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Cheese 101: A Healthy Guys Guide

Cheese is a favorite. And, despite my years in the health and fitness industry, there was I time I loved eating that whizzed orange stuff I'd squirt straight from a can and into my mouth; often when I was out of crackers. And, I believed macaroni just didn't taste as good without a hearty sprinkling of the powdery, neon colored stuff you'd get from a foiled pouch that came with the pasta in a box.

Now, my taste for better health and higher quality foods has confirmed resoundingly — that stuff isn't cheese at all.

I'll admit there was also a time when I jumped on the "fear of fat" train, along with all the other gym rats I knew in the 1980s. This meant cheese was off limits.

Older and more experienced, I've discovered that fat is really not our enemy and, unless you have an allergy or intolerance, cheese doesn't have to be off limits either; even when trying to live healthy and fit.

And, in rediscovering my love of cheese, I have learned that cheese has as broad a spectrum and heritage as wine. Perhaps, even more, considering cheese making originated long before we had developed any written language. (So no one really knows how it came about).

Speaking of language, I've also discovered that dropping a little cheese knowledge on a prospective date can impress them just as much as pretending to know your way around the subject of wine (Not only are you likely to know more about cheese than wine, but your conversant has a higher chance of sharing your enthusiasm. Plus, I've seldom thought 'wine talk' made a guy sound less like a pretentious Sommelier).

Anyway, to brush up on my "queso" skills and relay some truths on what grown up men should know about cheese, I decided to visit Houston Dairymaids, a local cheese chop just west of the Heights area. Although, some of this may be redundant, here is what I learned: 1. DON'T BUY PROCESSED CHEESE — EVER. Prepackaged and by-the-slice cheeses are often loaded with preservatives, excessive salt, and artificially colored. So go the authentic route and use real cheddar instead. Leave the Kraft Singles to the lesser men. You and I live for quality, remember?

2. SOME CHEESE DOESN'T GO BAD I had no idea that hard cheese like Parmesan or Jarlsberg won't go bad if it's properly stored! And, if you didn't know either, now you do! Wrapped up in a clean piece of parchment paper and sealed airtight in a container, and you're all set.

Next time you're ready for another taste, just cut off any blue surface mold and enjoy. I promise; it won't kill you. However, soft cheeses might! They tend to spoil quickly because of the very thing that gives them their texture; moisture. Soft cheeses hold a lot of moisture. So, to be safe, best avoid storing soft cheeses long term and eat them within a few days of purchase.

3. CHEESES HAVE SEASONS Like wine, cheeses can have subtle nuances based upon region and time of year when the animals making the milk starts lactating.

How long a cheese has to age must also be considered. As the seasons change, so should your cheese selections. During the fall, give sheep's milk varieties a try. Then, as the winter months arrive, try switching to heartier cheeses like Gruyere or Comte. And, if you're into goat's milk cheeses, they are best purchased in late spring and early summer.

4. CHEESE PLATES BEAT COOKING If you were asked to make something for a party, but you can't cook? Offer to bring a cheese plate! Just make sure it's something good with a little variety for everyone; like an aged Manchego, a soft or young cheese like Bucheron, and a fragrant-but-not-super-pungent cheese like the buffalo milk cheese Casatica di Bufala. You can even include a Chiriboga Blue. Bonus points if you bring along a variety of crackers, too.

5. PAIRING WINE WITH CHEESE IS SIMPLE So I can't select a dinner wine to save my life, but lucky for me there are a few simple points I can always follow when choosing a wine to pair with cheese. For example, subtle and delicate cheeses go well with champagne or white wine, while bold reds pair well with heartier flavored cheeses.

And, while it's not a favorite of mine because of its sweetness; Reisling pairs well with almost any cheese because it balances the natural saltiness of the cheese and has enough acidity to cut through the fat.

While we're at it, I should mention that beer can also go well with cheese. Try washing down an aged Gouda with New Castle or Rolling Rock. However, if you're going the beer and cheese route, there are no clear-lined rules here. It truly comes down to basing your choice on your personal preference and taste.

6. GET A MICROPLANE ZESTER Seriously good cheese can pack a lot of flavor, so buying an inexpensive grater will make your cheese investment go further. You can use it to shave flavorful hard cheese onto salads, into soups and sauces, and sliver Parmesan cheese perfectly atop your favorite pizza or pasta.

Now, eating well while enjoying your favorite foods is completely doable (and that includes cheese!) if you plan in advance and have strategies in place that will help you make good choices. I can teach you which healthy snacks can complement your fitness plan and satisfy your hunger while helping you move toward a healthier, ‘better’ you.

I'm here and ready to help.

Consider joining my Performance Plus Coaching Program, or feel free to book a free Strategy Session with me for an honest no sweat, no pressure, and no bull conversation on the best options for moving toward a better you.

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