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Can’t do without cheese in the day to day

by Nancy Reyes-Lumen
Today is National Cheese Day! 1

Cheese is such a wonderful food that you can’t outgrow it. Next to milk, cheese would be one of the earliest foods we tasted and the delight of it stayed on from infancy to well…my now senior life. Remember the days of making cheese omelet, grilled cheese sandwich, mac and cheese from scratch? Cheese lumpia, cheese cube pick-me-ups, and cheese pimiento? These were so easy and fun to do. Many of us graduated to being foodies by experimenting on different ways to use cheese.  Cheese is practically a “no-fail” ingredient. It’s a dish fixer-upper. You can even burn it and it still tastes good. We love cheese because it blends salty, with creaminess into our taste buds. Comfort food!

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Nancy Reyes Lumen (2nd from left) at the National Cheese Day Celebration with Eden Cheese together with Raf Baradas, Eden Assistant Brand Manager, event host Marie Field-Faith, and guest Chef Rosebud Benitez.

Traditionally, folk cheese-making in the Philippines is “Kesong Puti” from carabao milk. Some variants are the Quiseo of Samar – small medallions of white cheese formed by fermenting fresh carabao milk with vinegar, then shaped into thin round shapes. I personally have tried making Kesong Puti / Quiseo with pasteurized carabao milk and rock salt, applied with some heat. This is a very basic procedure.

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Cheese in our country also has roots in American colonial cuisine. What country in Asia would have cheese slices in burgers, cheese spreads, cheese bricks, cheese sauce as almost second nature to our foodscape?! American Cheese had its popular start during “Peacetime,” after the war.

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The American menu became so popular: Candies and cheddar cheese. These food items would come from the battleships that were near the Manila Bay. Small boats would go to these ships to get “issues” like ice cream powder, soft drinks, cigarettes, juices, chocolates and cheeses.

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The Grilled Cheese sandwich became one of the most popular cheese sandwiches available in historical restaurants like Botica Boie in Escolta, Taza de Oro, Brown Derby’s, A&W and Aristocrat. 

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In the 70’s when the pizza rage reached a high, many of us home cooks wondered how the cheese melted. We tried but the cheese did not melt. So new pizzas had grated cheddar cheese toppings which did not melt but just got soft. The Filipinos got a liking to it. After that us locals developed the taste and love for buttery, creamy, soft, slightly salty in the yellow cheeses sometime in the 1980s with the introduction of Eden Cheese.  Of the cheeses loved by Filipinos, Eden has stayed as #1 because of its consistent good taste and creaminess.

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And now cheese is an everyday, every occasion ingredient — a breakfast staple with pan de sal, cheese sandwich “baon” for school or work, cheese sauce on pasta, cheese on pizzaaaaah, cheese tossed into sweet or savory salads, or cheese just by itself for snacks …  call these “cheese moments.” Indeed, can we even imagine a day in our lives without cheese?

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Over the years, who didn’t enjoy “cheese moments” like: Alone on a midnight ref raider or with company, making Mom’s Cheese Pimento spread for a class party, or with a lover and a glass of wine, or by one’s lonely – on a diet, or nursing a heartache (it’s the best cure! Promise…try it!). One could be a craving mom-to-be, or just someone who doesn’t have the time to make an elaborate meal. Cheese is so easy to share, and eat together. I call cheese a friendship and community food. Say Cheese!

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