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Essential Cheese Knowledge

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You can confidently walk into a cheese shop if you’re armed with just a little bit of essential cheese knowledge. Below is a list of the most frequently used terms heard in a cheese shop.

1. Milk Type

Cow's Grazing. Photo by Jennifer Meier
Milk Type refers to the type of milk used to make the cheese; typically either cow, sheep, or goat. Some cheeses 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 type of milk brings out different flavors in cheese. In very general terms, cow’s milk can often be described as earthy, sheep’s milk as nutty, and goat’s milk as tangy and grassy.

2. Artisanal

Cheese curds draining. Photo by Jennifer Meier
The term artisanal refers to cheese that is handmade, rather than mass-produced in a factory. If the artisanal cheesemakers also raise their own animals for milk (rather than purchasing milk from another farm) their cheese is considered to be "farmstead" cheese.

3. Bloomy Rind

Bloomy Rind. Photo by Jennifer Meier
If the outside of a cheese is white and almost fuzzy, it has a bloomy rind. Cheeses like Brie and Triple Cremes have bloomy rinds.

4. Washed Rind

Washed rind. Photo by Jennifer Meier
If the outside of a cheese has an orange or reddish hue, like Epoisses, it is a sure sign of a washed rind. The exterior of a washed rind cheese is washed in brine and/or alcohol. This keeps the texture of the cheese soft and intensifies the flavor. Most washed rind cheeses have a strong, stinky aroma.

5. Natural Rind

Parmigiano-Reggiano. Getty Images
When some types of cheese age, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano,the surface of the cheese naturally hardens from being exposed to air. Cheeses with natural rinds are sometimes rubbed down with oil, encased with cloth, or covered with foil.

6. Raw Milk

Milk. Photo by Jennifer Meier
Raw milk refers to milk that has not been pasteurized. In the United States, cheese made from raw milk must be aged at least 60 days before being sold. This law was put in place by the Food and Drug Administration to protect people from harmful bacteria that might exist in raw milk. The FDA believes that after 60 days, any harmful bacteria in raw milk will cease to exist. There are opponents of this law in the cheese industry who believe that pasteurizing milk kills all nuances of flavor in cheese.

7. Blue Cheese

Stilton blue cheese. Getty Images
A style of cheese 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.

8. Triple Creme

Mt. Tam Triple Creme. Photo by Jennifer Meier
A style of cheese made with the addition of extra cream, bringing the milk fat content up to at least 75%. Triple creme cheeses like Saint Andre have a whipped texture similar to soft butter. The flavor is buttery, salty and typically mild.

9. Double Creme

Brie. Photo by Getty Images/Rosemary Calvert
A double creme cheese is a step below a triple creme in terms of richness and milk 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.

10. Aged Cheese

Photo by Jennifer Meier
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. An aged cheese can be anything from Comte to Gouda to Pecorino.

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