An Introduction to Cheese Types of All Kinds

This article is an overview of some of the more popular types of cheese to make at home and can act as a starting off point for those wanting to create their very own fromage.

‘Hard Cheeses’ refers to cheese such as cheddar and Swiss. The “cheddaring” process entails turning and stacking young cheese slabs in order to remove more whey, which is what gives Cheddar its distinct texture. Swiss cheese is often mellow in flavor and melts well, making it a great cheese for fondue. ‘Very Hard’ cheese is a classification that encompasses grainy cheeses such as Parmesan and Romano. Commonly, this type of cheese is grated, shaved or broken off in chunks. Hard cheeses mature for varying time frames and tend to have relatively low water content. Parmesan, named for Parma, Italy, is one of the most popular and enjoyable cheeses in the world. Consisting of skim milk, Parmesan is aged for at least 5 months and up to two years. Combing goat’s and cow’s milk equally creates a more flavorful cheese. Romano is one of the oldest cheeses in the world. Similar to Parmesan, Romano cheese needs to age for at least 5 months and can be made more flavorful by using both goat’s and cow’s milk.

Soft fresh cheeses, like cream cheese and ricotta, are young and usually have a creamier flavor. Soft fresh cheeses typically perish easily and can be contained in brines. A lot of the cheeses made from goat’s milk are categorized in the soft, fresh category. They come in various shapes and can be covered in herbs. Ricotta means “recook” and was initially made in Italy as a derivative that came out of the cheese-making industry. When the whey in Ricotta is heated proteins combine to create a new curd that turns into the snow-white ricotta, which is high in moisture and naturally low fat. Ricotta is often in Italian recipes as a pasta filling or the base for cheesecake. Mascarpone, another soft-fresh cheese, is made by curdled heavy cream and citric acid. One popular use for mascarpone is in tiramisu a dessert that layers the rich cheese with sponge cake or ladyfingers dipped in espresso and Marsala wine.

Soft-ripened cheeses are a category of cheese featuring those that have been sprayed or dusted with a mold and then mature. Brie and feta are soft-ripened cheeses. One unique characteristic of this category is that a soft-ripened cheese that is ready to be eaten will “bulge” when cut and doesn’t hold its shape well. Brie is made from either whole or semi-skimmed milk and rennet and placed into molds. Once taken out of the molds, the cheese is salted, inoculated with cheese mould and aged in a cellar for at least four to five weeks, but can mature for longer, sometimes several months to a year, which makes the flavor and taste stronger. Brie is commonly soaked in Café au lait and eaten for breakfast or eaten in wedges as an appetizer. Feta is a Greek cheese made from sheep’s milk and sometimes goat’s milk. Feta is frequently created into blocks, and can be used as a table cheese, or as an ingredient in salads, pastries and baking (such as spanakopita and tyropita).

Semi-soft cheeses are a category which includes a broad range of cheeses including everything from mild and buttery to pungent and fragrant and can be ripened in several different ways. Some semi-soft cheese can be flavored or smoked as well. Gouda and Colby are popular semi-soft cheeses. Gouda, named for the city in the Netherlands, is made from cultured milk that is heated until the curd separates from the whey. As Gouda ages it acquires a caramel sweetness and occasionally has a crunchiness from salt-like calcium lactate/tyrosine crystals. Gouda is a great cheese to use to spice up a dull Macaroni and Cheese recipe and is sometimes used for fondue. Colby is a cow’s milk cheese and is similar to Cheddar without the cheddaring process giving it a milder flavor. Colby cheese is not aged and dries out rapidly. Colby is a versatile cheese and can be an ingredient in everything from quesadillas to fruit salad.