Cheese

Cheese

Our early ancestors probably discovered cheese when they first used animal stomachs to carry milk. An enzyme in the stomachs called rennet would have caused the milk to curdle and separate into cheese and a watery liquid called whey. People have been tinkering with that basic recipe ever since then, and there are now hundreds of different kinds of cheeses.


Cheese-makers impart different flavors and textures into their cheeses by using different milks, adding various bacteria and molds, aging for different lengths of time, and so forth. The pâte, or inner portion, of a cheese is normally encased in a rind. Natural rinds can be covered or mottled with mold, and they're often edible, though many people find them bitter and salty. Waxy rinds shouldn't be eaten.


Tips: Always bring a table cheese to room temperature before serving it--the flavor is much better. Younger cheeses tend to be mild, soft, and moist. As cheeses age, they become more pungent, hard, and crumbly.


Many cheeses become rubbery when cooked too long or at too high a temperature. If you plan to cook with a cheese, select a heat-tolerant one like mozzarella or Emmental. It's usually best to keep cheese in its original packaging. If the cheese has been cut, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap to hold in the moisture. If it hasn't been cut, wrap it first with waxed paper and then with plastic wrap--this allows the cheese to breathe.


Store cheese near the bottom of the refrigerator, where temperature fluctuations are minimal. Harder cheeses have a longer shelf life than soft, moist ones. Don't freeze cheese--it ruins the flavor.


Just as you'd ask your fishmonger "What's fresh today?" ask your cheese provider "What's ripe today?" Under-ripe cheeses haven't fully developed their flavor, while overripe cheeses become acidic and unpleasantly pungent. Some overripe cheeses develop a strong ammonia smell.


If a small amount of mold forms on the surface of the cheese, cut it off along with a half an inch of cheese on all sides of it. If there's a lot of mold, throw the cheese out.


Many lactose-intolerant people find that they can tolerate low-lactose cheeses like cream cheese, cottage cheese, Mozzarella, and Provolone. Don't serve cheese with citrus or tropical fruits.


Cheese is usually made with pasteurized milk, which has been heated to remove harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, pasteurization also destroys friendly bacteria and enzymes, though some of these can be added back artificially once the milk is pasteurized. Some producers insist on making cheese with raw (unpasteurized) milk, believing that this gives their cheese richer microflora and better flavor and textures.


Varieties include: Fresh Cheeses, Soft Cheeses, Semi-soft Cheeses, Semi-firm Cheeses, Firm Cheeses, Blue Cheeses, and Processed Cheeses.


Cheeses can also be classified according to the type of milk used. Cow's milk cheeses are creamier than goat or sheep's milk cheeses. Goat's milk lends cheese a tangy, earthy, and sometimes barnyard flavor. Sheep's milk is higher in fat than cow's milk, so these cheeses are rich and creamy.


For substitutions for cheese in general, click here.


