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Cheese Terms

Publish Date: 
November 3, 2008

    A description used for cheese with sour flavors.

Affinage (AH-fee-nahj)
    The craft of maturing and aging cheeses.

    The person behind the maturation and aging of cheeses.

    The term usually used for bloomy or washed rind cheeses, giving off a strong smell or taste of ammonia.
 A natural food coloring derived from the ground seed pods (achiote) of the annatto tree, native to Central and South America. Cheese is naturally the color of the milk from which it is made. Some traditional cheeses once had a natural orange hue caused by the vitamin D that cows ingested from grazing on green plants. But winter milk comes from cows that are fed silage (forage plants that are stored in a silo) and the cheeses that result from this milk are white. This variation persuaded some cheesemakers to color their cheeses so they would look uniformly nutritious. The earliest colorings were carrot juice and marigold petals. For the last century at least, cheesemakers who wish to use color have used annatto instead.

Controlled designation of origin, the AOC mark guarantees, among other things, that the cheese originates from a specific region of France and has been produced in a traditional way. There are 35 types of cheese carrying the AOC mark, which guarantees that: (1) The cheese was produced within a specific geographical area, from milk from specific herds of animals in the same area and partly matured there. (2) The cheese was made using strictly defined methods that have been handed-down over several centuries. (3) The characteristics of the cheese that have been precisely defined—its size, type of rind, texture and minimum fat content—are adhered to strictly. (4) The producers submit themselves to review by a public control commission, which guarantees the authenticity and quality of the products. See also D.O. and D.O.P.

A Point
Pronounced ah-PWAN in French, the term refers to a cheese which is at the peak (the “point”) of its development, at the perfect stage to be consumed. In English, say “at peak” instead of “at point.”

A cheese’s scent, which can vary from faint and milky (fresh cheeses), to lightly aromatic, to pungent and overpowering. While most strong-smelling cheeses will also be strong-tasting, this is not a hard and fast rule: Limburger, Brick and Liederkranz have distinctive aromas, but are not overly strong-tasting cheeses unless well-aged.

After molding, some goat cheeses are dusted with a fine powder of charcoal, traditionally from oak but today often vegetable ash. These are known as ash-covered goat cheeses. Originally, the ash was used to protect the delicate cheeses. Today it is decorative.

Artisanal cheese
    Cheese that has been hand-crafted in small batches according to time-honored techniques, recipes, and traditions.

Bacterial surface
    Used to describe the rind of cheeses such as Munster d'Alsace and Epoisses, indicating a heavy growth of bacteria on the surface and unique flavor.

A term often used to describe a cheese’s aroma and sometimes its taste: Aged goat cheeses are often barnyardy. It is considered a positive characteristic of the cheese.

Bloomy rind
Type of cheese the rind of which has be coated with Penicillium candidum, allowing it to ripen from outside in. Camembert and Brie are examples of bloomy rind cheeses. This class or category of cheese comprises the white cheeses with soft creamy interiors. The rind is composed of one of the greatest cheese molds, Penicillium candidum, which grows naturally as the cheese ages. The mold grows on the outside of the cheese, breaking down the protein and fat inside, making it soft, runny, and more complex. Bloomy rind cheeses are usually made of cow’s milk, resulting in a very creamy and very soft paste. They are aged quickly, resulting in mild and subtle flavors. The most popular cheeses in the world—Brie and Camembert—fall into this category.
Other bloomy-rinded favorites include triple crèmes such as Brillat-Savarin and Pierre Robert, with 75% butterfat. Bloomy rind cheeses are generally aged for two weeks, which produces a mild flavor and subtle aroma.

Blue Veined Cheeses, Blue Cheese
A class of cheese unto itself, simply for the mold it carries inside. Penicillium roqueforti, a relative of bloomy mold—but dark blue in color rather than the pristine white—is sharp and powerful. Penicillium roqueforti, Penicillium gorgonzola or Penicillium glaucum spores are injected into the cheese, which provide the blue-green colors and piquant flavor (although some blues are mild). The mold will not thrive until oxygen comes into contact with it, so the cheeses are pierced with pins. Then air is injected, which causes the cheeses to develop a very high acid content and crumb-like texture. Blues can range from high-moisture to firm and well-aged; the common thread is the addition of the mold spores into the milk during the cheesemaking process. Blue cheeses are found in all categories of cheese with the exception of fresh cheeses, since the mold needs time to develop. Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola are the big three, with Danish Blue the fourth best-known blue. Blues are typically aged for 90 days, which enables them to become more solid.

