Cheese advice from a total curd nerd.

By Stacey Ballis
May 31, 2019
World Market

Cheese is my lifeblood. I did Whole30 last year, and when everyone asked how hard it was to give up booze and sugar and grains, I didn’t blink. None of those things were nearly as difficult as not eating cheese.

WATCH: This Egg and Cheese Pie Is Everything Your Stomach Desires

My breakfast includes cottage cheese six days out of seven. My lunch is often a sandwich or salad involving cheese. I snack in the afternoon on pieces of fruit with some cheese cubes. It is rare for me to go a day without cheese. We are a house that almost never has a dinner party with no cheese course. I make a really good cheesecake, a killer secret-recipe cheese ball, and don’t get me started on pimiento cheese.

I am a total curd nerd.

My husband and I are so committed to cheese that when we renovated our kitchen, we installed a 15-inch wine fridge in our pantry and rigged it with a humidifier so that we could use it solely for cheese storage.

I have a cheese fridge, and I am not ashamed.

So, I thought it might be time to give you a bit of a primer on cheeses, in case you are not quite as fromage-obsessed as I am.

Cheese, for all of its insane variety, really breaks down into four categories. Hard, semi-soft, soft, and fresh or tub. So, let’s dive into these four categories and see what you need to know about the wonderful world of cheeses available to us.

Hard Cheeses

These long-aged cheeses are meant to be an accent, and not necessarily the star of a dish. While you can eat them plain, you do so in small amounts, to fully appreciate the intensity of the flavor. These cheeses include common favorites like parmigiano Reggiano and pecorino, but also lesser known beauties like five-year gouda, which tastes a bit like salted caramel and pairs gorgeously with intense salty charcuterie, or aged manchego, which can be grated finely over pasta for a twist on the usual parm. If you do want to eat these on their own, serve them in small thin slices, or small craggy chunks, with aged balsamic for dipping, or quince paste for mellowing.

Get the recipe: Zucchini Ribbons With Lemon and Pecorino

Semi-Soft Cheeses

These cheeses range from firmish, like cheddar, to softer, like edam or port salut. The category includes sandwich favorites like swiss and muenster and Havarti. These are the darlings of your cheese platter and sandwich prep alike. They can be flavored with everything from herbs, Cotswold is a personal favorite, or booze, like Timanoix, where the rind is washed with walnut liqueur by French monks, to fruit, like Apricot Stilton.  This category includes blues, like Roquefort, great melty cheeses like Raclette and Fontina, and nutty cheeses like Gruyere and Emmental. If serving one of these on a cheese plate, offer accompaniments like grainy mustard, dried fruit, and something acidic like cornichons or caper berries.

Get the recipe: Roquefort Cheesecake With Pear Preserves and Pecans

Soft Cheeses

This category includes all those bloomy-rinded beauties like brie and camembert, and those little shaped goat cheeses like crottins or ash-lined Humbolt Fog. These cheeses are meant for you to eat the rind as part of the experience, but there are plenty of people (me included) for whom the rind can be a little intense, so there is no shame in removing it based on your personal preference. Some standouts in this category are Delice de Bourgogne, a triple cream brie style that is mild and rich and buttery, and Delice de Pommard, which is essentially like the middle of a brie got scooped out and rolled in crushed mustard seeds. If you love the barnyard funk, see if you can find an Epoisses or a Vacherin Mont D’or. If you are serving these on a cheese platter, accompany with nuts, fig jam, candied citrus peel and olives.

Get the recipe: Baked Brie With Golden Raisin Compote

Fresh or Tub Cheeses

This category includes super-fresh cheeses like chevre and ricotta; brine-stored cheeses like feta and buffalo mozzarella or burrata; baking cheeses like cream cheese; and other cheeses like cottage cheese or farmers cheese. These are meant to be eaten young, or as an ingredient in cooking. On a cheese platter, goat cheeses love a sweet accompaniment, and brined cheeses love fresh fruits or ripe tomatoes and a drizzle of peppery olive oil or a sprinkle of herbs.

Whichever dairy delights you bring into your life, the single best thing you can do is find a good cheese monger who will let you taste before you buy and can make recommendations. Always take cheese out of the fridge between one and two hours before serving, as their flavors are better closer to room temperature. Store in cheese paper not plastic, so they can breathe a bit.

Get the Recipe: Grilled Apricots With Burrata, Country Ham, and Arugula

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