There are many different varieties of cheese, each with its own distinct flavor and texture. Knowing what type to buy requires knowledge of where it comes from and how it is made.
Certain varieties are best eaten during certain seasons. Figuring out when a rind will have its optimal flavor and texture is process involving three parts.
These include the breeding and milk production of the animals, what the animal is eating, and the amount of time the food needs to be aged. Ideally, consumers should not have to keep track of which varieties to eat in which seasons.
A good shop will buy and sell rinds as they enter optimal ripeness. It is important to remember that animals give milk primarily to feed their young, not to make cheese.
Cows have the longest lactation period, so if the breeding of a herd is staggered, it is possible to get dairy year round and make products year round. Sheep have a shorter lactation period, and lactate for up to eight months after their babies are born.
Goats typically lactate for around ten months, so there may be a few months during the year when cheese makers cannot make new sheep or goat varieties. This usually happens in the winter time.
For this reason, the time to eat fresh, un-aged goat and sheep dairy is spring and summer, not winter. What an animal eats during any given season affects the flavor of their dairy.
This in turn, affects the flavor of the food made from the milk. During the spring, animals might be eating young spring grasses and flowers.
This may develop floral, herbal and grassy flavor characteristics in the dairy. In the summer, grasses are lush and animals might ingest more beta-carotene in the pastures.
This can affect both the flavor and color of the milk. In the fall and winter, grains and hay become the likely fodder, giving the dairy a subtly different flavor than in the summer or spring.
How long it is aged affects when it will emerge on the market in its prime. For example, a blue cheese like Stilton is considered best when made during the summer and aged three to five months.
You can confidently walk into a shop if you are armed with just a little bit of essential dairy knowledge. Milk type refers to the type of animal used to make the dairy.
This is typically cow, sheep, or goat. Some varieties are made from a combination of the three.
There is one type of mozzarella cheese, mozzarella di bufala that is made from the milk of water buffalo. Each variety brings out different flavors in the food.
In very general terms, cow's dairy can often be described as earthy; sheep's as nutty; and goat's as tangy and grassy. The term artisanal refers to cheese that is handmade, rather than mass-produced in a factory.
If the artisanal makers also raise their own animals for dairy, their dairy is considered to be farmstead. If the outside of a rind is white and almost fuzzy, it has a bloomy rind.
Varieties like Brie and Triple Cremes have bloomy rinds. If the outside of a rind has an orange or reddish hue, it is a sure sign of a washed rind.
The exterior of a washed rind is washed in brine and/or alcohol. This keeps the texture soft and intensifies the flavor.
Most washed rinds have a strong, stinky aroma. When some types age, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, the surface naturally hardens from being exposed to air.
Cheeses with natural rinds are sometimes rubbed down with oil, encased with cloth, or covered with foil. Raw milk refers to dairy that has not been pasteurized.
Blue cheese is a style that always has blue and/or green veins of mold running through it. The flavor ranges from sweet and salty to pungent.
Specific types of mold are needed when blue cheese is made to cause this sort of excessive blueing. A style made with the addition of extra cream, bringing the fat content up to at least 75 percent.
Triple creme like Saint Andre have a whipped texture similar to soft butter. The flavor is buttery, salty, and typically mild.
A double creme is a step below a triple creme in terms of richness and fat content. The most well-known example of a double creme is Brie.
The texture is gooey and runny as opposed to the whipped texture of a triple creme. The flavor of double cremes can be mild or strong and aromatic.
This is a broad category referring to cheese with a hard, crumbly texture or a semi-hard texture. Aged can mean several months or several years.