Knowing Your Cheeses
Cheese types and categories
Cheese is a concentrated form of milk, made by treating the milk so that it coagulates into a curd and releases a thin, watery liquid - the whey.
Cheese is typically grouped on the basis of texture. The amount of moisture (or whey) contained in cheese will determine how soft or hard it will be. This in turn determines the type of rind each cheese will grow.
Broadly, there are six categories of cheese:
Characteristics: Fresh cheeses are 2-30 days old and most are intended to be enjoyed while young. They have a mild flavour typical of the milk used and do not have a rind. Fresh cheeses are ideal in cooking as they absorb the flavours of the ingredients while contributing a creamy texture and rich taste.
Samples: Mascarpone, Bocconcini, Creme Fraiche, Ricotta, Halloumi, Feta, Mozzarella, Cream Cheese, Quark
Characteristics: White mould cheeses are made by inoculating milk with mould spores and carefully cutting the curd to retain much of the moisture. The higher the moisture, the softer the cheese. Less moisture = harder cheese. Extra cream may be added to the milk to make double cream cheese.
It takes around 9 days for the white mould (penicillum candidum) to grow or "bloom," ripening the cheese from outside in by breaking down the proteins, causing the texture of the cheese to change from chalky to soft and creamy. These cheeses mature 6-10 weeks after manufacture.
Samples: Brie, Camembert, Double Cream Brie, Double Cream Camembert
Characteristics: Semi soft cheeses have a close body, sometimes with small holes (eyes) and a soft, supple texture. The eyes are caused by carbon dioxide production during the fermentation process. These cheeses have a thin rind or no rind at all and are often coated with wax to preserve moisture and extend shelf life. They have a delicate creamy flavour and mild sweet taste balanced with a slight acidity or "bite." Some have added flavourings such as nuts or smoke. Good for cooking and generally lower in fat.
Samples: Edam, Gouda, Creamy Havarti, Egmont, Emmental, Swiss Gruyere, Elsberg, Mild Cheddar
Characteristics: Washed rind cheeses have a distinctive flavour and aromatic smell, ranging from nutty and earthy to yeasty and pungent. This is due to surface smear ripening, a traditional cheesemaking technique developed by Trappist Monks in France. Cheeses are washed in a brine and spore solution which encourages specific bacteria to develop, creating an orange coloured rind and a piquant flavour and aroma. These cheeses are ideal for table use and superb for melting, adding a boost of flavour wherever they are used.
Samples: Brick, Raclette
Characteristics: Hard cheeses have dry texture and firm consistency and are suited for grating or shaving. When making hard cheeses, the curd is cut more finely than for other types then heated in the vat before the whey is drained off. The curd is frequently cut again to encourage the expulsion of any remaining moisture - a process called cheddaring. The curd is then put into a mould and pressed.
Samples: Parmesan, Romano, Aged Cheddar, Grana Padana, Parmigiano Reggiano, Epicure
Characteristics: Blue cheeses are made by adding blue mould culture to milk prior to coagulation. The cheeses are pierced with stainless steel needles to allow air to penetrate to the center and activate the growth of the mould spores. Some are a combination of blue and white moulds and often made with added cream. Blue cheeses generally have strong flavour with consistency ranging from smooth and soft to dry and crumbly. Rinds may vary in colour from whitish to orangey grey or even a darkish "fur coat" lookalike with a gritty, rough, dry or sticky outside.
Samples: Creamy Blue, Blue Brie, Blue Supreme, Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Blue Vein