Try to imagine a wonderful tiramisu without rich mascarpone, a baked potato without fresh sour cream, or a breakfast bowl of berries without that extra protein boost of some cottage cheese.
Exactly – it just wouldn’t work.
The range of products that belong to the group of soft fresh cheeses is large and versatile. But they all have some basic characteristics in common.
The most important aspect that differentiates these foods from regular cheese is that they are fresh cheeses that do not require a maturing process to produce. They edible right from the end of production.
Soft fresh varieties have a creamy and smooth texture (except cottage cheese) with a fresh, mild flavor and no rind.
The basic process used to make them is always the same: Milk is soured with the help of lactic acid bacteria, and made to coagulate.
After removing the whey, the product is almost finished. But there are certain differences in the rest of the process for the various products, as you will read below.
The special production process involved in making these cheeses is also the reason for their limited shelf lives. Keep fresh cheeses in the fridge, dispose of them after the expiration date, and consume within a couple of days once opened.
If you like to stock up, it is possible to freeze them for up to three months, but they may not maintain their texture. Place back in the fridge to thaw and stir thoroughly before using.
Those who follow a low FODMAP diet should avoid fresh cheeses. Try any variety of harder, aged cheeses instead to reduce digestive upset.
All of the soft fresh cheese varieties can be used in many different ways:
- Enjoy with some fresh or stewed fruits or nuts.
- Use to make sweet or savory dips and sauces, with fresh or dried herbs or spices.
- Use in cold recipes like desserts, or warm dishes like soups.
- Prepare layered desserts like tiramisu, frosting for cupcakes, or (of course) cheesecake.
- Use as a spread on sweet or savory sandwiches.
Let’s take a look at 6 different kinds of fresh cheeses, to help you decide which one to feature next on your menu next.
Curd Cheese (Quark)
Though popular in Europe, quark or curd cheese isn’t typically available in the United States. It’s similar to fromage blanc in texture.
Traditionally, pasteurized milk is soured with lactic acid bacteria and a mixture of enzymes so that the firm and the liquid parts separate.
The liquid whey strained from the curd, which is the actual basic ingredient of the cheese. Achieving different fat levels is possible at this point, by adding cream or not.
Quark is easily digestible and it provides you with lots of calcium and proteins.
Common fat levels for this product that are available at the store are low-fat curd (less than 10% fat in dry matter) and fresh curd cheese (40% fat), but there are several gradations possible in between. Some companies produce varieties with a lower fat content, or a higher one up to 80%.
There are different flavored varieties available, too.
There is no reason to shy away from a supposedly large quantity of fat. As quark contains approximately 80% water; a variety with even 50% fat in the dry matter contains only 10g of fat in 100g of the actual product making it 10% fat in total.
This grainy kind of fresh cheese is made of pasteurized skimmed milk, plus lactic acid bacteria. It is naturally low-fat and low-carb with a high protein level. Richer varieties made with cream are available, too.
It can be flavored with fresh herbs like chives or spices, and it makes a great fresh spread or dip. Add cucumber, bell peppers other vegetables for a spot of color on your plate.
You can also enjoy it spread on toasted bread on its own, or with some jam or honey on top.
It is well suited to make a nice breakfast with some fresh fruit or berries.
This thick and incredibly rich and creamy product is an essential element of tea time in Great Britain. Served with freshly baked scones and jam, this is a delicious combination. Especially in Devon and Cornwall, you’ll find this traditional and popular specialty.
The question of whether the cream or the jam comes first is a matter of origin, but this can be of some importance depending on where you stay. The order in Devon would be scone-cream-jam, whereas in Cornwall, you should stick to scone-jam-cream.
For its production, nothing else is required besides raw milk. It is heated up and mainly left to itself. The cream comes to the surface and develops small clots. In the end, it has a firm but creamy texture, and a light yellow color.
Whether you’re planning to have a spot of tea or an apple pie fresh from the oven, clotted cream is the perfect fit.
This mild and smooth fresh cheese which has up to 80% fat content melts wonderfully in your mouth. It is ideal for making desserts such as classic tiramisu, but it goes great with all kinds of fruit, too.
Mascarpone isn’t just for sweet treats. Try mixing some into your next pasta sauce, pureed soup, or dip.
The unique quality of mascarpone is that it’s made of cream instead of milk. Fresh cream is heated up to about 90°C (194°F) and coagulated with the help of an acid such as citric acid, then cooled down and drained.
The original Italian ricotta is a super versatile product. It can be made of cow, sheep or buffalo milk.
Because it is made from the whey rather than the curd, this makes it a fluffy and loose cream cheese, the perfect choice for adding to sauces and savory recipes.
It is often used as a filling for many different dishes, like stuffed peppers, cannelloni, quiche or tortellini. Together with spinach or fresh herbs, it makes an unbeatable combination.
The different variations have specific names:
– Ricotta di bufala (buffalo whey)
– Ricotti di pecora/sarda (sheep’s whey)
– Ricotta romana (cow’s whey)
Often, the cheeses have different names depending on whether they are salted or unsalted.
They can even have a completely different consistency, like Ricotta secca or ricotta salata, which is a hard and firm product that’s suitable for grating.
Its fat content can vary between low-fat and light, and full fat and rich. You can decide, depending on your recipe, which type you prefer.
Crème Fraîche and Sour Cream
Crème fraîche originates in France and belongs to the group of sour creams. It is made of cream taken from cow’s milk and has a fat content of at least 30%, generally more than sour cream.
Lactic acid bacteria are responsible for its texture and flavor. It is fresh and lightly sour.
Crème fraîche can be used for a variety of recipes because it won’t clump and separate, even when it’s added to warm or hot dishes. For example, I love topping soup with a dollop of it.
Sour cream is a close relative. Usually, it has a more firm consistency and its fat level can vary.
Besides using to top baked potatoes, sour cream is a traditional spread fused to make Flammkuchen, and Alsatian tart made with bacon and onions.
Its smooth and creamy texture is a nice addition to sauces, and it can be used to enrich exquisite desserts.
In combination with foods that have a strong flavor – like smoked salmon, and spicy or hot meat dishes – its mild taste provides a nice balance.
What’s your favorite variety of soft fresh cheese? And what products do you use for different recipes?
Share your thoughts, comments, and ideas below.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.