Good cheese is like a drug. No seriously, the research says it too. Turns out, cheese contains fragments of a protein called casomorphins that attach to the same brain receptors as other narcotics. This means that with every bite, you get a teeny tiny dopamine hit. But don’t fret, this is an addiction that you can indulge in guilt-free. And we’re here to help you navigate it as well. Our beginner’s guide to cheese selection will tell you all there is to know about picking out the right cheese for any occasion or craving.
For starters, note that there’s no set standard or correct means of categorising cheese. While some prefer categorising it by type of milk, others prefer looking at the country of origin, ageing process, tasting notes, and uses. Each cheese has a unique set of flavours and characteristics. However, for the sake of simplicity, we have opted to categorise cheeses as per their texture. The texture of the cheese is dependent on numerous factors, some of which include the ageing time, the pH levels, and the milk used. Cheese textures typically comprise soft cheeses, semi-soft cheeses, semi-firm cheeses, firm cheeses, hard cheeses, and blue-veined cheeses.
1. Soft Cheese
The production time involved in making soft cheese is usually quite short. This means that soft cheeses have little to no ageing time, which is why they retain most of their moisture. The excess moisture gives soft cheeses their smooth and creamy texture, making them the perfect spread options. Soft cheeses tend to be mildly flavoured and also have mild aromas.
Some examples of soft cheese include ricotta, goat cheese, feta, mascarpone, burrata, and brie. Spread a quality soft cheese of choice on some warm toast and enjoy it with a glass of white wine.
2. Semi-Soft Cheese
Semi-soft cheeses aren’t smooth enough to be used as a spread but are pliable and can be cut easily. To make semi-soft cheese, around 36-45 per cent of the curdled milk’s water content is removed. Following this, all the whey by-product is pressed out. Ever seen how paneer is made at home? That’s what we’re talking about. Since semi-soft cheese isn’t aged for too long, it retains its milky flavour and freshness.
Mozzarella, Fontina, Chevre Goat, Manchego and Muenster are some of the semi-soft cheeses that you can try. And while we all know how amazing some stretchy mozzarella tastes on bread, these also make for excellent dessert cheeses.
3. Semi-Firm Cheese
Semi-firm cheeses have a slightly extended ageing period and are thus lower in moisture content as well. This variety of cheese balances moisture and aridity quite well and has a mild blend of savoury and tangy flavours. The texture of semi-firm cheeses is firm enough for them to be grated on a salad. And their appealing flavour makes them a cheeseboard favourite.
Some types of semi-firm cheeses include Gouda, Provolone and Havarti. And as per our guide to cheese selection and pairings, red wine is the way to go with semi-firm cheeses.
4. Firm Cheese
The term “firm cheese” usually refers to a variety of cheese that has been cooked and then pressed. The curd is cooked for at least an hour until it becomes more concentrated. And upon pressing, the concentrated curd produces a more compact cheese. Firm cheeses have two kinds of textures. While some are hard and even, others have a granular texture.
The most well-known firm cheese is the classic cheddar. Others are Cantal, Jarlsberg, Raclette, and Edam.
5. Hard Cheese
Hard Cheeses are extremely low on moisture content. They’re firm yet dry and crumbly, and have a strong savoury flavour, with a hard exterior. Most of the popular hard cheeses have Italian origins.
Hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano, and Pecorino Romano go wonderfully with pastas, salads, soups, and other Italian preparations.
6. Blue-Veined Cheese
And lastly, we come to the blue-veined cheeses. Popularly referred to as “blue cheese”, this cheese variety is known for its strong flavour and pungent aroma. In terms of texture, blue cheese is quite versatile and comes in both spreadable, as well as hard and crumbly forms. However, owing to its sharp flavours, it’s not a universally loved variety — you either love it or can’t stand it. Also, note that the blue veins that characterise its appearance are actually a form of edible mould that grows during the process of ageing
Gorgonzola is perhaps the most well-accepted blue cheese. Others include Blue Brie, Roquefort and Stilton.
And that’s all there is to this beginner’s guide to cheese selection. Of course, there are plenty of other cheeses in each category that we’ve left out, but we’ve tried to include the basics.
We hope that you’re all set for your next adventure in cheese exploration. These are indeed the kind of stay-at-home adventures we can look forward to.
Featured Image Source