Cheese is a food made mainly from the milk
of cows, goats, and sheep; however, it is made from the milk of other animals, too, including
buffalo. Cheeses come in four main degrees of firmness, or “texture.” The texture
of a cheese reflects whether or not it was aged, the processes used to create it, and how long
it was aged.
Soft cheeses, such as cream cheese or cottage cheese, are fresh—they haven’t
Semisoft cheeses, such as brick and Muenster, are “young”
cheeses—they’re aged for just a few weeks.
Hard cheeses, such as cheddar and Swiss, are aged for at least a few months, or longer.
Very hard cheeses, used for grating, or eaten in paper-thin slices, have been aged for nine
months or longer.
The flavor of a cheese also reflects a number of factors:
Type of milk used
Traditional cheeses are made from the milk of cows, goats, or sheep. Each kind of milk has a
particular flavor, which varies with the season of the year. Spring and summer milk is often
sweet and rich, due to the abundance of fresh forage available to the dairy animals.
Whether or not a culture was added
A culture, which is a beneficial bacteria or
mold much like those used to culture yogurt,
can give a cheese a particular flavor or tang. Blue cheeses are an example of cultured
The cheese-making process
The cheese may be made in a sophisticated process—for example, mozzarella is fresh
(unaged) cheese that is sliced and then kneaded like dough. Other cheeses may be cured in
rounds, or given other special treatment.
Why are there so many varieties of cheese? The four basic types of cheese—soft,
semisoft, hard, and very hard—are all produced in many countries, and each region has
its own traditional versions of the basic cheese types.
Texture and storage time
The shelf life of cheese is based on its texture. Soft, fresh cheese keeps for just a few
days. Semisoft cheese can be stored for up to two weeks. Hard cheeses are generally stable for
four weeks. Very hard grating cheeses can be kept indefinitely if they are refrigerated.
Cheeses should always be refrigerated and well wrapped (in plastic wrap or foil, depending
on the cheese).