The numbers of new cheeses being offered, from specialty, artisan, and farmstead cheese-makers, have dramatically increased over the last decade, resulting in hundreds of cheese types being available in any supermarket, cheese shop, specialty store, farmer's market and via the Internet. Cheeses may be made from cow, goat, or sheep's milk or a blend.
Like wines and other fine foods, the best way to decide on your favorite cheese is to taste it, and any good cheese monger will be happy to provide a sample before you buy. Nevertheless any consumer must know the general descriptions of cheese types found in most regional markets. So here are the basic characteristics of cheese types and their counterparts, which may be the most easily recognizable.
- Fresh Cheeses have high moisture content and are usually mild and have a very creamy taste and soft texture. These cheeses will always be pasteurized.
- Hard Cheeses have taste profiles range from very mild to sharp and pungent. These cheeses may be made from pasteurized or raw milk. Soft-ripened cheese types have a white, bloomy rind that is sometimes flecked with red or brown. The rind is edible and is produced by spraying the surface of the cheese with a special mold before the brief aging period.
- Soft-ripened cheeses are generally produced from pasteurized milk.
- Semi-soft cheeses are high in moisture content and range from very mild in flavorto very pungent. These cheeses may be made from both pasteurized and raw milk. The semi-soft cheese types include many blue cheeses, colby, fontina styles and havarti.
- Many washed rind cheeses fall into this category and are described separately.
Natural rind cheeses generally have no molds or micro-flora added to them nor is washing used to create the exterior rinds.
Many natural rind cheeses are made from raw milk. Blue cheeses are called that because of distinctive blue/green veining, created when the penicillium Roquefort mold is exposed to air. This mold provides a distinct flavor to the cheese, which ranges from fairly mild to assertive and pungent. Blue cheeses are found in all cheese types, except for fresh cheeses. Blue cheeses may be made from both pasteurized and raw milk. Natural rind cheeses have rinds that are self-formed during the aging process. To develop their flavor as well as the rinds, many natural rind cheeses are made from raw milk. Washed rind cheeses are surface-ripened by washing throughout the aging process with brine, beer, wine, brandy, or a mixture of ingredients, which encourages the growth of bacteria. The exterior rind of washed rind cheeses may vary from bright orange to brown, with quite pungent flavor and aroma. Processed cheeses are made from a combination of natural cheese and added ingredients, such as stabilizers, emulsifiers, and flavor enhancers.
Due to the extensive variety, many cheese types sometimes fit in more than one category. Just remember to buy only as much cheese as you can consume within a few days. Most modern refrigerators will dry out cheeses over long periods of time.