Our talented team of event planners and culinary experts at Paramount Events recently sat down to talk about cheese: What is it, how is it made, and how should we be eating it? Let’s talk all things cheese…
So what exactly is this tasty dairy product that’s in seemingly everything? Cheese is really just spoiled milk, but a carefully controlled and supervised spoilage. The first step comes from collecting the milk from an animal such as a cow, goat, sheep, or buffalo. Starter cultures and rennet (an enzyme from an animal’s stomach) are added to the milk, which eventually turns into a separation of curds and whey. The curds become the cheese we know and love after some pressing and adding of salt, while the leftover liquid whey is discarded. The final step is aging, which is where much of the thousands of flavors and varieties come from through different processes.
Eight categories exist to classify all the different categories one will encounter and enjoy within their life:
These never went through the final aging process. They may have been pressed a bit (or not at all), but they still contain a lot of whey. Usually they exhibit little flavor on their own, and are used alongside other strong ingredients. Examples of this type include ricotta, feta, cream, and cottage.
- Soft Ripened
A short aging process defines soft ripened. They age from the outside in, and typically have a soft and edible rind on their outside, and a soft and spreadable inside. Examples of soft ripened include brie, camembert, and triple cream.
- Washed Rind
Constant washing with brine or alcohol to ripen is what makes a good washed rind. The growth of bacteria due to constant liquid on the outside creates a very potent smell, and leads some to refer to this type as “stinky cheese.” Gruyere, Limburger, and Taleggio are all examples of washed rind.
A natural rind is just as it sounds: natural. Over a period of weeks or months, this type naturally develops a rind due to mold and bacteria. While the mold itself is edible, it does not necessarily taste great. Examples of natural rind include aged cheddar, Tomme de Savoie, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
A semi-soft typically hasn’t aged long because the softness comes from the high moisture content still present. This type can vary greatly in flavor, but the flavor becomes more concentrated as it ages longer. The external natural or wax rind protects a soft interior. Gouda, Havarti, Gorgonzola, and Provolone are all examples of a semi-soft.
Hard cheeses have usually been aged for years, in contrast to most soft cheeses which only age for months or weeks. A hard cheese may be soft at room temperature, but often it will be dry and hard enough to grate into a dish. Rarely is it eaten on its own. Some examples of hard cheese include Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gorgonzola, Asiago, and Pecorino.
Blue cheese gets its own category due to the unique qualities it holds. Blue cheese is purposely allowed to mold, which creates that distinctive blue color and pungent taste. Though it is typically served crumbled, the cheese can also take a solid or wet form as well and has a high salt content to prevent any disease-causing bacteria/mold to form.
- Pasta Filata
Italian for “spun paste,” this final category name comes from the process in which this type of cheese is made. First the curd is cooked with warm water, then kneaded like a dough (spun). The final form is either soft because it is placed in a brine, or hard because it is left to air dry. Mozzarella and provolone are both created using this traditional process.
The world of cheese is complex, arduous, and yes, moldy. But the thousands of types of cheeses all begin the same way: spoiled animal milk. Discussing the different types of cheese and the process that goes into each category can provide a better understanding for when and how to enjoy the endless options of cheese. More importantly, it allows one to understand why certain cheeses will work better than others at an event, and in a compatible way with the rest of your menu. With our culinary and events teams now even more educated about the complicated world of cheese, leave it to us to serve you the best pairings at your next event.