Menu Development
By Pasquale "Pat" Bruno

American Cheddar is generally made from pasteurized cow's milk. Cheddar is often referred to as the "big cheese" of American cheeses. Its popularity is quite evident, since the average American consumes about 10 pounds of cheddar cheese each year. The process of milling and piling of the curds (cheddaring) before pressing gives cheddar its name. Most American-made cheddar gets its color from a dying process using annatto (a special form of food coloring).

Colby is a cheese that was created in Colby, Wisconsin, sometime around the turn of the 20th century, and is quite similar in flavor and appearance to Cheddar. One of the big differences between Colby and cheddar is that Colby is softer and has a somewhat lacy texture. Also, cheddar requires some aging whereas Colby does not. Colby goes by the name of "Longhorn" when it is cut into half-moon shapes.

The similarities of these two cheeses rule out the idea of blending them. But you can take advantage of their similarities by using them interchangeably. Each cheese on its own can add some interesting flavors and textures. For example, I would use cheddar in a ham and cheese panini. I would definitely use cheddar (sharp or mild, it doesn't matter) blended with Monterey Jack on a Mexican pizza. On the other hand, it wouldn't make much sense to blend cheddar and Colby in, say, a macaroni and cheese dish.

Try both of these recipes to get into the tasty pleasures that cheddar and Colby delivers.

Spinach dip

Makes about 3 cups of dip

8 slices bacon

1 pound fresh spinach, cleaned and stemmed, or two 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess water

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

3/4 pound shredded Colby cheese (mild or sharp)

1 cup diced tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Cook the bacon until it is crisp. Drain, crumble and set aside.

In a saucepan set over medium heat, cook the spinach. Drain excess water from the pan. Add the ricotta, cheddar, and tomatoes to the pan. Cook and stir until the cheeses blend with spinach. Blend in the salt and pepper. Mix in the crumbled bacon.

Serve with large chunks of crusty bread or crackers.

Pizza Arrebba

Makes one 14-inch pizza

1 14-inch pizza shell

2/3 cup bottled chunky salsa

11/2 cups drained and rinsed black beans

4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

Spread the salsa evenly over the crust, leaving about a 1/2-inch border all around. Spread the beans over the salsa. In a small bowl, combine the two cheeses. Sprinkle the cheese mixture evenly over the pizza. Sprinkle on the cilantro. Bake.

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