    The general name for the texture of cheese. Cheese body can be further described alternately as firm, weak, pastry, flaky, close, short.

    A mixture comprised of water, salt, and often some type of spirit. Brines are used to "wash" cheeses, inhibiting mold growth and promoting flavor development.

    Term used to a describe a cheese that is off-color or possesses dents or other abnormalities.

Brushed Rind
Certain types of natural rind cheeses, both cooked and uncooked varieties, have their rinds brushed during the period they spend ripening. This brushing, done by hand or machine, helps the interior of the cheese to keep moist during the ripening period. It also has an effect on the final flavor of the cheese: Etivaz, an AOC-protected Swiss cheese shown in the photo at right, is brushed with salt.

The French word for log, a popular shape for goat cheese (chèvre). It is made in whole logs (generally 8 ounces) and half logs. Pronounced as a cross between “boosh” and “beesh.”

A ball of mozzarella di bufala, filled with scraps of mozzarella and fresh cream, and wrapped in the leaves of asphodel, which indicate the cheese’s freshness. A specialty of the Murgia area of Puglia, Italy, it can be served as mozzarella is served, although the creamy insides beg for fresh, crusty bread or crostini. With a very short shelf life, it is flown to specialty cheese shops in the U.S., but can be hard to find. Some U.S. cheesemakers have begun to make it, including Mozzarella Company.

    The liquid remaining after cream is curdled and churned to make butter - similar to whey.

Calf rennet
    A substance derived from rennin, an enzyme found in the fourth stomach of a milk-fed calf. It is used to coagulate (curdle) milk.

    The technical name for milk protein. Casein is broken in half by rennet in the production of cheese, forming curds and whey.

    Originally a real cave or cellar. Today, a cave can be a specially calibrated refrigerated cooler used to maintain the precise humidity and temperature levels ideal for aging cheese.

    Denotes the sprinkling of cheeses with dark vegetable ash commonly seen on young goats' milk cheeses.

Cheese cloth
    A cloth, having either a course or fine texture, used to drain cheese curds or line cheese molds.

Chevre or chèvre (SHEV-reh)
    A cheese made from goat's milk

Cooked curds
    A facet of cheesemaking, when cut curd is heated to expel more whey.

    The fatty element of milk.

    The solid portion of coagulated or curdled milk.

    The stage in cheesemaking when the cheese is left to ripen and lose some of its moisture. Also known as affinage or aging.

    When curds and whey are separated, and the whey is allowed to drain off.

Dry matter
    The part of cheese consisting of solid (versus liquid) matter.

    Enhances the coagulation of milk, along with rennet.

    The technical name for holes formed in certain cheeses after fermentation, e.g. in Swiss cheeses.

Farmstead  Describes cheese made solely from milk produced on the same farm.

Fat content
    The amount of fat in dry matter in cheese.

Fresh cheese
    Cheese that has not been ripened or aged.

Hard cheese
    Cheese that has been aged, salted, pressed for some time causing it to lose moisture.

Horizontal tasting (see also vertical tasting)
    The terms horizontal tasting and vertical tasting come from the wine world. A horizontal tasting with cheese involves tasting similar cheeses side by side, such as tasting various cheddars, or more specifically, several Loire valley chevres, or several blues, etc. These are some of the particularly exciting and educational ways to compare various cheeses side by side. From time to time Artisanal offers cheese tasting classes that employ one of these formats.

Lactic acid
    The acid produced in milk or curd during cheesemaking, often as a result of the addition of a bacterial starter culture.

    Natural sugar found in milk.

Lactose intolerance
    A physical intolerance and inability to process milk sugars. It should be noted that lactose is consumed by bacteria in the production of cheese and converted to lactic acid. Most cheeses over 60 days old do not contain any lactose, or only contain trace amounts. Milk allergy is often confused with lactose intolerance.

    Part of the process of cheesemaking, when the cheese is stored at a certain temperature and humidity for a period of time in order to allow its flavor and texture to develop.

