Guide to Cheese Types

January 26, 2020 | By Dave Mattingly

Find over 800 Gourmet Cheeses
From 36 Countries at igourmet.com!

Cheese is the most important subcategory within the overall category of Gourmet Food. Gourmet cheeses come in many varieties and flavors, but the most important factor to consider when shopping this intriguing category is quality. igourmet is the number one retailer of specialty cheese in the United States, and our exclusive relationships with European suppliers combined with our high volume ensures that your order will be the freshest it can possibly be. Our types of cheese include: 

Fresh Cheese
Fresh cheese types include Ricotta, Cream Cheese and Mascarpone. These cheeses are not ripened at all, are spoonable, and usually have a shelf life of three weeks or less. Fresh cheeses consumed in the US are usually produced in the US, as the time to import such a product takes away from its already short shelf life and the cost to fly these cheeses into the country can be prohibitive. Unlike other cheeses where aging improves the quality, the fresher the better in the case of Fresh Cheeses. Their flavor is intentionally mild, letting the unadulterated character of the source milk shine through. Perhaps more importantly with fresh cheeses than with other types, a high-quality milk must be used in its production.

Soft Cheese
Soft cheese types include Havarti, Port Salut and Feta. These cheeses are typically aged for 60 days or less, can be easily cut with a fork, and usually have a shelf life of two months or less, especially once removed from protective packaging. Soft cheeses are less tangy than their aged counterparts, offering smoother, creamier flavors. This type of cheese tends to melt well due to its high water and fat content.

Semi-Soft Cheese
The texture of a semi-soft cheese falls between soft and hard. Most soft cheeses do not age well because of their high-fat content. Lower fat cheese when aged for three months or less fall into our semi-soft category. For example, our Dutch Gouda can be aged for two, nine, eighteen or thirty-six months. As this cheese gets older, its texture gets harder and harder. A young Gouda is a semi-soft cheese, as are young versions of Manchego and Cheddar. As these cheeses age, they begin to cross the vague line that separates semi-soft and hard. Semi-soft cheeses can be easily cut with a dull knife and retain enough water content to melt reasonably well.

Hard, Aged Cheese
Hard cheese types include Aged Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano. These cheeses are very hard to cut and are often chunked by stabbing the cheese with the point of a knife then breaking off a piece by turning or rotating it. Hard cheeses can also be grated or shredded and added to dishes like chili, soup, pasta and salad. In order for a cheese to become hard with age, the milk used in its production must be at least partially skimmed. Hard cheeses are high in protein and are available pasteurized or unpasteurized.

Double and Triple Creme Cheeses
Perhaps the opposite of hard cheese, double and triple creme cheeses are made by adding extra cream to the milk prior to the cheesemaking process. Examples include Brillat Savarin, Chaource and St. Andre. A double creme has a butterfat content of over 60% whereas the fat content of a triple creme exceeds 72%.

Blue Cheese
The addition of the Penicillium bacteria during the aging process creates edible blue or green streaks inside wheels of this type of cheese. Blue cheeses need to be aged for a long enough period of time to allow their blue mold to fully develop. The best known examples include Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Cabrales and Maytag. In cheeses like Stilton and Gorgonzola, the mold spores are introduced by injection. With Roquefort, the mold enters the cheese as it ages in caves where the spores naturally exist. Blue cheeses are often enjoyed in salads, crumbled atop Filet Mignon, or immersed in a dip or sauce.

Shop Blue Cheeses

Washed Rind Cheese
This cheesemaking technique involves washing the rind of the cheese with a brine or alcohol solution during aging. The washing prevents mold from appearing and eliminates the formation of a hard rind, yielding a sticky, soft, reddish crust instead. Examples include Taleggio, Epoisses and Limburger. The rind on this type of cheese develops a unique type of bacteria that gives off a pungent odor reminiscent of sweaty gym socks. In fact, these cheeses are often referred to as "Stinky Cheeses." This rind is often trimmed before eating because of its strong flavor and unpleasant grittiness. Beneath the thin crust, the cheese itself generally tastes mild, creamy and fruity.

Shop Washed Rind Cheeses

Bloomy Rind Cheese
This type of cheese is also called soft-ripened.Similar to washed rind cheeses, cheesemakers apply specialized techniques to bloomy rind cheeses to prevent unwanted mold formation. In this case, a white Penicillium mold is sprayed onto the exterior of the cheese during the early days of aging. This mold creates a fluffy white coating that tastes a tiny bit like mushroom. Its presence prevents other less attractive (and less tasty) molds from forming on the cheese. Examples include Brie, Camembert and Cambozola.

Processed Cheese
Processed cheeses are made by cooking the whey to extremely high temperatures, killing all bacteria and microflora in the product. Unfortunately, this technique also eliminates all of the flavor, requiring the cheesemaker to add flavor back after cooking. The advantage to using this technique is that processed cheese does not require refrigeration and has an extremely long shelf life. The disadvantage is that processed cheese has no character, no healthy properties and an unpleasant gummy texture. Examples are Kraft Singles and Laughing Cow.

Goat's and Sheep's Milk Cheese
While most cheeses are made from cow's milk, many cheeses are made from goat's or sheep's milk instead. Whereas the average cow produces 14 quarts of milk per day, the average goat produces 4 quarts and the average ewe yields only 1 quart of milk per day. Because of this lower production, goat's and sheep's milk cheeses are usually more expensive than their cow's milk counterparts. Goat's milk cheeses are exceptionally tangy and earthy and come in a range of texture from soft to hard. Sheep's milk cheeses are most often semi-soft and have a smooth, slightly oily character. Examples of goat cheeses include French Chevre and Spanish Drunken Goat. Sheep's milk examples include Manchego and Halloumi.

Unpasteurized Cheese
Per the USDA, soft cheeses can only be imported if they are made from pasteurized milk. This controversial law was put in place to make cheeses healthier, but according to some scientists, pasteurization in cheese may not necessarily be linked with healthiness. Pasteurized cheeses are more susceptible to contamination because they lack naturally existing beneficial bacteria that can compete with and crowd out the harmful Listeria bacteria. Unpasteurized cheeses tend to have more flavor because pasteurization is a high temperature process that cooks out flavor-producing microflora. By Italian food law, Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano must be made from unpasteurized milk. Some English Cheddars are available in unpasteurized format as well. Most cheeses from the Alps, including Emmentaler, Comté and Gruyere, are unpasteurized as well.