Cheese basics: classification for beginners

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Exploring new cheeses should be fun! But we know that for many people it’s intimidating. So many strange and hard to pronounce names available in your local cheese store, waiting for you to dare!

With so many wonderful cheeses in the market, having some basic knowledge will help you gain that extra confidence needed for your next shopping experience.

Ask any group of cheese connoisseurs and you probably won’t find an agreement about the different types of cheeses or their classification.

Is there any cheese classification accessible for beginners?

different types of cheeses on display

The truth is there is no universal system for identifying cheeses that makes things easy. Cheeses can be grouped according to innumerable criteria such as country or region of origin, animal, ageing, length, texture, methods of making, etc. So where can we start from?

The method we suggest here is based on the type of rind a cheese grows and its texture.
The way it works is that the amount of moisture, or whey, that is left in the cheese determines not only the texture of the interior, but also the type of rind and molds the cheese will grow.

This classification identifies seven different types of cheese: Fresh, Aged Fresh, Soft White, Semi-soft, Hard, Blue, and Flavour-added.

Fresh cheeses

fresh cheeses

Fresh cheeses are ready to be enjoyed while young. Typically have short shelf lives (1-3 weeks) and need to be eaten within a few days of purchasing.
They have a mild flavour typical of the milk used and do not have a rind. Their taste is typically described as lactic or milky, sweet, lemony, refreshing, citrusy, or acidic.

Fresh cheeses are ideal in cooking as they absorb the flavours of the ingredients while contributing a creamy texture and rich taste.
Cheese like Faisselle, Brousse or Fromage blanc could be included in this group.

Aged Fresh Cheeses

Ages fresh cheeses are old fresh cheeses that had more time to dry. That’s the only difference. As a cheese ages, its texture changes a lot and its taste becomes stronger.

They can have different shapes such as small cones, bells, rounds, pyramids, and logs you see in small, straw-lined, wooden boxes.

These creamy and aromatic cheeses are mostly made from goat milk and are often protected in ash, spices, herbs or wrapped in vine or chestnut leaves over which the molds grow. When made from cow’s or ewe’s milk the texture is softer, the molds are less aggressive, and the taste is creamier and sweeter.
Cheese like Clochette, Sainte Maure de Touraine AOC or Valençay could be included in this group.

Soft white cheeses

soft white cheese

Soft white cheeses typically have a white rind, a slightly grainy to almost runny texture, and a pleasing mushroom’s taste and aroma.

Normally the higher the moisture, the softer the cheese is. Extra cream may be added to the milk to make double cream cheese.

Their flavours varied from hints of sweet hay and button mushrooms to creamy wild mushroom soup and finish with the peppery bite of dandelions, and have an earthy aroma suggestive of cool cellars and mushrooms warmed in butter.
Camembert de Normandie, Brillat-Savarin and Brie de Meaux, among many others, could be included in this group.

Semi-soft cheeses

langres cheese

Semi-soft cheeses vary in appearance and texture more than any other cheese group, but can be divided into two subcategories.

Dry rind cheeses ripen slowly and range from rubbery, mild, sweet, and nutty with barely formed rinds, to springy, floral, and pungent with thick leathery rinds.

If made of goat’s milk, they are mostly mild and nutty, with reminiscent of marzipan.
Those with a sticky orange rind are called washed-rind cheeses and are softer and have a strong, savory, barnyardy, smoky, and even meaty taste and aroma.
Vacherin Mont d’Or, Langres and Époisses de Bourgogne, could be included in this group.

Hard Cheeses

hard cheeses

The large wheels, cylinders, and drums of hard cheese found are typically made with cow’s, goat’s, or ewe’s milk.
These hard cheeses tend to have dry texture and firm consistency and are suited for grating or shaving. Their rinds range across the spectrum from smooth with polished rinds to rough and pockmarked like the Moon’s surface.
Mimolette, Fol Epi and Etorki, could be included in this group.

Blue Cheeses

bleu_dauvergne

Blue cheeses are made by adding blue mould culture to milk prior to coagulation.
Some blue molds are members of the penicillin family but, unlike white molds, they prefer to grow inside a cheese.

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.

Ewe’s-milk blue cheeses such as Roquefort retain the sweet, burnt-caramel taste of the milk that offsets the sharp, salty, steely blue finish. Other famous blue cheeses are bleu d’auvergne, Saint Agur and Fourme d’Ambert.

Flavour-added cheeses

Roquefort cheese

Most flavour-added cheeses are well-known hard cheeses blended with fruit, spices, or herbs, and shaped into a round. Some flavour-added cheeses are Embruns aux Algues, Fleur du maquis or Le Rivoiron au piment d’Espelette AOP.

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