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The Major Cheese Categories

The Major Cheese Categories - Visual

Looking for a good cheese from here, but confused by the vast range of choices? Here are some guidelines.

Most cheeses have a rind, i.e. an external protective layer that forms naturally. We generally classify cheese by its interior. There are five main categories:

Soft

Soft cheeses are those with interiors that are neither pressed nor cooked.

Their texture is creamy, velvety and almost melts in the mouth because their moisture level varies between 50% and 60%. Their butterfat level varies between 20% and 26%. This percentage is higher in double- and triple-cream cheeses, which are made with milk and cream.

Soft cheeses are divided into two categories:

The History of Cheese - Visual

Soft Cheese With Bloomy Rind

This type of cheese includes Camembert From Here or Brie From Here, and they have a delicate taste. They are produced by leaving curdled milk to drain in moulds for a few hours before salting. Then, the external surface is sprayed with a culture (penicillium candidum) that gives the cheese its characteristic white and fluffy rind called “bloom.” The cheese is then ripened for about one month during which time the texture and colour of the interior becomes more and more consistent.

Soft Cheese With a Washed Rind

This category includes cheeses like L'Empereur and Champlain. The manufacturing process is similar except that the curdled milk is removed before being moulded, which allows for better draining. The result is a denser but still soft interior. The cheese ripens for two to four months. Then it is washed and brushed on several occasions with brine to which alcohol is sometimes added. The term “mixed rind” indicates a cheese that was washed at the beginning of the ripening period, then left to continue ripening as the microbial flora does its work.

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How to serve soft cheeses

Very often, soft cheeses are served with crusty bread and fresh grapes at the end of a meal. However, they are also served at wine and cheese tastings, or added to sandwiches, soups and cooked dishes.

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Semi-Soft

With a 45%-50% moisture level, these cheeses contain a firmer and more compact texture than you can obtain by mechanically pressing curdled milk to extract additional whey (lactoserum).

In some cases, to intensify draining, the interior is heated slightly. This category includes a wide range of cheeses that vary enormously according to the production process as well as the ripening method and duration.

Overall, there are two semi-soft cheeses:

Interior-Ripened

To obtain this appetizing texture, you first divide the interior and drain it with mechanical pressure. Then, the interior is heated to reduce moisture. Next, the cheese is interior-ripened, i.e. the aging process starts in the centre and ends on the outside edge. Some cheeses in this category develop a relatively firm rind, which is washed or brushed periodically. Others are covered with a light protective paraffin or plastic film.

Surface-Ripened

Everyone has heard of the famous Oka from this category. After having been mechanically pressed, the interior of these cheeses is ripened on the surface, i.e. the aging process progresses from the outside towards the interior of cheese. This delicate operation is carried out in a cold room where the cheese is turned and washed periodically with a salt water solution.

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How to serve semi-soft cheeses

In addition to being an essential ingredient for fondues, semi-soft cheeses enhance the taste of pizzas, pasta dishes, quiches, soups, salads and sandwiches. The majority are also delicious for the raclette.

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Firm

This is the most important category with its large number of cheeses and the popularity of its varieties.

It includes well-known selections like Cheddar From Here and Gouda From Here. Generally without a rind, these cheeses have a supple and elastic texture.

Firm

The interior is drained and pressed to withdraw the most whey (lactoserum) possible before being cooked or semi-cooked. The moisture level is between 35% and 45%. Some firm cheeses (like curd cheese or fresh Cheddar From Here) are not ripened, which explains their under-developed flavour. Others are interior ripened for three to six months. In some of these cheeses, “eyes” form when gas is created before the interior hardens.

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How to serve firm cheeses

Firm cheeses are unequalled when it comes to adding sharpness to vegetables, omelettes, au gratin dishes, quiches, pizzas and soups.

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Blue-Veined

Blue-veined cheeses are more commonly called “blue” because of the bluish or greenish veins that furrow the interior.

Blue-Veined

Production is similar to that of soft or non-cooked semi-soft, with one important exception: you incorporate a culture (penicillium glaucum roqueforti or penicillium candidum) with the curdled milk to promote the development of mould in the interior. Ripening, which lasts several months, takes place in a humid place. In order to facilitate air circulation in the interior and to promote the development of veins, the cheese wheels are pierced with long needles.

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How to serve blue-Veined cheeses

This type of cheese is eaten plain with fresh fruit or nuts. It is also served with cooked meats, pastas or vegetables. It can also thicken a sauce, enhance a fondue or give dip a tangy flavour.

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Fresh category

Fresh category

Fresh cheeses are obtained simply by leaving milk out in the ambient air to allow it to curdle naturally. The curdled milk is then poured into a small basket with holes (the “cheese drainer”), which allows the whey to drain out and gives the cheese its final form. The addition of ferments acidifies the milk, transforming it into firm curdles that are crumbly, permeable and delicate. Fresh cheeses have a moisture content higher than 60%, and they have a more or less dense texture that can be liquid, smooth or creamy. These cheeses need to be eaten quickly after they are made. Fresh Cheddars and Ricotta cheese are part of this category.

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How to serve fresh cheeses

Fresh cheese such as the Ricotta from the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac can be served with crackers, and in sandwiches and salads. It is also perfect for making delicious dessert recipes or for stuffing meat and vegetables.

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