Cheese 101: The Eight Faces of Cheese
November 4, 2009
The Lady has discovered that Customers are often reluctant to ask in-depth questions about cheese and instead either ask her to recommend a cheese she (or I) like or they’ll just pick a cheese that sounds or looks “familiar”.
Your favorite Feline Foodie and Tillamook Cheese Fan of the Month for November (that would be me) thought it might be a good time to start short tutorials about the basics of cheese.
First up: the eight basic styles of cheese – all cheeses fall into one of the following categories and understanding what each style is can help make your next cheese-buying trip anxiety-free and more enjoyable.
Fresh Cheese: Any cheese that does not undergo any ripening period is a fresh cheese. These cheeses have high moisture content; are mild in taste and have a creamy texture. Fresh cheeses include cottage cheese, cream cheese, and ricotta. While mostly bland, they improve, taste-wise, when mixed with other flavors such as herbs, fruit and sweeteners. These cheeses often have acidic or citrus taste and also the taste of fresh milk. Most of these cheeses should be eaten within a few days to a couple weeks of when the package is opened. These cheeses have a short “Use-by” date.
Other fresh cheeses include Cotija, some Mozzarellas, Queso Fresco, Mascarpone, Feta, Vermont Butter and Cheese Company Fromage Blanc, Fresh Goat Cheese aka Chevre, Bel Gioioso Burrata, Crave Brothers Mascarpone, Vermont Butter and Cheese Company Crottin, Valencay, Cabecous Feuilles, Bel Gioioso Crescenza-Stracchino and BelGioioso Tiramisu Mascarpone.
Soft-Ripened Cheese: These are cheeses that ripen from the outside in and are soft even when chilled and can be runny when out at room temperature. The outside rind is often a white, bloomy rind that has been sprayed with a mold, usually penicillium candidum, before a short aging period. The most common cheeses in this category are Brie, Camembert and Triple Creams. In the United States most of these cheeses are made from pasteurized milk; whereas in Europe many of these cheeses are still made from raw milk. Because of the FDA Regulation requiring that raw milk cheeses be aged at least sixty days, most European Cheesemakers make both raw milk and pasteurized versions of their cheeses that fall into this category. I have addressed this issue in a separate posting that you might like to read.
Included in this category are Brie de Nangis, Humboldt Fog, St. Andre, Delice de Bourgogne, St. Albray, Champignon, Cambozola, Pierre Robert, Formager d’Affinois, Crave Brothers Les Freres, Florette, Explorateur, St. Maure, Le Chatelain, Soignon Chevrion Buche, Fourgerus.
Semi-Soft Cheese: Cheeses in this category have a smooth and mostly creamy interior with little or no rind. Like fresh cheeses, semi-soft cheeses usually have high moisture content and often are very pungent; but can also be quite mild. Raw milk and pasteurized milk are both used in this category. Blues and washed-rind category cheeses can also be in this category.
Semi-soft cheeses include Chaumes, Bel Gioioso Fontina, Havarti, Tillamook Monterey Jack, Bleu D’Auvergne, St. Agur, Bellwether Farms’ Carmody, Roth Kase Petit Swiss, Jarlsberg, Roth Kase ButterKase and young Goudas.
Washed-Rind Cheese: These cheeses are surface-ripened by washing the cheeses with brine, wine, brandy, beer or other ingredients throughout the aging process. The washing encourages the growth of bacteria and promotes pungent, sometimes very pungent, aromas and are therefore sometimes known as “stinky cheese”. While at Roth-Kase last spring, one of the duties The Lady completed in her Cheesemaking Class was to wash the ripening Gruyere. Also in my review of Taleggio, I state that it is also known as “My Father’s Smelly Feet”. In contrast to their smelly rinds, many of these cheeses are quite mellow and mild in taste such as Epoisses and Taleggio. Both taste absolutely nothing like the way they smell…and that’s a good thing…who would eat cheese that tasted like smelly feet???
Blue Cheeses: These cheeses have distinctive blue or green veining which is created by injecting penicillium roqueforti mold. This mold adds an easily recognized flavor that ranges from mild to bold and pungent. In Italy these cheeses are called “Gorgonzola”, in France “Bleu” or Roquefort – a protected name and style and in Britain and the US “Blue”.
Hard/Firm Cheeses: This is a broad category that covers cheeses that may be elastic at room temperature or are hard enough to grate like a Parmesan. Most of the Beemster Premium Goudas fall into this category as do most Cheddars, Swiss-style and Gruyere-style cheeses.
Specific cheeses in the hard category include Beecher’s Flagship Reserve, Comte, Rembrandt Gouda, Parrano, Piave, Grana Padano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Manchego, Idiazabal, Roth Kase Grand Kru, Emmenthal, Tillamook 2-Year Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar, Beemster XO and Beemster Vlaskaas.
Natural Rind Cheeses: These are cheeses that develop a natural rind during the aging process without the addition of molds and without washing of the rind. Because they age over several weeks, many of these cheeses are made using raw milk. Many “Tomme” style cheese including Tomme de Savoie are in this category. The rind is usually edible but not necessarily tasty and is often gritty – try a nibble before going full steam ahead with the rind.
Other cheeses in this category include Mimolette, Cantalet, Brillat Savarin, Garroxta, English Stilton (also a blue), Shropshire Blue (another blue), Testun and St. Nectaire.
Spun Cheeses: Often called “Pasta Filata”; these cheeses are usually Italian in origin. As the name says, they are cooked and then kneaded (spun). They can be fresh or very hard grating cheeses depending on the producer. The cooking occurs when the curd is exposed to warm water which in turn makes the curd silky and elastic. The softer cheeses are then brined and the harder cheeses are air-dried.
(There is a ninth category sometimes included in a list of cheeses but since your humble feline foodie does not consider it cheese, I refuse to really include it here: processed cheese such as Velveeta, “American Cheese” and other cheeses that can withstand a nuclear war…)
Up Next: Cheese 101: What is a Cheesemonger and other Cheese Vocations