Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Savoury Details – Salt and Cheese

NB:  For the purpose of this blog, I refer mostly to ‘Sodium’, as opposed to ‘Salt’, as Sodium is the standard for nutritional information panels, but it is really important to note that Sodium does not equal Salt. Salt is a compound – Sodium + Choloride, so if you want to calculate the level of actual salt in your food, you need to multiply the Sodium number by 2.5. Sodium is the element that is bad for our health in large doses – that is why it features on nutrition panels (probably also because it is a lower number than ‘Salt’, making the product look healthier).

I hear an increasing number of my customers complain that their doctor told them that they can’t eat any cheese now because they have to follow a low salt diet. While it is true that some cheeses are high in salt, there are definitely delicious, lower-salt cheese options out there.

Salt plays an integral role in cheese making by controlling microbial action and acting as a preservative and flavour enhancer. But the rules aren’t the same for all cheeses – some styles contain more salt than others – for example: Cheddar, some Blue cheeses and also Parmigiano – which spends 3 weeks bobbing around in a tank of brine before being matured. Some cheeses contain much lower levels of salt, such as fresh styles and some gruyeres.

AWASH (The Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health, suggests the following 3 categories for identifying low/high salt foods:

Less than 120mg Sodium per 100g = ‘low in salt’ (as per current FSANZ standards)
120 to 600mg Sodium per 100g = ‘medium’
More than 600mg Sodium per 100g = ‘high in salt’

The nerd in me has enjoyed creating this table of Sodium levels in popular cheeses available from most good cheese shops:

mg of Sodium per 100g of cheese:

  • Meredith Plain Chevre  300mg *
  • Comte  335mg **
  • Woodside Goat Fetta  336mg *
  • Berry's Creek Tarwin Blue  440mg *
  • Parmigiano Reggiano  650mg #
  • Barossa Valley Camembert  650mg *
  • Yarra Valley Persian Fetta  880mg *
  • Quickes Cheddar  750mg *
  • Cropwell Bishop Stilton  900mg **
  • Roquefort  1760mg **
*    product packaging   
**  Information supplied by importer   
#    Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium website

As you can see – some really tasty cheeses fit comfortably into the ‘medium’ category. The recommendation for Australians with high blood pressure or an existing cardiovascular disease is a daily Salt intake of 4 grams per day or less if possible, equivalent to 1600mg of Sodium (4g divided by 2.5).

So – if you were to have an individual cheese plate with 30g each of Meredith Chevre, Comté and Tarwin Blue, you would only be consuming around 320mg of Sodium, or 800mg of salt – only 20% of your ‘daily salt allowance’.

OK – so probably not something you would ‘splurge’ on everyday, but this definitely isn’t out of the question if you are watching your salt levels.

If you need some comic relief after reading this slightly dry post, you can check out some of my favourite cheese humour by Mitchell & Webb on YouTube (language warning):

Thanks to Elizabeth from AWASH and Tania from Say Cheese Wholesale in Adelaide for helping me out with this post.

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