Monday meal: Four dishes with cheddar cheese

The Sunday Des Moines Register included a feature on Galen Musser, the 18-year-old in charge of making Milton Creamery's Prairie Breeze Cheddar.

The small-batch Cheddar cheese that he makes for his family's fledgling cheese-making operation in southeast Iowa claimed a gold medal in November at the World Cheese Awards competition in London.

The only American-made Cheddar to win a medal in the extra-mature creamy category, Milton Creamery's Prairie Breeze Cheddar was judged "the highest example of the category," sharing honors with 10 British cheeses.

Musser said they use old-fashioned techniques to make cheese in small batches. The milk comes from 11 local Amish farmers who all milk their cows by hand.

I've been buying Prairie Breeze Cheese at the Gateway Market in Des Moines for years. In October I brought it and a few other Iowa selections to a reception, and several people asked me where I got that "incredible," "amazing" cheese. It even inspired Bleeding Heartland user PrairieBreezeCheeze's screen name. It's great on crackers, but after the jump I've posted four other ways to use this flavorful cheddar cheese.

Topping for home-made pizza

The first time I used Milton Creamery's cheddar on pizza was almost by accident--I realized after I'd started cooking that I was out of mozzarella. Now I sometimes choose it for a change of pace. I like to put spinach and black olives on pizza, and the cheddar goes well with that. You don't need to sprinkle as much sharp cheddar on pizza as you might do with a mild cheese like mozzarella. Or, you can use mozzarella and add a bit of cheddar for an accent.

Tomato and Olive Wild Rice Casserole

I always double this recipe, so we can eat it two nights in a row. I've put the double quantities in parentheses. It's great for pot lucks or as a meal to take to a friend. I've tried many different cheese in my favorite wild rice dish, but cheddar is my usual fallback. The original recipe came from Susan Carol Hauser's book Wild Rice Cooking. I added oregano and crushed chillies to this dish and left out a cup of sliced mushrooms.

1 cup uncooked wild rice (2 cups)

one medium onion, chopped (large onion)

1 15-oz can chopped tomatoes, undrained (28-oz can of chopped tomatoes or 24-oz jar of strained tomatoes, undrained)

1/2 cup to 1 cup chopped ripe black olives, preferably kalamata (1 to 2 cups)

1/2 cup to 1 cup grated cheese (quantity depends on your taste and what kind of cheese you use)

about 1 cup water

1 teaspoon dried oregano (2 tsp)

1/2 teaspoon crushed chillies (1 tsp)

wheat germ for sprinkling on top (optional)

1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)

Rinse wild rice, drain and cook in water until tender, about 25-40 minutes. Drain when cooked if there is extra water.

Meanwhile, saute onions and mushrooms, if using, in butter or oil. When soft, add tomatoes, olives and any other herbs and spices you want to use.

In ungreased casserole dish, combine all the ingredients, stirring the water in last. Sprinkle wheat germ or extra cheese on top if you like. You can make the dish ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake.

Cover and bake at 350 F for about 30 to 40 minutes. I like to take the cover off for the last 10 minutes to get it a little brown on top. If you made the dish ahead of time and had it in the refrigerator, add about 10 minutes to the baking time.

Potato-cheese soup

There must be thousands of recipes for potato and cheese soup. One that I've tried and enjoyed is in The New Laurel's Kitchen cookbook; it has carrots, onions, potatoes, optional garlic, milk, salt, pepper and cheddar cheese. But you can stir a handful or two of shredded cheddar cheese into almost any potato soup (here's my favorite with potatoes, leeks and carrots). Wait until the soup is pureed and you're almost ready to serve, and don't bring the soup to a hard boil after you've added the cheese. Turn the heat down and just let the cheese melt into the potato soup.

Macaroni and cheese

Whatever amount of shredded cheese your favorite mac and cheese recipe calls for, you can get away with using less if you use a cheddar like Milton Creamery's. I like a variation on the macaroni and cheese recipe in Moosewood's Low-Fat Favorites cookbook, because it's fast and easy: you don't cook the pasta before putting the dish in the oven.

Just stir in 8-10 ounces uncooked pasta with a bit of shredded onion and a puree of the following: 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 container cottage cheese, a spoonful of mustard, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix in 1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, put the whole thing in a greased casserole dish, top with bread crumbs, wheat germ and/or parmesan cheese if you like, and bake at 375 F for about 45 minutes. I often add a few shredded carrots to the mix before baking.

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