How many types of cheese do you really know? Cheese production predates recorded history, and it is believed that cheese was first discovered more than 7,000 years ago! No wonder it seems like there are countless types of cheese out there. And the growing popularity of cheese, amplified by the internet and tv food channels, has helped cheeses we know little about making its way into the cheese section at our local grocery store.
Types of Cheese - Best Guide to Cheese
Cheese is made by adding an enzyme called rennet to milk to let it curdle. The curdle is then drained, and usually pressed and left to age, with added salt for preservation and flavoring purposes.
As a hard-core cheese lover, (who isn't?! it’s the greatest thing ever!) have you ever been overwhelmed by how many types of cheese are available? I mean, which one should you choose to grate over tonight’s dinner? What about the texture and the taste? Well, worry not, because I’ll guide you through the different types of cheese you need to know about to be a better cook.
Types of Cheese - Categories
I’d say the best way to categorize cheese is based on the rind. Rind is the outer skin or protective layer that forms naturally due to the cheesemaking and aging process. Not only does it tells us how old the cheese is, but it also gives us a hint about how the cheese should taste.
Types of Cheese # 1 - Fresh and Aged Fresh
Fresh cheese has no rind because it’s hasn't been aged. Generally, these types of cheese are very moist and wet, with a consistency that can vary from smooth to stretchy and even crumbly. The taste is usually mild but can sometimes be salty or even tangy.
Then, there’s aged fresh cheese. It’s basically fresh cheese that has been left to age, typically for several days after being processed. This allows the cheese to develop a very thin and almost transparent rind. In most cases, the rinds are wrinkled.
Fresh and Aged Fresh: ricotta, mozzarella, cottage cheese
Types of Cheese # 2 - Soft-White Rind
In making this type of cheese, Penicillium Candidum mold is used to help the ripening process, and to prevent the soft, voluptuous interior from drying out. Cheeses with a soft-white rind typically have a mild, slightly sweet, buttery, and mushroom-y flavor.
Soft-White Rind: Camembert, Brie
Types of Cheese # 3 - Semi-Soft Rind
These types of cheese are made by pressing the curdled milk to remove the whey (whey is the liquid that is left after the milk has curdled and has been strained). Thus, it’s more compact and the texture is quite elastic. Plenty of semi-soft rind cheeses develop fine to thick grey or orange rind that is sticky and leathery. And the thicker the rind is, the stronger, denser, and earthier the cheese is.
Semi-Soft Rind: Edam, Reblochon, St. Nectair
Types of Cheese # 4 - Hard Rind
Hard rind cheese is made by pressing milk curds for hours or even weeks to remove the whey and compact the curds. This process attracts molds, but most of them are brushed off during the ripening process, making the rind thick, crusty, but smooth and polished. These types of cheese have a low moisture content with a stronger and more complex flavor.
Hard-Rind: Cheddar, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano
Types of Cheese # 5 - Blue Rind
These types of cheese are made by sprinkling blue penicillium molds into the vat before the milk is curdled. The rind is gritty and rough, sometimes sticky. Blue cheese has a spicy taste due to the naturally-occurring chemical reaction between the milk curds and the blue molds. It has the strongest taste of all cheeses, the funkiest.
Blue Rind: Gorgonzola, Stilton, Picos de Europa
16 Types of Cheese You Need to Know
Cheddar is a type of cheese that originates from England. The texture is semi-firm but creamy. As it needs 15 months or more to mature, it tends to have a pungent and sharp flavor. And the sharpness increases the older it gets. Highly versatile, cheddar is great for burgers, grilled cheese, nachos, mac and cheese, pasta dishes, and casseroles.
Parmigiano-Reggiano comes in a straw color and has a hard and granulated texture. Known as the king of cheeses, the taste is nutty, creamy, salty, and very rich. These types of cheese are usually grated over risotto, pasta dishes, salads, and soups, and even eaten as it is. The piquant note also works perfectly with rich meats like lamb or turkey.
Although similar and interchangeable (for most cases), Parmigiano-Reggiano is not to be confused with parmesan cheese. Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is only made in Bologna, Mantua, Modena, and Parma. But the difference doesn’t end there. Parmesan cheese (at least in the States) is typically aged for only 10 months while Parmigiano-Reggiano is aged for 12-36 months. Thus, American parmesan cheese is usually milder than its Italian counterpart.
Authentic Italian Pecorino Romano is made with sheep’s milk. But nowadays, Pecorino made using types of milk such as cow’s milk is also widely available in the States. These types of cheese are known for their hard, dense, flaky, grainy, and very crumbly texture. And the salty, nutty, and sharp flavor is perfect for pasta dishes and breads. Smokey and slightly spicy, with a strong aroma, Pecorino is not everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who enjoy it, it’s absolutely heavenly!
