Bring on the Cheese!
Observant Panera Bread® fans know many of our menu items layer blends of cheese together, but what they might not know is why. We asked one of our chefs to explain why if one cheese is good, two — or more! — cheeses are even better.
Panera Bread chef and Food Team member Mark McDonough is quick to answer that question: “Cheese can play a supporting role to other ingredients or it can be the flavor star of a dish. It’s all about creating a balance,” he says.
But how can you create that balance without having one cheese overpower the next? Take a cue from our Basil Pesto Sacchettini. The tender, purse-shaped pasta is stuffed with six—yes, six—flavor-rich cheeses: ricotta, Parmesan, Romano, Monterey Jack, cheddar, and mozzarella. The milder varieties—in this case, the ricotta, Monterey Jack, and mozzarella—are the perfect counterpoint to the sharper flavors of the Parmesan, Romano, and cheddar.
“Take a look at the recipe or dish you are creating,” says Mark. “Sometimes it is better to let a single cheese stand alone as an accent. A salad or soup would be a good example. But other times, using a blend of cheese flavors will elevate whatever it is you are preparing.” Many pasta dishes, quiches, and casseroles can benefit from a combination of cheeses.
Mark insists the only rule to blending cheeses is to stick to what you like. Mozzarella may be the traditional favorite for pizza, but if you love the taste of feta, there’s no reason why you can’t combine the two the next time you host a homemade-pizza night.
“Ask for tastings at the cheese counter,” suggests Mark. “If you find a new-to-you variety you like, buy a small wedge, bring it home, and experiment.” Here are a few suggestions to spark your culinary imagination.
- Combine Fontinella—a semi-hard type with a tangy flavor and creamy texture—with American cheese the next time you make grilled cheese.
- Add Manchego, a hard Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk, to tacos and quesadillas. It blends well with Monterey Jack, Colby, and mild cheddar.
- Build a cheese plate around a balance of strong and mellow flavors; serve the selections with grapes, thin slices of apples and pears, and a variety of breads.
- Think country of origin: If you are apprehensive about experimenting, remember that very often cheeses from similar regions go well together. For example, we use a blend of two Italian cheeses —Asiago and Parmesan—on our pasta dishes.
“When it comes to cheese, flavor drives everything,” says Mark. “Let your personal taste be your guide.”