Imported cheese: the foreign favorites

Americans have a penchant for making lists, for rating the 10 best or 10 worst of automobiles or colleges or places to live. Now cheeses have joined the ratings.

Some lists rate the most popular American cheeses. Others tell the most popular imported cheeses. Imported cheeses, in fact, are in such demand in the United States that most countries exporting cheeses there have already completely filled their quotas.

The newest star among the imported varieties is goat cheese. Over the last year sales of this white, creamy dairy food have increased tremendously, although goat cheese is still a small portion of the entire imported cheese market.

From Britain, one of the favorites is Stilton, that full-bodied, sharp cheese that has been famous for centuries. Another popular British cheese is Sturminster, which has a Stilton base surrounded by layers of double Gloucester with freshly chopped chives and scallions.

When it comes to German cheeses, be sure to check out the popular Bonchampi. The name is French, but this cheese is currently the best-selling German import, and it's chock-full of mushrooms.

Also from Germany comes Bruder Basil, a naturally smoked cheese that is made plain or with chunks of Westphalian ham.

Holland's piquant Gouda and Edam cheeses are still favorites -- for delicious flavor as well as reasonable price.

With its yellow-gold rind, Gouda is described as a rich cheese with a creamy texture. Edam, a round cheese with a bright red casing, works well in many savory dishes.

The Dutch make many spiced cheeses such as the Frisian ones that are spiced with cloves. Lately, Dutch cheesemakers have experimented with new flavored cheeses featuring green peppercorns, garlic, caraway, and herbs. Katrina is one of the new ones.

Italian cheese is growing in popularity and pasta is the ``locomotive'' that's pulling the cheese along with it.

Not that Italian cheeses don't stand on their own. Pecorino, Provolone, Parmesan, and Romano are favorite standbys. Other popular types are Gorgonzola, Robiole, and Mascarpone, a thick, white cheese like clotted cream that is sometimes layered with the blue and white Gorgonzola.

Denmark is probably the largest exporter of cheese to the US market, and it is one of the ``cheese capitals'' of the world. Last year it exported some 17,800 tons of cheese to the US.

The top seller of Danish cheeses is creamy Havarti, the leader for the past six or seven years.

Because of the trend to lighter foods, the Danes have introduced several low-fat cheeses during the '80s. Interestingly enough, these lighter ones haven't sold too well. Sales of the traditional high-fat cheeses, in fact, have been growing.

Other popular Danish cheeses include Saga, a mixture of Camembert and Blue; Svembo, a Danish Jarlsberg type; and a new cheese called Opus 84.

Because of the value of the US dollar, Danish cheeses have not had a price increase in two years. They're priced slightly above US cheeses and are among the best buys of the imported cheeses.

When shopping for imported cheeses, go to the supermarkets for plenty of selection and an easy way to compare prices. Go to the special cheese stores or gourmet food shops for new cheeses or the less well-known, exotic varieties.

Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.

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