Curd Quips: Not quite cheese, but, oh so good

Itâ??s not a cheese, but just what is it? The space between milk and cheese is a fluid space where cultures (thatâ??s a good thing) may have been added, but itâ??s not yet cheese. Why? Milk needs to coagulate to be considered a cheese.

So what are these milky outliers? Some are household items you know well, like butter, cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt. Less known are some options worth discovering.

Consider the pair of confusing options from England: Double Devon Cream and Clotted Cream, arguably, the best examples of milk from the channel Island Jersey and Guernsey cows. In Double Devon cream, the cream can reach in excess of 45 percent butterfat. By contrast, some of the thickest half and half only reaches 18 percent butterfat. Double Devon cream has a golden hue and natural sweetness that makes it ideal with fresh berries or offsetting the bitterness of tea. Think cream tea.

Itâ??s counterpart, clotted cream, is regulated by British law that requires it must contain at least 55 percent butterfat. Getting cream to that level of richness requires gentle scalding, setting and skimming of the cream. The results yield a deeper amber color and texture thatâ??s noticeably thicker than Double Devon. The taste has a more savory (nutty) character that pairs well with baked goods. Think scones.

Mascarpone, Italian in origin, weighs in at up to 70 percent butterfat. Considered a double or triple cream in texture, itâ??s more like pudding. Sweet in nature, you have probably tasted it in the classic dessert Tiramisu. Personally, I love it at breakfast mixed with maple syrup and drizzled on French toast. Despite its natural sweet character Italians like to mix it with savory elements (anchovies, mustard and herbs) and spread it on bread.

Creme Fraiche? Think of this as French sour cream that wonâ??t break apart in heat. Use in savory recipes and donâ??t be afraid to stir it in simmering soups, beef stroganoff or splash in the sauté pan. It wonâ??t break apart and can be used to make delightful patterns while delivering richness to meals.

There are dozens more of these â??almost cheeses,â? like Quark or Fromage Blanc that can kick up your meals and enhance your enjoyment of both sweet and savory. To my way of thinking, now that you know what some of these are, take a chance and try one of these â??outliersâ? in your kitchen. Their discovery will be your rich reward.

Jeffery Mitchell is the owner of the Culpeper Cheese Company. He is also a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at jeffery@culpepercheese.com or 540.827.4757.