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A Guide to Fresh Cheese

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Goat-Cheese-Culture1500.jpg

Fresh Goat Cheese

© Image 2014 Jennifer Meier

Cheese varieties that fall into the category of "fresh cheese" do not have a rind and are not aged, or are aged for a very short amount of time. Some fresh cheeses are thickened with rennet and some are thickened simply by culturing, or souring, the milk with acidity (citric acid, lemon juice, vinegar or buttermilk). Either way, many fresh cheeses are very similar in flavor and texture. Most fresh cheeses are sold in tubs or plastic packaging and are found at grocery stores or speciality food shops, rather than just at cheese shops.

I've grouped the fresh cheeses according to which are most similar to one another. When cooking with fresh cheese, you can usually substitute one fresh cheese for another as long as the texture is similar.

Feta - Tangy and salty, sometimes creamy and sometimes quite dry, but always firm enough to crumble. Feta is kept in brine, which gives it a salty flavor. Typically made with sheep or goat milk, but can also be made with cows' milk.
  • Queso Fresco - Crumbly, dryish texture and mild, slighlty salty flavor.
  • Cotija - Dry and crumbly and a bit salty. Similar to feta but often milder.
  • Mozzarella - Also known as a "pasta filata" cheese, the curds for mozzarella are heated and stretched. Fresh mozzarella is stored in water and is sliceable but has a very creamy texture. A drier form is sold wrapped in plastic. Both have a mild, milky flavor.
  • Oaxaca - Mild flavor with a slightly rubbery texture that is similar to mozzarella
  • Panela - Mild flavor and a texture that softens but does not melt when heated. Panela can be pan-fried or grilled.
  • Halloumi - Mild flavor and rubbery texture that softens but does not melt when heated. Haloumi can be pan-fried or grilled.
  • Paneer - Cultured (soured) milk pressed into a sliceable cheese with a crumbly, creamy texture that does not entirely melt.
  • Farmer's cheese - Cultured (soured) milk that has been drained into a dry and crumbly texture that does not entirely melt.
  • Queso Blanco - Cultured (soured) milk pressed into a crumbly cheese with a mild flavor and texture that does not entirely melt.
  • Crème fraîche - Milk or cream that has been cultured (soured) so that the texture thickens. Similar to sour cream.
  • Fromage blanc - Milk that has been cultured (soured) that is thicker than creme fraiche but not as thick as ricotta. It has a mild, tangy flavor and smooth texture.
  • Ricotta - Creamy, spreadable cheese with a slightly sweet, milky flavor. The best ricotta has a fluffy, smooth texture and is not grainy. Traditionally, it is made from rennet and the whey drained from curds, however, this is not the case when you make an easy ricotta recipe at home.
  • Mascarpone - Cream that has been thickened and drained and has a slightly sweet flavor.
  • Cottage cheese - Curds with milk or cream added to give them a spoonable consistency. The flavor tends to be a bit tangy.
  • Quark - A non-fat or low fat cheese with a texture that is smoother and creamier than cottage cheese but not quite as smooth as sour cream.
  • Pot cheese - Low-fat cottage cheese, also called dry-curd cottage cheese
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