Different cheese types, part one – classifying cheese by how it is made
How do you classify a cheese? It’s a difficult question because, like wine, there are many variables at play in different types of cheese, ranging from texture to flavour types, rinds (white/bloomy) to intensities, regions (and countries) to methods of ageing…
And why, with cheese being made from the same base product (milk), is there such a diverse range of flavours and textures? Well, to me, that is the beauty of cheese. A very similar raw ingredient giving such a diverse range of cheese types.
So how do you end up with such a diverse range of cheese types and flavours?
The starting point is the milk: evidence suggests that about 20% of the final flavours in a cheese come from the milk. The milk will vary in flavour depending on what the animals are fed, their breed, and whether it is pasteurised or unpasteurised. When you taste Hafod Cheddar’s raw material – Ayrshire cow milk – you taste a buttery, rich milk – flavours that are exemplified in their cheese. In fact the best cheese-makers I work with pay the utmost attention to choosing the right breed of cow and then feeding them the right food to maximise the flavour in the milk.
The other 80% of the final flavours in a cheese are down to the recipe, and ageing and maturing the cheese.
The main factor that influences the end cheese ‘type’ is the particular cheese-making process in the recipe: how much to acidify the milk, how much rennet to use to set the curd, how much moisture to drive out, what additional moulds/bacteria to add, and much more…
This is best summarised in this doodle that I scribbled in my early cheese days (click here to view a larger version) – it helped me to get my head around the variables you can play with, and how to deal with each cheese in the ageing room (I’ve simplified these details in the slide version).
This creates several types of cheese. For the purpose of making and ageing cheese, this is fantastic because you can classify cheeses into similar groups by production method – which, when it comes to understanding each cheese and how best to mature it, is how I prefer to do it.
The types of cheese created by the different production methods (the French call them cheese families!) are:
These cheeses are mainly young, soft, weak-bodied cheeses, made by acidifying milk and then draining off the whey. A classic example is cottage cheese. A young fresh cheese made mainly with rennet would be similar to junket (or French fromage blanc).
- Lactic Natural Rind.
Fresh cheeses that have been drained slightly more, dried and then allowed to age. Natural yeasts, moulds and bacteria then grow on the rind (many of these are now artificially added to the milk – like adding yeast into bread making). Classic examples are the small French goats’ milk cheeses like St Maure. (The Courtyard Dairy stocks Dorstone, Little Anne, St Jude…).
- Bloomy Rind.
Cheeses that have been inoculated with white mould. They are often soft in nature with slightly more rennet added and then dried and left to age to encourage a white coat of mould to grow. The classic examples are Brie and Camembert. (The Courtyard Dairy stocks Tunworth, Finn, Baron Bigod…).
- Washed Rind.
A similar method to making to bloomy rind cheeses, these are frequently softer cheeses (though some semi-hard and hard cheeses are washed as well – e.g. Raclette and Morbier). Rather than allowing white mould to grow, frequent washing of the rind encourages a sticky orange bacterium to grow, giving a characteristic flavour and smell. Classic examples are Epoisses, Munster, Vacherin, Chaumes. (The Courtyard Dairy stocks Vacherin Mont d’Or, St James, St Oswald, Langres…).
- Hard Pressed.
The classic British way of making cheese, where the moisture is driven out of the cheese by acidifying the milk at a low temperature (c30°C) then stacking and pressing the curds. This produces a friable texture and sharper savoury flavours. Classic examples are Cheddar, Lancashire, red Leicester, and also the French Cantal and Salers. (The Courtyard Dairy stocks Kirkham’s Lancashire, Hafod Cheddar, Sparkenhoe Vintage, Richard III Wensleydale…).
- Hard Heated.
Common to the French, Swiss and Italian Mountain cheeses, this involves cutting the curds very small to draw out the moisture then heating the curds up, producing a more supple, elastic texture and sweeter flavour. Classic examples are Comte, Gruyere and Emmental (The Courtyard Dairy stocks Gruyère du Jura…).
Often made as softer, open-textured cheeses, the addition of blue-mould (once a natural process, now artificially added from pre-determined strains) causes veins to form where the blue mould can come into contact with air. Often this is initiated by piercing the cheese to allow air in. Classic examples are Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola. (The Courtyard Dairy stocks Stichelton, Gorgonzola, Cote Hill Blue…)
- The others:
Stretched Curd. When the curd is made it is heated and stretched to form a stringy texture – e.g. Mozzarella.
Whey Cheese. Made by reheating the leftover whey after making cheese, which coagulates the proteins (sometimes salt or acid is also added). Ricotta and Gjetost are the most famous.
Processed and Flavour-Added. Hard cheeses are re-combined with oils, proteins and emulsifiers (for cheese slices) or ingredients such as fruit (e.g. Wensleydale with cranberries).
Each type of cheese has its own particular best method of making and ageing: each cheese of a particular type will, to enable it to flourish, generally need similar conditions as the others of that type (for example, washed-rind cheeses generally need a more humid, higher temperature and ammonia environment for the characteristic ‘orange-bacteria’ to grow).
As well as the production methods outlined in the diagram, there are a multitude of other variables that can influence the final flavour and texture of the end cheese. That’s why within a radius of eight miles you can visit three different Cheddar makers (Westcombe, Keen’s and Montgomery) and, although they each follow a similar recipe, use similar cow breeds and similar feed, and matured their cheeses for a similar amount of time, yet each farm’s product tastes distinctively different and has its own ‘style’. This is the fascinating thing about farmhouse cheese: you can make a cheese that is unique to your ‘terroir’, hopefully with a unique depth of flavour.
Which is why Kathy and I set up the Courtyard Dairy… to champion these wonderful cheeses.
In future I will examine each cheese type in more depth: showing how it is made (and aged) in a little more detail. But for now I have concentrated on how at The Courtyard Dairy we classify cheeses easily for the customer retail and mail order experience. You can view that by clicking here.