Soft cheeses — a different animal

After discussing cooking with cheese in general and then an explanation of some of the more popular hard/semi-hard cheeses in my last two Cooking Tips, I want to now turn to the world of softer cheeses.

As a review, here is the cheese categorization that I am using.

Hard

Semi-hard (or semi-firm)

Semi-soft

Soft-ripened

Fresh

Blue

Semi-soft cheeses contain much more moisture than the harder cheeses and, as a result, are much softer in texture.

Examples

  • Fontina
  • Muenster
  • Havarti

Soft-ripened cheeses have a smooth interior and a thin rind.

Examples

  • Brie
  • Camembert

Fresh cheeses are unaged with a high moisture content and a soft texture. Their flavor ranges from mild to tangy.

Examples

  • Ricotta
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Mascarpone
  • Fresh goat cheese (chèvre)

Blue cheeses contain blue veins created by the addition of mold during the cheese-making process.

Examples

  • Blue Vein
  • Danish Blue
  • Maytag Blue
  • Gorgonzola
  • Roquefort
  • Stilton

Fontina – There are different styles and some are considered semi-hard and others semi-soft. The classic is from Italy but now it is made elsewhere.

  • Color – pale yellow
  • Flavor – can vary from mild & nutty to strong & tangy depending on age
  • Texture – classic is semi-soft
  • Aging – about 90 days
  • Uses
    • Fondues
    • Italian dishes

Muenster – an American cheese made in the style of the French Munster, which is a softer and tangier cheese.

  • Color – pale yellow
  • Flavor – mild, savory, sharp
  • Texture – smooth, moist, supple
  • Aging – few weeks
  • Uses
    • Sandwiches
    • Mac/cheese
    • Pizza
    • Cheeseburgers
    • Snacking

Havarti – made with Danish cheese-making techniques. Is often sold as a flavored Havarti such as caraway, chipotle and dill.

  • Color – pale yellow
  • Flavor – buttery, creamy, can vary from mild to sharp depending on aging
  • Texture – semisoft
  • Aging – 3 months
  • Uses
    • Table cheese
    • Grilled dishes

Brie – the best known of French cheeses and is nicknamed “The Queen of Cheeses”.

  • Color – pale cream with slight grayish tinge under a rind of white mold
  • Flavor – fruity, nutty, tangy
  • Texture – soft, runny
  • Aged at least 4 weeks
  • Uses
    • A classic dessert cheese but must be served at room temperature.
    • Pairs well with meat
    • Spread on a baguette
    • Baked with honey and apples

Camembert – the original was created from raw milk in Normandy, France by a woman called Marie Harel.

  • Color – pale yellow
  • Flavor – similar to Brie but with a deeper, more intense flavor. A young Camembert has a milky & sweet taste. As it matures, it becomes runny with a white rind and has a richer, buttery flavor. Rind is meant to be eaten.
  • Texture – soft
  • Aging – 3-5 weeks
  • Uses
    • Baked and served with crackers, bread
    • Eat as is with fruit
    • Breaded and deep-fried

Ricotta – this is an Italian whey cheese from cow, sheep or goat milk. Basically, it is made from what is left over after making other cheeses.

  • Color – white
  • Flavor – smooth, creamy, mildly sweet and fresh taste
  • Texture – soft but firm
  • Aging – generally unaged but can be up to 90 days
  • Uses
    • Can be used in both sweet and savory applications
    • Lasagna
    • Pasta
    • Pies
    • Cheesecakes

Mozzarella – an Italian cheese traditionally made from buffalo’s milk but now often made from cow’s milk. You can buy either “block-style” which is low in moisture and melts well although rubbery in texture if you try to eat it raw or “fresh”, which is packed in water. This is the one you want to grab for if you are making a caprese salad.

  • Color – generally white
  • Flavor – very mild
  • Texture – often rolled into soft balls of different sizes
  • Aging – none
  • Uses
    • Caprese salad
    • Sandwiches
    • Pizza

Mascarpone – It is an Italian cheese from the Lombardy region, made by curdling milk cream with citric acid or acetic acid.

  • Color – white
  • Flavor — milky and slightly sweet
  • Texture – smooth & thick. Has a very high fat content ranging from 60% to 75%.
  • Aging – none
  • Uses
    • Tiramisu
    • Pasta dishes
    • Fresh desserts

Goat cheese – in its fresh form, it is called Chèvre. Can also find hard & semi-hard forms.

  • Color – white
  • Flavor – earthy, tangy, tart, which increases as it ages
  • Texture – soft but firm
  • Aging – varies but generally up to 4 months. Fresh (Chèvre) is unaged.
  • Uses
    • Salads
    • Roasted beets
    • Dessert cheese
    • Snacking

Blue cheese – there are many different types of blue cheese but they are all made by treating the cheese with a mold. Bacteria then proliferates, giving the cheese its distinctive pungent flavor and smell.

  • Color – yellow with blue veining
  • Flavor – yeasty, spicy, pungent
  • Texture – soft
  • Aging – 2-4 months
  • Uses
    • Softer blue cheeses can be used for spreading and melt well in cooking whereas higher-end, drier blues are better for snacking, sandwiches and cheese boards.
    • Salads
    • Roasted veggies
    • With grilled fruits
    • Topping for soups
    • Dips
    • Mixed with softened butter and placed on a grilled steak or burger

Feta – this cheese typically hails from Greece and there must be made from at least 70% sheep’s milk. In the US, it is commonly made from cow’s milk. It is salty, sharp and crumbles nicely.

  • Color – a white brined cheese
  • Flavor – salty, tangy, moist
  • Texture – from crumbly to moderately creamy
  • Aging – up to 2 months
  • Uses
    • Crumble over salads or veggies
    • Sandwiches
    • Tacos in place of Cotija
    • As is with olives, peppers, olive oil, bread

What cheese is in your refrigerator right now? What is your favorite? Do you love the pungent ones like my husband does or you more of a mild cheese person? Let me know.