Cheese is a truly gourmet product. We do not mean bacon-flavored spread from a mini market next door, or a slice of rubbery substance melted on your burger – although, not being purists, we should admit that these are good in their own fashion. But let’s talk about exquisite cheeses, a bite of which can take you to heaven, sets your senses in a whirl, and makes you go “Oh la la!” Some of them may be an acquired taste – such as molded cheeses – but it is well worth developing.
You can be overwhelmed by the choice: cow cheeses, goat cheeses, sheep cheeses, soft, hard, yellow or white, cheeses from Switzerland, from Holland, from Italy, from the UK and from the Middle East, with seeds, pepper, mold. To help you navigate in this rich world of cheeses, we have prepared some sort of a classification based on their moisture (just one of many classifications out there!) and gathered tips on how to best savor them!
A subtype of soft cheeses are cream cheeses, which are not matured and contain at least 33% of milk fat. They are meant to be consumed fresh.
- Perhaps one of the best known cream cheeses is Philadelphia cream cheese, aka shmear – an important ingredient in the basic breakfast or lunch, spread over a bagel. It should be noted that pregnant women are advised not to eat un-pasteurised cheese.
- Similar to cream cheeses, is Boursin, a dairy product made in Gournay-en-Bray commune in France. It comes in many flavors, the original being Garlic and Fine Herbs. It is fabulous when spread over bread or a cracker.
- Italy gave Mascarpone to the world, soft cheese which is milky-white and is one of the main ingredients in tiramisu. It is also used to make cheesecakes. Some cooks thicken risotto with mascarpone along with, or instead of Parmesan cheese.
Next on in the category of soft cheeses are French cheeses Brie, Camembert, and Neufchâtel. These are matured for about a month.
- Brie is pale in color and has a grayish tinge under a rind. The rind is typically eaten, with its flavor depending largely upon the ingredients used and its manufacturing environment. The taste of Brie can be described as earthy, nutty, fruity, grassy, and even mushroomy.
- Camembert is a little bit softer than Brie, and like the latter has a fluffy and white rind (called bloomy rind) which is edible. Camembert has a slightly sour taste, and sometimes chalky flavor.
- Neufchâtel, unlike other soft cheeses, has a grainy texture. Its white dry rind is edible, too, but the taste of this cheese is somewhat saltier and sharper than that of Camembert or Brie.
How to enjoy the trio (Brie, Camembert, and Neufchâtel)? The slices of these cheeses are great on their own or with nuts, fruit, bread or crackers. Camembert is also typically heated so it is more of a liquid and people dip bread into it. Pair these cheeses with champagne (but they also go well with certain dry white wines or lighter red wines and beers). Apple cider or similar drinks with acid flavor flatter the cheeses as well.
Semi-soft cheeses have a quite high moisture content and mostly have a mild taste.
- Danish semi-soft Havarti cheese is creamy-yellowish in color and has no rind. Small and irregular “eyes” are typical of this dairy product. As for the taste, it can be described as buttery, sweet and slightly acidic at the same time. Havarti can be enjoyed on its own, or you can grill or melt it.
- Fontina, pale cheese riddled with small holes, has been produced in Italian Alps since the 12th century. Nowadays Fontina has a mildly nutty, mushroomy and woody taste with herbaceous and fruity notes. You can’t go wrong if you pair Fontina with Nebbiolo red wine! This semi-soft cheese melts well.
- Blue cheeses, such as French sheep’s milk cheese Roquefort, Italian cow’s milk cheese Gorgonzola, and British cow’s milk cheese Stilton, due to their texture, can also be labeled as semi-soft cheeses. They are called blue because this is the color that the addition of cultures of the mold Penicillium gives them. Eat them on their own or spread, crumble or melt into other dishes.
- Widely known and originally Italian Mozzarella is also placed in the category of semi-soft cheeses. It is made from cow’s milk, has a spongy texture and white color. Its flavor is milky and fresh. When presented with mouth-watering fresh mozzarella, many Italians don't hesitate to eat it with their bare hands. Fresh mozzarella is delicious just as it is or with a bit of salt and pepper, basil or fresh marjoram or oregano, and topped off with a good extra virgin olive oil. It is often added to summer salads.
Semi-hard or hard cheeses
Harder cheeses, logically, have a lower moisture content than softer cheeses. They are most usually matured for a longer time than the soft cheeses. The number of semi-hard/hard cheeses is considerable, for the sake of the article we would name just a few.
- Sharp-tasting British Cheddar has a range of color – from pale to deep yellow – and hard and crumbly texture. You can enjoy Cheddar on itself, and this cheese is also used in a lot of recipes.
- Dutch cheese Edam is named after the town of Edam in the Netherlands. The Edam has a pale yellow color and a crust of red paraffin wax. Its flavor is mild, salty and nutty when the cheese is young. The Edam travels well and does not spoil. Its taste gets sharper with aging. The young Edam goes very well with such fruits like peaches, apricots, cherries, melons. The matured Edam cheese is often consumed with pears and apples. Besides this, it is also eaten along with crackers, biscuits, and drinks like Pinot Gris, Dry Riesling, Semidry Riesling, Champagne, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. Similar to Edam, Gouda is another Dutch cheese, and one of the most popular cheeses in the world.
- Hard cheese Parmesan, originally Italian and now mocked all over the world, has a grainy crystalline structure. It is considered to be among the top cheeses by cheese connoisseurs. True Parmesan cheese is fruity and nutty in flavor. The Parmesan can be enjoyed on its own, but it is often grated over pastas, used in soups and risottos, or added into salads.
- Another Italian masterpiece is sheep’s milk cheese Pecorino cheeses which come in many flavors determined by their age. Mature Pecorinos are hard and crumbly in texture with buttery and nutty taste. Young Pecorinos have a softer texture with mild, creamy flavors. Nowadays you can buy this classic Italian cheese with a twist - spiced with black peppercorns or red chili. Pecorino is used in many pasta recipes as a good substitute for the high-end Parmesan.
What is your favorite cheese? How do you prefer to enjoy it? What is your signature cheese dish? What cheese we have missed but you are positive we should mention in our next articles? Shoot your thoughts via our Contact Form - we'd love to get a line from you!