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How to Classify Cheese

How to Classify Cheese

Some examples of hard cheeses, clockwise from top left: Emmentaler, aged provolalone, Gruyere, manchego, aged Gouda, aged Cheddar, aged pecarino antico mugella, ricotta salata.

Culinary Institute of America

Soft Ripened Cheeses

Soft ripened cheeses are those that have typically been sprayed or dusted with a mold and allowed to ripen. The two most popular varieties are probably Brie and Camembert. Neither name is protected by law, so both have been counterfeited in many places with vast differences in quality. Soft ripened cheeses are available in varying degrees of richness. For example, single-, double-, and triple-cream cheeses have 50, 60, and 70 percent butterfat, respectively.

Soft ripened cheeses should be eaten only when properly ripened. An underripe cheese is firm and chalky; an overripe cheese will run when cut. A cheese ready for eating will “bulge” when cut and barely hold its shape. Soft ripened cheeses will ripen only until they are cut into. After that they will begin to dry and deteriorate. To check for ripeness before cutting, press firmly but gently in the middle of the cheese. It should have some feel of softness to the center. An overripe cheese can be identified by an ammonia odor. Soft ripened cheeses can be served at room temperature as a dessert cheese or as an appetizer. For those who are not purists, these cheeses can also be served warm by baking them in a crust of flaky dough or toasted almonds. It still remains a matter of taste as to whether soft ripened cheeses should be eaten with the rind. Even the “experts” don’t agree on that age-old discussion, so it should be left up to the individual.

Rind-Ripened Cheeses

Washed-rind cheeses are periodically washed with brine, beer, cider, wine, brandy, or oils during the ripening period. This remoistening encourages bacterial growth, sometimes known as a smear, which allows the cheese to be ripened from the outside in. Popular examples of this type of cheese include Limburger and its famous American counterpart Liederkranz, both of which are intensely pungent, as well as Muenster, Saint Paulin, and Port-Salut.

Soft Ripened and Washed-Rind Cheeses

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