Abondance
Abondance
This French raw milk cheese has a subtle, nutty flavor. It's a good melting cheese.
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Alouette
This is one of several spreadable cheeses that combine cream cheese with various flavorings, like herbs, garlic, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes. You can set them out with crackers for guests, but your gourmet friends probably won't indulge.
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American cheese
American cheese
These are often sold in individually wrapped sandwich slices.
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Appenzell
Appenzell
This is a creamy and pleasantly stinky cheese.
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asadero
asadero
This stringy Mexican cheese melts nicely, so it's great on quesadillas.
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Asiago (aged)
Asiago (aged)
This grating cheese is similar to Parmesan and Romano, but it's sweeter. It's good on pizza. There's no need to spring for a pricy Italian Asiago--our domestic knock-offs are pretty good. Don't confuse aged Asiago with the relatively obscure fresh Asiago cheese, which is semi-soft.
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Asiago (fresh)
Asiago (fresh)
Don't confuse this with aged Asiago, which is a firm grating cheese.
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Bavarian blue
This is a mild and creamy German blue cheese. It's good for crumbling on salads and snacking. Paladin Bavarian Blue is a popular brand.
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Beaufort
Beaufort
This semi-firm cheese is slightly sweet and has a nice texture. It's a great melting cheese, so it's often used in fondues.
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Beaumont cheese
This French cow's milk cheese has a mild, nutty flavor
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Bel Paese
Bel Paese
This is a mild, semi-soft Italian cheese that's good with apples, pears, and fruity red wines. It's also shredded and used to make pizza, risotto, and pasta dishes.
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bierkäse
bierkäse
This is a soft, stinky cheese. German like to put it on rye bread along with some sliced onion, and have it with beer. It's too overpowering to serve with wine.
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Bleu d'Auvergne
Bleu d'Auvergne
A moist, crumbly, and somewhat salty blue cheese from France. It's milder and cheaper than Roquefort, and it works well in salad dressings or as a snacking cheese.
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Bleu de Bresse
Bleu de Bresse
This blue cheese from France is made with cow's milk, and is buttery and mild. It's a safe but unexciting cheese to serve company. An American version called Bresse bleu is milder still.
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Bleu de Chevre
This French blue cheese is made with goat's milk. It's shaped as a pyramid, and has a distinctive country (or barnyard, some would say) flavor.
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Bleu de Gex
The French have been producing this excellent but hard-to-find blue cheese since the 13th century. Made with cow's milk, it's pungent without being overpowering.
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Blue Castello
Blue Castello
This is a rich, moist, and creamy blue cheese. It's fairly mild and a good choice for unadventurous guests.
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blue cheese
blue cheese
Many centuries ago, cheese was left to age in some moldy cave and became streaked with bluish-green mold. But rather than spoiling the cheese, the mold gave it a pungent and distinctive flavor, and blue cheese was born. Since then, cheese-makers learned to inject or stir mold spores into different cheeses, and many still use caves to age them. Blue cheese--either crumbled or in a dressing--nicely balances bitter greens in salads. You can also pair it with bread, crackers, or fruit for an appetizer, or let it melt on pasta or grilled meats. Blue cheeses vary in pungency--I'd serve a mild blue cheese like Cambozola at a neighborhood get-together, and a more pungent blue like Saint Agur or Cabrales to fellow foodies that I'm trying to impress. Stilton is the most renown blue cheese, and a reliable party-pleaser. Blue cheeses grow more pungent with age or mishandling, and it's best to use them within a few days of purchase. Like almost all cheeses, blues should be brought to room temperature before serving.
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boursault
boursault
This is a soft-ripened, triple crème French cheese that very rich and mild. For best flavor, serve at room temperature.
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Boursin
Boursin
This creamy cheese from France is usually flavored with herbs, garlic or coarse ground pepper. It's mild and delicate, and goes well with fresh bread and dry white wine. Boursin is considered better than some other flavored spreadable cheeses, like Alouette or Rondelé, but none of these cheeses are well regarded by gourmets. Store Boursin in the refrigerator but bring it to room temperature before serving. Eat it within a few days of purchase.
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brick cheese
brick cheese
This is a pungent American washed-rind cheese.
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brie
brie
This French cheese is rich, mild, and creamy, and it's soft enough to spread easily on crackers or bread. As with Camembert cheese, the Brie name isn't protected so there are lots of mediocre knock-offs on the market. Look for French Bries--they're much better than their American counterparts. The rind is edible. For best flavor, wait until it's perfectly ripe and warmed to room temperature before serving it.
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Brillat Savarin cheese
Brillat Savarin cheese
This soft triple crème French cheese is rich, buttery, and mild, though some find it a bit sour and salty.
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Brinza cheese
Brinza cheese
Look for this salty sheep's milk cheese in Eastern European markets. It's spreadable when young, but becomes crumbly as it ages. Like Feta, it's good in salads or melted on pizza
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buttermilk cheese
buttermilk cheese
You won't find this tangy, creamy cheese in supermarkets, but it's easy to make at home. To make your own: Line a colander with several folds of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel. Pour buttermilk into the cloth, then put the colander into a larger container and let it drain overnight in the refrigerator until it's reduced to a cheeselike consistency.
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Cabrales
Cabrales
This is a crumbly and very pungent blue cheese from Spain. It is usuually made from cow's milk but can be made with other kinds of milk.
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Caciocavallo
Caciocavallo
This Italian cheese is similar to provolone. This can be made from cow’s milk or sheep’s milk.
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Caciotta
Caciotta
This mild Italian cheese is made with a blend of sheep's milk and cow's milk cheese.
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Caerphilly
Caerphilly
This Welsh cow's milk cheese is crumbly and a good melter.
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Cambozola
Cambozola
This German cheese combines the moist, rich creaminess of Camembert with the sharpness of blue Gorgonzola. It's one of the mildest blue cheeses.
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Camembert
Camembert
This popular soft-ripened cheese is buttery rich and wonderful to spread on hot French bread. The name's not protected, so there are lots of Camemberts of varying quality on the market. Try to get a French raw milk Camembert--our pasteurized domestic versions are bland in comparison. Use within a few days after purchasing. For best flavor, serve at room temperature.
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Cantal
Cantal
This French cheese is sweet when young but earthy and grassy when aged. It's a reliable party-pleaser--mild but complex.
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Caprice des Dieux
This oval French cheese resembles Camembert and Brie.
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Caprini
This is an excellent Italian fresh cheese that's hard to find in the U.S.
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Carré de l'est
This is a square washed rind, moderately stinky cheese from France.
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casero cheese
casero cheese
This is a mild white Mexican cheese.
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Cashel Bleu
Cashel Bleu
This creamy yet crumbly blue cheese from Ireland has a tangy but mellow flavor. It's cheaper than Stilton but not quite as good.
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Chaource cheese
Chaource cheese
This French cheese is similar to Brie and Camembert, but creamier and more acidic. It's good with champagne.
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Chaubier cheese
Chaubier cheese
This mild French cheese is made with a blend of cow and goat milk.
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chaumes
chaumes
Delicious strong cow's milk Cheese.
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Cheddar
Cheddar
The curds of many English cheeses are "cheddared" or cut them into slabs and stacked to allow whey to drain off. Some cheddars have more lactose in them, making them "sharp" or acidic. Less sharp cheddars are often labeled "mild" or "medium." England supplies many fine Cheddars, as does Vermont and Tillamook, Oregon.
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Cheshire
Cheshire
Said to be England's oldest cheese, is a good cooking cheese. Blue Cheshire is a blue-veined version.
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chevre (aged)
Don't confuse this aged goat cheese with the far more common chevre frais (fresh chevre). Use within a few days after purchasing. For best flavor, serve at room temperature.
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Colby
This Wisconsin cheese resembles a mild Cheddar.
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Comte
Comte
This excellent French cow's milk cheese dates from the time of Charlemagne. It has a mildly sweet, nutty flavor, much like Gruyère. It's a very good melting cheese.
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corsu vecchio cheese
corsu vecchio cheese
This sheep's milk cheese comes from Corsica.
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cotija
cotija
This is a sharp, salty white grating cheese that softens but doesn't melt when heated. Cacique is a well-known brand. Look for it in Hispanic markets.
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cottage cheese
cottage cheese
This simple, mild cheese was traditionally produced in Europe's "cottages" from the milk left over from butter making. It's versatile, easy to digest, and a good source of protein. It's sold with either large or small curds, and with fruit or chives sometimes added. Use it within a few days after purchasing and discard if mold appears. It's best served chilled.
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