11 September 2011

I tasted Sargento cheese and lived to tell...

Actually, it is fine.  Sargento cheese is lovely.  I was recently invited to participate in Foodbuzz's Tastemakers program with Sargento Cheese , which involved my having to go out and purchase said brand of cheese.  Not having ever noticed the brand before in my local store, I scoured the deli area filled with blocks of exotic cheeses and found nothing.  I headed over to the more pedestrian “cheese and beer” aisle and there, in the grated and pre-sliced cheese area, was my target: Sargento, at least in my town, is only available packaged for the American Busy Moms looking for shortcuts in their baking and lunch-packing drudgery.

When I signed on to taste Sargento, I imagined getting some lovely little blocks of different cheeses, pairing them with some crackers, olives, and fruit, and breaking out the wine for an impromptu party on the back patio.  Now I was faced with plastic bags of (albeit real) cheese pieces and a mission to rethink how I would make best use of what I had before me.

The other aspect of the taste challenge was that I had to compare Sargento real cheeses to a processed cheese product, like  American cheese slices or some such garbage.  I couldn’t stomach more than some grilled cheese sandwiches with each kind of cheese, and I can truthfully report that the sandwich made with Sargento was not horrible, and the sandwich made with sliced “cheese product” was, in fact, absolutely horrible.  No flavor or aroma to speak of, except a vaguely waxy taste in the mouth, and a plastic-like texture made for a truly creepy sandwich.  I tried to dress it up (results below), but nothing helped.  The cheese and filling combinations listed here should be used with real cheese; Sargento fit the bill just fine.

Grilled Cheeses Deluxe:

Toast in the oven or fry in a pan; these additions just make that ubiquitous comfort food a little more special.

Bread Cheese Fillings Condiments

Rye    +     Sharp Cheddar     +  thinly sliced red onion and green apple   + grainy mustard
Sourdough   + pepper jack   + sliced dried apricots   + 1 tsp. plain yogurt mixed with 1 tsp. curry powder
Whole wheat + mozarella sliced fresh tomato     + prepared pesto

I know what you're thinking, but
I'm pretty sure that's the Mona Lisa.  

Now, back to the business at hand.  When I saw all those prepackaged cheese in the aisle, I couldn’t help but envision casseroles; you can take the Midwesterner out of the Midwest, but…well.  So I also used some handily pre-sliced provolone to make the simple, light yet rich casserole, below.  It’s a great way to use up all those overgrown zucchini and summer squash, and it can be cut into portions, wrapped in foil, and frozen for later use.   I have to say, the Sargento provolone melted beautifully and provided a rich, buttery taste and texture to the dish.

Late Summer Zucchini Bake

Serves 8-10

6 medium zucchini, summer squash, or combination of both, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced into half-rings
8 fresh tomatoes, cored and sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence, divided
Coarse ground sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 package (10 slices) Sargento provolone sliced cheese
Olive oil
½ baguette cut into cubes

Place the cubed bread in a medium bowl and add 1 tablespoon olive oil; mix thoroughly and set aside.

Coat the bottom of a large casserole dish with olive oil.  Lay down one layer of zucchini slices, followed by 1/3 of the onion slices.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon of the herbes de Provence.   Top with a layer of tomato slices and half the cheese.  Repeat the process, then top the second layer with the remaining zucchini and onion slices, and season with salt and pepper Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake in the oven at 450°F (no need to preheat) on the bottom rack for 45 minutes or until onions and zucchini on top are soft.  Uncover and top with the cubed bread, then return to the oven to bake another 15-20 minutes uncovered, or until the bread begins to brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes before cutting and serving.  Pairs well with a crisp Rosé or Vinho Verde.