    When added artificially to a cheese, mold describes a fungus or fungiform bacteria necessary for the development of the cheese. It manifests either internally or on the surface. Cheese can also develop mold spontaneously or naturally, usually on the rind of a cheese. This mold is usually beneficial or innocuous, but can be harmful as well. Typically, darker-colored molds are beneficial or harmless (blue, gray, brown, dark orange). Avoid consumption of bright yellow, red, or jet black molds.

    A step in the cheesemaking process in which curds are poured into wood, metal, cloth, or plastic molds, containing holes to allow fordrainage. These molds help determine the final shape of the cheese.
    The type of wax used to coat cheeses, providing protection during transport and to discourage surface mold growth.

    The interior of a cheese.

    The process of heating milk to destroy pathogenic (and beneficial) bacteria, rendering the milk "clean". The typical method employed is HTST or High Temperature, Short Time. Milk is held at a temperature of 161.5 degrees Fahrenheit (or 72 degrees Celsius) for at least 15 seconds.

Penicillium candidum
    A mold often added to soft-ripened cheeses that promotes the growth of a white, bloomy rind.

Pressed cheeses
    Cheeses that have been pressed to further expel whey. Gouda and Parmigiano-Reggiano are popular examples of pressed cheeses.

    The process of piercing a cheese with long needles in order to introduce the air necessary for certain types of fermentation, usually blue mold growth.

    A plant or animal derived substance that contains the enzyme rennin. Rennet is crucial to the coagulation of milk in the cheesemaking process. Traditionally, rennet was derived from the lining of the fourth stomach of an unweaned ruminant animal (e.g. a calf, kid, or lamb). Today, microbial, plant-derived, and GMO varieties represent the majority of the market.

    The step in the cheesemaking process in which rennet is added to coagulate (curdle) the milk.

    The outside of a cheese. The rind acts as a barrier between the cheese and the outside environment, while also imparting a flavor of its own.


The process of maturing a cheese. Artisanal Premium Cheese specializes in ripening cheeses to their full flavor potential.

When salt is added during the cheesemaking process to draw out liquid, enhance flavors, and stave off pathogenic bacteria growth. Different types of cheese require salting at different stages of the production process.

Skim milk
    Milk from which part or all of the fat (cream layer) has been removed.

Soft cheese
    Unpressed, high moisture cheeses that are aged for relatively short periods. Camembert and Brie are popular examples of soft cheese.

  The bacteria added to milk at the very beginning of the cheesemaking process. The starter serves to acidify the milk, speeding along coagulation, and also adds to the complexity of flavor.

    Often used to describe the flavor of goat's milk cheese. Tangy flavors are often related to cheeses that are higher in acid.

Tomme (TUM)
    The French word for a "wheel" of cheese. A tomme can denote any medium-sized wheel or form of cheese

Triple crème (CREHM)
    Cheese that contains more than 75% fat in dry matter (e.g. Pierre Robert and Brillat Savarin).
uncooked cheese

Cheese produced where the milk is only heated to 36 degrees Celsius and coagulated at a slightly lower temperature. Milk used to produce 'cooked cheeses' is heated to a much higher temperature. Examples of uncooked cheeses are Cantalet and Fromage de Savoie.

Unpasteurized cheese
    Cheese made from milk that has not been pasteurized. Often called raw milk, cheese made from milk that has not been pasteurized must be aged at least 60 days before it can be sold.

Vegetarian rennet
    Rennet derived completely from fungal, bacterial, or floral sources rather than from livestock. The cardoon thistle, for example, is often used as a source of vegetarian rennet.

Vertical tasting (see also horizontal tasting)
    The terms vertical tasting and horizontal tasting come from the wine world. A vertical tasting with cheese involves tasting the same cheese at various ages, from as young as possible (just barely cheese) also described in The Cheese Plate as stage 1, to well-aged, if not overripe. This is one of many fun ways to compare various cheeses side by side. From time to time Artisanal offers cheese tasting classes in one of these particularly exciting formats.

Washed-rind cheese
    Used to describe a type of cheese that is washed periodically in a brine solution in order to promote rind growth and develop flavor. The rind may be washed in water, brine, cider, beer, spirits, wine, etc. Each type of wash imparts its own unique flavor. Examples of washed-rind cheeses are Epoisses and Munster d'Alsace.

    The liquid portion of the milk left when milk is curdled. High in protein and carbohydrates, it is often fed to hogs, or reheated to produce ricotta cheese.


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