and refrigerated cabinets. Whilst these are unlikely to be lower in total kilojoules, fat or sugars, they are significantly more nutrient dense so make a welcome alternative. I decided to give one a go, and it came out wonderfully. Not that I’d expect anything less when cake meets cheese.