Hint: this aint it...

Cheeses are split into different categories. As we walk through the types of cheese, you will learn to identify them easier. Many of the things that cheeses have in common make them easier to recognize and guess how a cheese will taste. It makes you seem so much smarter when talking about cheese. And beyond that, it helps you to really understand what kinds of cheeses you like. Do you despise sheep’s milk cheeses because you can’t stand the smell of wool sweaters in your cheese (or, as Christina says, the smell of a barnyard)? Or love, love, love bloomy rind cheeses, because of how runny they can get? Knowing how to identify these things will help you to identify your faves in the future.

Here are some general characteristics:

1. Milk Type:

Raw/Pasteurized: So when you think of pasteurization, you think of drinking milk, safety, killing of bacteria, etc. But for cheeses, that’s not always good. The natural bacteria in milk can help develop a flavor profile that is quite interesting. Cheese made of milk aged less than 60 days isn’t allowed to be imported into the US. So real brie (Brie de Meaux) isn’t allowed to be sold here. If someone told you they’ve had it here, the real deal, they’re lying. Pasteurization also kills nuances in milk, so the starting point is pretty much the same. You won’t be able to detect differences in season or fields. This could be good if you are looking for a cheese that is always the same. But not so good if you are looking for some type of variation and a changing flavor profile.

Sheep’s Milk: This is the fattiest milk. These cheeses tend to “glisten” with fat after they sit out a little while. These cheeses can have a sheep-y, barnyard, lanolin smell, so you can usually recognize them by their odor. The color is pure white. Random fact you should know? Sheep don’t produce a lot of milk. But what they do produce is closer to the state of cheese, so technically it takes less sheep’s milk to make cheese.  One famous sheep’s milk cheese? Roquefort.

Cow: This is one of the most common milks used, because cows produce so much milk. It can range from white-ish to ivory. The ivory characteristic is due to the ability of cows to extract beta carotene from the plants they eat.  Unlike sheep’s milk, cow’s milk has the most liquid per solids. So it takes a lot of cow’s milk to make the same amount of sheep’s milk.  Famous cow’s milk cheese? Pierre Robert.

Goat: This milk is pure white because goats don’t absorb beta carotene, which tints the color of milk. This milk has a recognizably tangy taste, especially in fresh goat cheese. Most people think of goat cheese as only the fresh chèvre, but there are so many, many more aged versions. Famous Goat Cheese? Selles-sur-Cher.

2. Style of Cheese:

Fresh/Soft: They have no real “rind.” These are cheeses that should be consumed sooner rather than later. They are not aged, and have higher liquid content (whey) Examples: chèvre (fresh goat cheese), ricotta, mascarpone

Semi-Soft: Usually rindless, with a little less moisture than the fresh/soft cheeses. Examples: Montery Jack, Colby

Soft-Ripened Cheese (a.k.a Bloomy Rind): These have a white moldy rind on the outside. The penicillium candidum mold is responsible for this, and it can be incorporated inside the cheese, as well as on the outside, by being mixed into the paste, or sprayed on the surface. Examples: Pierre Robert or Brie type cheese. This category also includes double and triple crèmes, where extra butterfat is added into the cheese to make it creamier. Yum. It’s like butta baby….

Washed rind: A.K.A. Stinky Cheeses:  They stink. Literally. They are typically washed in some sort of salt and bacteria mixture to prevent molds from growing on their outsides. In doing this, however, it encourages brevibacterium linens (b.linens bacteria), which can produce some very fragrant aromas. Their bark is usually worse than their bite, in that the taste can be quite mild. These cheeses were the specialty of monks, who cared for these cheeses while abstaining from meat. Interestingly, these cheeses can smell a lot like meat. Those monks, smarter than they looked. Examples: Tallegio, Grayson.

Semi-Hard: These cheeses have less moisture than semi-soft cheese. Many times the curds are cooked, salted or cheddared to remove even more moisture (whey). They are typically aged for longer to take even more moisture out of the cheese. These can tend to be more salty, and deliciously nutty. Examples: Gruyère, Swiss

Hard: These are aged even longer than the semi-hard cheeses listed above. They can tend to be well, hard. They are usually crumbly, because there is so little moisture left in them. Ever tasted that crystalline crunch in a cheese? That caramel-y flavor? Sign of crystallized proteins in the cheese. Examples: Aged Gouda, Ricotta Salata, Parmagiano-Reggiano

Blue: OK, duh, they have blue or green molds growing in them (Penicillium Roqueforti molds). This isn’t a type of rind, per se, but more a type of cheese. Blue cheese can have rinds, like in the case of Valençay, or none, like Maytag. Examples: Roquefort, Maytag, Valdeón

Side Note: Natural rinds are rinds that are aged without assistance from washing, foil or other aids.

3. Age:

Cheeses can be aged from a few days to years. Flavors change over time, and texture can indicate a lot about age. The younger a cheese, the more water it contains, so the more soft and moist it will be. The more aged a cheese becomes, the more likely the nutty, caramel flavors are to come out.

These factors should serve as a guide to recognizing your cheese. Kind of like “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” but without the crazy subway scene (That’s my train, by the way!!). And unfortunately, without Channing Tatum as well….