There are many thousands of cheese varieties, yet they all stem from the same ingredient, milk. Cheeses are defined by their flavour, texture and manufacturing process and fall into six broad categories: fresh, bloomy-rind, washed-rind, blue, semi-hard and hard cheese.

FRESH, UNRIPENED CHEESES

These cheeses are generally soft and moist with a mild, fresh, milky flavour. Fresh cheeses are essentially liquid milk, turned into solid milk without undergoing maturation (aging), so they still taste very milky. Fresh cheeses don’t have rinds, have a high moisture level and are usually light and spreadable. Cottage cheese, ricotta, mozzarella and chèvre are perfect examples of this category. Fresh cheeses are most often used in cooking or salads, and not likely suspects on a cheese board.

BLOOMY RIND OR MOULD-RIPENED CHEESES

Bloomy rind cheeses are those that have been aged to allow mould to grow on their exterior surface to create a soft, edible rind.  Such cheeses mature from the outside in. The mould spores may be either added to the milk, or sprayed on the surface of the cheese. Bloomy rind cheeses usually have more intensity of flavour than fresh cheeses (some more than others), and can appear from pure white to orange in colour. The interior is called the paste and is usually smooth with a rich, buttery flavour. Intensity of flavour and softness (ooziness) are enhanced with aging. Personally I love most mould-ripened cheeses just before their specified best before dates. Camembert, brie and brillat-savarin are great examples of this style.

WASHED-RIND CHEESES

Washed-rind cheeses are those that are washed with brine, beer, wine, brandy, port (and more), as they mature. The regular washing encourages the growth of Brevibacterium linens (it’s true, it’s also responsible for foot odour), which thrives in a damp environment. B. linens imparts the familiar orange/reddish colour and is also responsible for the ‘stinkiness’ of these cheeses. Washed-rind cheeses are usually soft and have an edible rind, although the rind might not be to everyone’s taste. Don’t be afraid to try these wonderfully stinky cheeses, as the stench is generally much more offensive than the actual taste. Cheeses such Epoisses (a personal favourite), taleggio (another personal favourite) and limburger are great examples of this style.

BLUE CHEESES

Blue cheeses are fittingly deemed as such, due to the presence of a blue-coloured mould that grows on the surface and throughout the interior of the cheese. Blue cheeses are made by introducing blue mould spores, such as Penicillium roqueforti, directly to the milk, or curd. Mould requires moisture and oxygen to thrive, so for this reason, plenty of moisture (whey) is retained during the cheese making process and oxygen pathways are created, by piercing the cheese with a needle. The oxygen pathways dictate the course of the blue mould growth, creating the characteristic veins. Blue cheeses can range from crumbly to creamy in texture, and from mild to piquant or even spicy. Blue classics in this category include gorgonzola, blue Stilton and Roquefort.

 SEMI-HARD CHEESES

Almost any cheese that is not soft, and not hard, falls into this category. Their flavour characteristics can vary greatly, but tend to be well balanced, and smooth and generally make great melting cheeses. Semi-hard cheeses often strike a balance between buttery, nutty, earthy, gamy, and sweet and won’t be overly salty. Typically, this category will include: gouda, Swiss, gruyere, emmental and tomme.

HARD CHEESES

Hard cheeses are those that have been cooked and/or pressed and matured to remove much of their moisture. This creates a hard, dry and often crumbly (even gritty) cheese with concentrated flavours. They are usually salty (for preservation), but their flavours can range from moderately mild when young to pungent and spicy when aged, with caramel or pineapple-like aroma. Cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano, comte, manchego and most pecorino cheeses fall into this category.