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Say Cheese: Lunchbox Options

Try these in a school-bound lunch instead: Heini's Amish butter cheese and Heini's Amish Gouda Style cheese, both available at MOM's in Del Ray; New Zealand Grass-Fed Sharp Cheddar, at Trader Joe's, and Wisconsin Mammoth Cheddar, at Balducci's. (Domenica Marchetti)

It pains me to admit this, but there was a time when my kids were younger when I actually made sandwiches for them to take to school that contained — gasp — [BIG NAME COMPANY] American singles, those inefficiently wrapped, plasticky squares of “pasteurized prepared cheese product” that taste of nothing so much as sodium.

I could blame it on my son, the more picky eater of my two, who lobbied for it after he spied the orange stuff in his friends’ sandwiches. It was hard to get him to bring anything beyond peanut butter and honey, so if I could sneak some little lean turkey or salami in with that slice, just for a change of pace, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Well, yes. In fact, in short order, it became too much to swallow. The true cheese lover in me hated buying it, not to mention the way it smelled and tasted. I began to look for alternatives and found my savior, at MOM’s in Del Ray, in Heini’s cheese, an Ohio dairy company that uses hormone- and antibiotic-free milk from Amish farms to produce a line of kid-friendly cheeses.

Heini’s Amish Gouda Type was the same bright orange (thanks to annatto, a natural food coloring derived from tropical achiote trees), but with a respectable, mildly tangy flavor. Though my son didn’t love it at first he gamely tolerated it, mainly because he thought the cheese’s name was hilarious. (Heini’s, get it? When you are 4 years old, this is knee-slappingly funny.) Both my kids also liked Heini’s Havarti-style Amish Butter Cheese, which has a mellow buttery flavor. Both kinds are great in grilled cheese sandwiches.

My kids’ cheese palates have expanded considerably since those days. While I still occasionally put Heini’s cheese in their sandwiches, they are just as likely to take sandwiches featuring whatever cheese happens to be in the fridge. Here are a few of their lunchbox favorites, for sandwiches as well as for pairing with crackers or apples:

Monterey Jack: While it’s not the most adventurous cheese out there, it makes a decent partner for smoked turkey, especially in a wrap or on a ciabatta roll, with a little mayonnaise and some crunchy lettuce.

Cheddar: From mild Wisconsin mammoth (so named for the size of the wheel) to New Zealand grass-fed sharp, you can usually find a cheddar cheese a kid will like.

Parrano: This medium-aged Gouda is now available at most grocery stores and supermarkets, including Safeway and Trader Joe’s. It won Best in Class for Gouda and was first runner-up for World Champion Cheese at the 2006 World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, Wisc. It has a pleasing, rich texture and nutty savory taste that is reminiscent of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Fresh mozzarella:
Surprisingly (as it could not be more different from [BIG NAME COMPANY] American singles, this is now my son’s favorite sandwich cheese, whether it’s tucked inside a prosciutto panino or rolled into a wrap with ham or smoked turkey. Don’t forget that the small “ciliegine,” bite-size mozzarella balls, mixed with cherry tomatoes, make a great lunchbox snack.

Abruzzo cheese update:
Those of you who are regular followers of Say Cheese blogposts know that I have been touting cheeses from Abruzzo ever since I returned from a trip to that region of Italy in June. I’m happy to tell you that some of the wonderful cheeses imported by Bob Marcelli, whom I wrote about, are now available at La Fromagerie, in Old Town Alexandria. Among them, a soft washed-rind pecorino called Gregoriano; aged Ricotta Scorza Nera, notable for its black rind and creamy-firm texture, and Ricotta Ginepro, sheep’s-milk ricotta that is cold-smoked in juniper leaves.

-- Domenica Marchetti

Editor's note: Way to go, Domenica! Her second cookbook, "Big Night In" (Chronicle) was included in this year's compendium of Food & Wine's "Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes." Only 25 cookbooks were chosen from the 24,000 published in 2009.

By The Food Section  |  September 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese  
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My kids love Colby Jack cheese! It's yellow and white marbled and tastes so good! I buy it fresh sliced at the Food Lion Deli. Or I buy it as "string cheese" from any grocery store. Chedderella works the same- creammy and delicious and pretty!

Posted by: LBH219 | September 8, 2009 7:59 AM | Report abuse

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