In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll confess that my three-year-old son lights up when he sees a cheese string or a foil-wrapped Laughing Cow triangle. But I also try to offer him goat-milk cheddar or salty pecorino to nibble on – and often meet with success. We’re probably lucky that he has an adventurous palate (just like some kids willingly nap in the afternoon – I’m so happy for those parents, really), but it’s never predictable. Jalapeno havarti is a yes, bocconcini is a no.
You won’t see stinky Époisses on the list below, but these suggestions for cheeses that go beyond marble cheddar are aimed at introducing some variety to tentative palates. The list is arranged from milder to bolder choices, but mellow flavours aren’t always the winners with kids – or there’d be no such thing as dill pickle chips.
Cheese curds Mild, salty and squeaky, these morsels have lots of kid appeal. And they’re a nice change from sliced or cubed cheese. You can’t beat them warm and fresh from the dairy or market, but if doling them out on a play date at home, just pop the plastic bag in some warm water to quickly bring them up to room temperature.
Fresh mozzarella You don’t have to splurge on the buffalo-milk variety, but not only are these soft balls of cheese mild and slightly sweet, they also pull apart – like a cheese string, coincidentally. A good match with cold cuts or even some melon.
Lankaaster This is an Ontario artisanal cheese that I’ve now seen available at Loblaws. If you consider cheddar and crackers a staple snack, try Lankaaster for a change. Even the aged version remains mellow, buttery and mildly grassy but completely addictive. Works for all ages.
Oka Though it is a washed-rind cheese, Oka tends to have a soft creamy texture and restrained, nutty flavour. Agropur’s Okas and St. Paulin cheese are widely available. Consider them a gateway cheese for the kids – and make way for Taleggio.
Chèvre The tangy bright flavours of chèvre may sometimes need to be rounded out with some sweetness. Try packing this for lunch on fresh bread spread with some honey, preserves or even chutney.
Flavoured goudas A young fruity gouda is usually a safe bet at our house and I like to experiment with flavoured varieties – such as dill, jalapeno, cumin, garden vegetable or smoked. These add new tastes to a sandwich and are good for making a quick grilled cheese with fresh tomatoes.
Sheep’s milk cheese If you’re looking for an alternative to cow’s milk, French Etorki and a young version of Spanish Manchego might fit the bill. Both are smooth but flavourful cheeses that travel well and are widely available. Great with some sliced apple or pears. Sheep feta is a little creamier and smoother than some goat or cow’s milk versions and great addition to your child’s pasta salad.
Alpine-style cheeses Jarlsberg, which is supple, nutty and slightly sweet, makes for a great ham and cheese sandwich. In the same vein, you could substitute some Hercule de Charlevoix from Quebec, Alpindon from British Columbia or Beaufort from France.
Robust aged cheeses My son cannot get enough of English Red Leicester. (Ask for the farmstead version when buying it as it’s much better than the industrial-made version. We get ours at one of the Alex Farms cheese shops in Toronto.) It’s not a shy cheese but never sharp. It’s bright orange, which is probably the main attraction. The flavours are rich, savoury and contain notes of butterscotch. I shave off curls of this flaky cheese, which makes it less intense and easier to eat. The same idea works for Beemster or Parmigiano-Reggiano and other harder cheeses. Salty, flavourful cheese chips.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com .