Americans have a love affair with cheese. Whether we’re eating it as an appetizer or experimenting with it as dessert, understanding the different varieties and types of cheese can help us discover the best ways to enjoy it. In this three-part series, we’re going to slice through all the information to help you savor the wonderful range of the world’s cheeses.
Each cheese falls into several different categories, such as age, texture, type of rind, and production method. Understanding these terms can help us categorize and keep track of what we like best. For instance, some people love a ripe “stinky” cheese; others cannot get far enough away. There is no right answer, but understanding the terminology can help you keep track of what you like.
Fresh cheese is the mildest, and it has no rind because it does not ripen or age in any way. Chèvre, a distinctive goat cheese with mild flavor, is creamy and spreadable. Mozzarella is chewier, and has many uses; it’s a great melting cheese, and is also wonderful marinated in olive oil, fresh herbs and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Feta, the classic Greek sheep’s milk cheese, is now made in other countries – France, Bulgaria, and the United States – with some variety of milk types. It tends to be either creamy or crumbly depending on its country of origin, with varying degrees of tanginess, but it is always salty. Cottage cheese, crème fraîche and ricotta are all mild fresh cheeses as well.
Italian or Danish fontina, French Morbier, Finnish Lappi and cream Havarti from Denmark, are all examples of semi-soft cheeses. In general, they tend to be buttery and mild, but flavorful, and not oozing but just firm. These are great for those who prefer mild flavors but still like some variety.
These tend to have a rind of some sort, and this is where the categories of texture and rind overlap. The type of rind often determines what happens “inside” as the cheese develops its flavor. Brie, Camembert, and the extremely rich Fromager d’Affinois all have a soft oozing texture inside an edible, bloomy white rind.
“As the cheese gets older, it gets gooey,” explains Janne Rasmussen of Cypress Grove Chèvre on California’s north coast. “The rind is literally what holds the cheese in, and is 100 percent edible. Eating some or all of it is a matter of taste,” she assures.
In the next part of our cheese article series, we discuss how a cheese’s exterior rind – or lack of one – impacts its texture, taste and more. The final article focuses on two of the most popular kinds of cheese.
For additional information, Cowgirl Creamery offers a library of cheese where you can look up almost any cheese and read about its qualities, flavor, texture and production.
Try these incredible recipes that feature chèvre, or goat cheese: