A Primer on Classifying Cheeses

Entering into the world of cheeses can be a little intimidating. The reason for this is that there are so many different types of cheeses, and there are many different ways to classify them. Here’s a quick overview of the different classifications you may run into.

Milk: Meaning…what animal did the milk used in the cheese come from? Cow’s milk is very popular, but there are great goat’s milk and sheep’s milk cheeses also readily found.

Raw/Pasteurized: Has the milk been pasteurized or not?

Texture: This is the most common distinguishing characteristic I’ve come across, with cheeses being called soft, semisoft, firm, and hard.

Age: Different cheeses require different time to market. For example, mozerella is wonderful the younger it is, but parmigiano-reggiano can be aged as long as 4 years.

  • Fresh Cheeses: Fresh Cheeses are cheese that have not been aged, or are only slightly cured. Very moist and very creamy, cheese in the ‘Fresh’ category include Ricotta, Chevre, Feta, Quark, Mascarpone and Cottage Cheese.

Rinds: Many different kinds of rinds, each indicating a different way the cheese was made:

  • Natural Rinds: Some cheeses develop rinds simply by being exposed to air. These include many blue cheeses. Among the other varieties with natural rinds are semi-hard cheeses like British farmhouse Cheddar, Cheshire and Gloucester. Also included are harder, mountain cheeses like Emmental and Comté. Semi-firm sheep’s milk cheeses like pecorino and cow’s milk cheeses like Asiago and Parmigiano-Reggiano sport natural rinds as well.
  • Bloomy Rind: The “bloomyˮ rind of many soft French cheeses is produced through the introduction of the mold P. camemberti. These cheeses are distinguished by an almost fuzzy, white coating, one of the defining characteristics of Brie, Explorateur, Brillat-Savarin and Pierre-Robert.
  • Washed-rind: Exteriors that are bathed in a variety of catalysts. These catalysts could be water, brine, wine, beer or other similar liquids. This process frequently produces a bacteria called B. linens that gives these cheeses their flavor complexities (and the rinds their orangey, pink or reddish tints). Washed-rind cheeses include Chimay, Epoisses, Livarot, Munster and Taleggio.
  • Hard Rind: A hard rind will form naturally on cheese when it is old enough to develop an exterior crust. The rind may be oiled, brushed, patterned, or even colored, but if not treated it will look a little mottled or weathered and will generally be somewhere on the black-gray-brown-beige color spectrum. Among the many natural-rind cheeses are English Caerphilly, French Beaufort, Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Spanish Manchego.
  • Artificial Rinds: Some semifirm and firm cheeses, like Provolone and some Dutch Gouda, are preserved with a coating of wax.
  • Ash, Leaves, Herbs, etc.: Artisinal goat cheeses are regularly protected by a layer of vegetable ash, leaves, or herbs.

Process: What I’m talking about here is the process used in the way the cheese will ripen.

  • Blue Cheeses: Blue Cheese is a general classification of cow’s milk and/or goat’s milk cheeses with a blue or blue-green mold. The blue mold in these cheeses is due to mold spores from Penicillium roqueforti, Penicillium glaucum or other variants. Most blue cheeses are either injected with the mold, as with Roquefort, or the mold is mixed right in with the curds, as it is with Gorgonzola, to insure even distribution of the mold.
  • Soft-Ripened: The “soft-ripened” is used to described cheese that are ripened from the outside in. The Soft-Ripened Cheese Family may be divided into two rind groups. They are: cheeses with Bloomy Rinds, characterized by a soft, white exterior; and cheeses with Washed Rinds, whose orange color, and strong aroma, clearly sets them apart. Both types have a supple and smooth paste with a creamy, rich flavor.

Hopefully you can use this information in a positive way, only for good and not for evil.


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