I have a great salad recipe that calls for Gorgonzola cheese (which I hate). What would be a good substitute for that cheese?
Gorgonzola is an Italian blue cheese. Traditionally it has come from the Northern Italian town for which it is named and is a young cheese that ripens within three to six months.
Blue cheeses have had different bacteria and molds introduced during the ripening process to impart a distinctive sharp, earthy flavor. The most famous of these bacteria is Penicillum roqueforti, used in making the French version of this cheese. There is a wide variation in the flavors between different blue cheeses and you may want to start by asking at the cheese counter at a gourmet market for a taste of one of the milder cheeses. It might be that you find an alternative to gorgonzola that you like.
Without knowing the particular salad recipe it is difficult to recommend a specific cheese. Crumbled feta cheese may be a good choice, lending an earthy tone without the strong flavor of a blue cheese. There are a number of goat cheeses sold in specialty markets that have had herbs mixed in or even coating the outside, and these can make a great addition to your salad. Sheep's milk and goat cheeses are often lower in fat content as well.
Using an aged cheese like a good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano or a Pecorino Romano is also a good choice for salads. While these are higher in fat, the intense flavor goes a long way, and a third to a half an ounce per serving is often more than enough.
A nice touch for any salad is a parmesan cookie. You can make this easily by placing a non-stick cookie sheet in an oven preheated to 325°F. While the cookie sheet is getting hot grate 1/2 ounce of Parmigiano-Reggiano per serving. Sprinkle 1/4 ounce of cheese in a pile about the size of a small cookie on the hot cookie sheet. Bake for about 3 - 5 minutes. Watch them closely and remove when the cheese has just melted. As the "cookies" cool remove them carefully to a paper towel. Use them to garnish your salad after they are fully cooled. You can even experiment and shape the cheese cookies into curves or tubes as they cool.
Thanks for writing,
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.