Commonly known as Swiss cheese, you might recognize Emmental by its signature holes formed by carbon dioxide - yes, it’s the cartoon cheese! It’s nutty, sweet, and mild in flavor, savory but not too sharp, with a pleasant pronounced aroma. Emmental is best eaten with fruits, thinly sliced prosciutto ham, and salami. For me, no cheese board is perfect without it. Period.
Literally, everyone has a love/hate relationship with American cheese. It is well known for having a very low melting point. And for that reason, this type of cheese is the best melting cheese for burgers and grilled cheese. The texture is semi-soft, creamy, and smooth, with a mild, creamy, and salty flavor.
What is Processed Cheese?
Processed cheese is made by combining “real” cheese with other ingredients like flavorings and emulsifiers. Generally, it contains 50-60% natural cheese. Some cheeses of this type are American cheese, Provel, and various cheese spreads. Though often considered to be inferior, the unique characteristics of certain processed cheese can be advantageous for cooking, like American cheese with its signature meltiness - arguably the best cheese for a good burger.
I can’t think of another cheese that is more of a crowd-pleaser than mozzarella. Traditionally made with water buffalo’s milk, this type of cheese is delicate and very milky, somewhat savory. It's very stretchy, the type of cheese you want to use to achieve that mouthwatering cheese pull on your pizza and mac and cheese. But that’s not all. Mozzarella is also great to be layered into salads, tucked into sandwiches and paninis, used as bruschetta or crostini topping, or as stuffing for meat, meatballs, and chicken.
These types of cheese are made from cow’s milk. The milk curds are pulled and aged for a minimum of 4 months. Provolone is most commonly used in sandwiches or eaten uncooked, grated over pizza and pasta, as a wine companion or tasty snack.
This Greek cheese is made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk that is aged for at least 3 months. Slightly grainy, the texture is crumbly but creamy. Salty and tangy, with a hint of spiciness and sweetness, this type of cheese can be used as a table cheese or sprinkled over salads or pizza. The aged feta is also fabulous for pastry filling, especially for traditional Greek spinach and feta pie.
Ricotta is made by reheating the whey left when making other cheeses like mozzarella or provolone. Its characteristics are fresh, soft, moist, and very milky in flavor. And the texture resembles grainy, thick sour cream. Use ricotta any way you like. It’s perfect for lasagna, as stuffing for ravioli, cheesecake, and cake filling. You can even use this type of cheese as a substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches or as a spread on toast.
Made from cow’s milk, and not aged at all, cottage cheese is drained instead of being pressed, then a dressing (usually cream) is added to give a more pronounced flavor. This type of cheese is very soft, creamy, and lumpy. Its mild sweet taste makes it a great pair for fruits, toast, salads, and granola. You can also use it as a base for making a dip or to replace mayo in tuna salad.
Monterey Jack has a notably buttery flavor and slight sweetness. This white or pale-yellow cheese has a semi-hard, compact, creamy, and supple texture. Monterey Jack melts well and works great for pizza topping, grilled cheese filling, or for the sauce in pasta dishes. Oh, and of course, this type of cheese is the go-to for Californian and Mexican-style burritos.
This type of cheese is arguably one of the most popular cheeses in the world. Young Gouda (aged for around 4 weeks) has a soft texture and mild flavor. It’s best eaten with sandwiches or crackers. On the other hand, matured Gouda (aged for 16-18 weeks) has a harder texture and stronger flavor, more buttery, and nutty. Matured Gouda is perfect for mac and cheese or eaten with crusty bread.
Edam is that cheese with the red paraffin wax rind. The flavor is savory, a mellow blend of creamy and nutty tones and a hint of salt. Young Edam cheese has a creamy and springy texture and milder undertones while aged Edam has a more intense flavor and a drier and crumbly texture. These types of cheese are a good companion for fruits (peach, melon, apricot, cherry), crackers, bread, and sparkling wine.
It’s "the" Italian cream cheese. Extremely creamy, smooth, and thick. It’s an essential ingredient for tiramisu and cheesecake. Try eating it with a bowl of fresh fruits. Or thicken soup or your pasta sauce with it, or spread it on your freshly baked bagel.
American cream cheese is soft and creamy, sweet, and a bit tangy. Compared to Mascarpone, it has a lower cheese and fat content. It’s great as a spread on bread and crackers, as a dip for chips, or as a salad dressing. These types of cheese also work well for cheesecakes. And yes, this is the cheese you’re going to use to make cream cheese frosting for your carrot cake or muffins.
Known as the Queen of Cheeses, brie has a soft-runny texture and is buttery, and fruity, and nutty, and tangy - oh my goodness! This type of cheese is best served at room temperature. Pair a small piece of Brie with a baguette or any crusty bread or plain cracker. It’s graciously delicious with fruits, fig jam, honey, and types of nuts such as pecans, and candied walnuts.
Types of Cheese - In Conclusion
Of course, there’s still a lot more types of cheese that I haven’t mentioned here. But these 16 are the basics, in my opinion. And once you’re comfortable enough eating and cooking with all of them, I encourage you to explore more. There are just so many wonderful cheeses out there - don't miss out!