The term "fresh" is used to describe cheeses that have not been aged, or are very slightly cured. These cheeses have a high moisture content and are usually mild and have a very creamy taste and soft texture. These may be made from all types of milk and in the United States, these cheeses will always be pasteurized. Cheeses in the Fresh category include Mascarpone, Ricotta, Chevre, Feta, Cream Cheese, and Cottage Cheese.
The term "soft-ripened" is used to describe cheeses that are ripened from the outside in, very soft and even runny at room temperature. The most common soft-ripened cheeses have a white, bloomy rind that is sometimes flecked with red or brown. The rind is edible and is produced by spraying the surface of the cheese with a special mold, called
, before the brief aging period. In the United States soft-ripened cheeses are generally produced from pasteurized milk. Cheeses in the soft-ripened category include brie, camembert and triple crèmes.
The term "semi-soft" is used to describe cheeses that have a smooth, generally, creamy interior with little or no rind. These cheeses are generally high in moisture content and range from very mild in flavor to very pungent. Semi-soft cheeses may be made from both pasteurized and raw milk, depending on the aging requirements and the cheesemaker’s personal style. Cheeses in the semi-soft category include many blue cheeses, colby, fontina styles, havarti and Monterey Jack. Many washed rind cheeses fall into this category and are described separately.
The terms "firm" and "hard" are used to describe a very broad category of cheeses. Their taste profiles range from very mild to sharp and pungent. They generally have a texture profile that ranges from elastic, at room temperature, to the hard cheeses that can be grated. These cheeses may be made from pasteurized or raw milk, depending on the cheese and the cheesemaker. Cheeses in this category include gouda, most cheddars, dry jack, Swiss (Emmenthaler), Gruyere, and Parmesan.
The term "blue" is used to describe cheeses that have a distinctive blue/green veining, created when the
mold, added during the cheesemaking make process, is exposed to air. This mold provides a distinct flavor to the cheese, which ranges from fairly mild to assertive and pungent. Blue cheeses are found in all of the categories above, except for fresh cheeses. Blue cheeses may be made from both pasteurized and raw milk, depending on the age of the cheese and the preference of the cheesemaker. Cheeses in this category include Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Danish blue.
Pasta Filata Cheese
The term "pasta filata" is applied to a whole family of cheeses, mostly of Italian origin. The pasta filata cheeses are cooked and kneaded, or "spun" as the name implies. This family of cheeses can range from very fresh to hard grating cheeses, depending on the cheese and the producer. The pasta filata family of cheeses includes Mozzarella, Provolone, and Scamorza.
Natural Rind Cheeses
"Natural rind" cheeses have rinds that are self-formed during the aging process. Generally, no molds or microflora are added, nor is washing used to create the exterior rinds, and those that do exhibit molds and microflora in their rinds get them naturally from the environment. Because most natural rind cheeses are aged for many weeks, to develop their flavor as well as the rinds, many natural rind cheeses are made from raw milk. Many "tomme" style cheeses fall into this category, especially the French Tomme de Savoie and Mimolette, as well as the English Stilton (also a blue), and Lancashire cheeses.
Washed Rind Cheeses
"Washed rind" is used to describe those cheeses that are surface-ripened by washing the cheese throughout the ripening/aging process with brine, beer, wine, brandy, or a mixture of ingredients, which encourages the growth of bacteria. The exterior rind of washed rind cheeses may vary from bright orange to brown, with flavor and aroma profiles that are quite pungent, yet the interior of these cheeses is most often semi-soft and, sometimes, very creamy. Washed rind cheeses may be made from both pasteurized and raw milk, depending on the style of the cheese and the cheesemaker producing them. Cheeses in this category include some tomme-style cheeses, triple-crème, and semi-soft cheeses, like Epoisses, Livarot and Taleggio.
The term "processed" is used to describe cheese by-products made from a combination of natural cheese and added ingredients, such as stabilizers, emulsifiers, and flavor enhancers that are used to create a consistent and shelf-stable product aimed at mass market consumption. Cheeses in this category include American Cheese, processed cheese spreads, and &"cheese flavored&" spreads.
Special Thanks to the American Cheese Society for their assistance in the preparation of this Guide.