The world of cheeses is a wonderous one where many of us frolic and explore. Yet the vastness of this world can be overwhelming. Have no fear! Cheese novice or expert, this guide will help you find the right cheese for your desired use.
Cheese generally falls into five classifications based on their texture and how they are made. We will break down each type of cheese, some examples of that cheese, and how to best use them. Note that this is not the only way cheese is classified. Cheese can come from all types of milk, ranging from cow (milder), goat (tangier), and sheep (creamier) to camel and even buffalo. And these categories are broad. So do your research as taste will vary greatly by region, what the animal was fed, and how long the cheese was aged as well.
Fresh cheese is the most elemental form of cheese. It has not been aged nor pressed and is the first stage of cheese making for other, more advanced types of cheese. Examples of fresh cheese are cheese curds, goat cheese (chèvre), feta, and mozzarella (not low moisture). They tend to be soft, creamy, and sometimes a little tangy. Fresh cheese is, therefore, perfect for spreads or topping salads. Try mixing in fresh goat cheese to our Pickled Arugula Salad for a touch of creaminess.
It’s time to get a little age on our cheese! A soft-ripened cheese is still relatively young in age but ripened. What makes them soft is a special ripening process where the cheese is sprayed with thin layers of milk to age it from the outside in. Because of this, the cheese develops a firm white or ashy rind while staying creaming and luscious inside. This also means that most of the time, the rind is edible. Examples are brie and camembert. These cheeses are perfect on a cracker with some fruit, honey, or jam. But take a whole wheel of soft-ripened cheese, wrap it in puff pastry and bake it, and you will be the star of the party.
Washed Rind Cheeses
As we slowly move to firmer cheeses, we hit a semi-soft roadblock in washed rind cheeses. As the name implies, these cheeses are washed with mold-carrying brines throughout the aging process to promote the growth of bacteria for flavor development. These cheeses tend to be oozy or semi-soft. They also tend to have a funky flavor, meaning they are far from ideal for cooking with but great for eating on their own to really appreciate their complex flavor. The most common example is limburger.
Now we have entered the world of harder cheeses. They gain that texture as they are pressed under quite a bit during the first stage of aging. While they all share a similar semi-hard to hard texture, this is a diverse group of cheeses ranging from cheddar to parmesan. They also can vary greatly in flavor based on milk type and aging time. This is the family we look toward when it comes to cooking due to their meltability and gradeability. Try a combo of gouda and cheddar the next time you make mac and cheese. Use gruyere on your burger the next time you have a cookout. And of course, where there is pasta, like our Orecchiette with Sausage and Fresh Fava Beans, there should always be parmesan.
The last category is a little different. Blue cheese is made by inoculating the cheese directly with a special mold. This is what gives it those noticeable blue spots. They tend to have a distinct funky flavor with a little bit of a bite. Texture-wise, they can be crumbly but creamy. These cheeses are wonderful to eat alone, sprinkle over salads or even, in the case of gorgonzola, melted into a creamy sauce to pour over crusty French bread.