Many of our customers have questions regarding cheese
terms. We hope you will find some terms that will be useful
on your next trip to a cheese shop!
ACID or ACIDIC - A term used to describe a cheese with a lightly
AFFINAGE and AFFINEUR - The aging of cheese to its optimum
maturity. Affinage is an expertise separate from cheesemaking. The
affineur manages the cave in which the cheeses are aged.
ALPAGE - Refers to cheeses made from Alpine meadow milk.
AMMONIATED - Certain cheeses past their prime and overripe,
particularly soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, can smell and
often taste of ammonia. They are still safe to eat.
ANNATTO or ACHIOTE - A natural food coloring derived from the
ground seed pods of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana, also known as
the Lipstick Tree), native to Central and South America. The seeds
are lightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg. Ask us to show you
the seeds in our store!
ARTISAN CHEESE - Artisan cheese refers to cheese that is
produced in small batches, with particular attention paid to the
traditional cheesemaker's art. As little mechanization as possible
is used in the production of the cheese. Artisan cheeses may be
made from any type of milk; flavorings and inclusions (nuts,
fruits, herbs, flowers, etc.) may be added.
ASH-COVERED - What is this stuff? After they are molded
into shape, some goat cheeses are dusted with a fine powder of
charcoal ash, traditionally from oak but more recently, vegetable
BANDAGE-WRAPPED or BANDAGED - A cheese that has been wrapped in
cloth, generally instead of wax. After the curds are removed
from the press, the pressed cheese is wrapped with a sterile cloth
"bandage"; the cloth becomes an inedible part of the rind.
Try our Bandaged Cheddar or Kingsley Cheddar!
BARNYARDY - 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 or WHITE RIND CHEESES - This class or category of
cheese comprises the white cheeses with soft creamy
interiors. The rind is composed the Penicillium candidum mold,
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 generally aged for two weeks, which produces a mild flavor and
BLUE CHEESE, BLUE MOLD or BLUE VEINED CHEESES - Penicillium
roqueforti, Penicillium gorgonzola or Penicillium glaucum spores
are added to the cheese, which provide the blue-green colors and
piquant flavor. The mold will not thrive until oxygen comes into
contact with it, so the cheeses are pierced with pins, which allows
the mold to flourish and causes the cheeses to develop a very high
acid content and crumb-like texture.
BRINE CURED - Many types of cheese are washed with, or submerged
into, a brine bath as part of the cheese making process. The
brining solution provides cheese with a slightly salty flavor and
helps to limit the growth of unwanted bacteria.
BRUSHED RIND CHEESE - Certain types of natural rind cheeses,
both cooked and uncooked varieties, have their rinds brushed during
the period they spend ripening. This brushing helps the interior of
the cheese to keep moist during the ripening periodand has an
effect on the final flavor of the cheese.
CASEIN - The element of milk which solidifies when coagulation
takes place. Caseins are insoluble milk proteins which form
suspended masses in milk, and thus create emulsions.
CAVE - A room, sometimes underground, where cheeses are left to
ripen. Some cheeses, like Roquefort, are ripened in caves from
which they pick up bacteria that give them their distinctive
CELLAR - A room, sometimes underground, where cheeses are left
to ripen. Some cheeses, like Roquefort, are ripened in caves from
which they pick up bacteria that give them their distinctive
CHEDDARING - A cheese production technique where the curd is cut
into blocks, which are turned and stacked at the bottom of the
cheese vat at intervals of ten to fifteen minutes for about
one-and-a-half hours. This is an additional step in the production
of Cheddar-style cheeses, and one of the most complex techniques in
CHEESEMONGER - A person who sells cheese.
CHÈVRE CHEESE - Chèvre is the French word for goat and
goat cheese is characterized by its whiteness and tangy,
CLOSE - Used to describe a cheese's texture: A close-textured
cheese is one which is smooth, unblemished and devoid of holes or
CREAMLINE - The area between the rind and the paste of a bloomy
rind, washed rind or semisoft cheese. The bacterial activity of the
rind breaks down the solid paste into a liquid.
COAGULATION - The transformation of milk into curd, which is the
first step in cheese production.
COOKED CURD CHEESES or COOKED PRESSED CHEESES - A step in the
cheesemaking process when the cheese curd is heated, sometimes in
the surplus whey. Cooked cheeses are all hard cheeses and other
Swiss types-traditionally the biggest wheels of cheese from the
mountains: Gruyère, Beaufort and the "cheeses with eyes like
CREAM - The fatty element of milk.
CREAMY - A term used to describe the taste, and sometimes the
texture, of certain cheeses.
CRÈME FRAÎCHE - Crème fraîche is cultured cream, a thickened
cream with a slightly tangy, nutty flavor and velvety, creamy
CRUMBLY - A term referring to a cheese that has portions that
breaks off when the cheese is cut. Blue-veined cheeses are
CURD - Cheese is made of curds. Curd comes from the Latin word
coagulare, meaning to thicken or to clot. Curds are obtained by
curdling (coagulating) milk with rennet (an enzyme) or an acid such
as lemon juice or vinegar; then draining off the whey. Whey
is the liquid portion of milk, after the solids (protein and fat)
have been extracted. The solids become curds when an acid (vinegar,
lemon juice) or enzymes are added.
CURDLING - An early stage in cheesemaking when milk coagulates
after the introduction of rennet.
CURD MOLDING - The stage of cheesemaking in which the cheese
curd is ladled into molds that determine the final shape of the
cheese: round, rectangular, cylindrical etc. This process is also
known as "hooping the curd."
CURING or MATURING or AGING - The stage in the cheesemaking
process when a cheese is left to ripen.
DRAINING - The stage of cheesemaking when the whey is drained
from the curd.
DRYING - The stage of cheesemaking when lactic cheeses are left
for one to three days in a well-ventilated room, to allow the water
DRY MATTER - The part of the cheese that remains after all
moisture is removed. Soft cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert, will
contain on average about 50% dry matter and 50% water. Aged cheeses
like Parmigiano-Reggiano are mostly dry matter with very little
EARTHY - A descriptive term often used to describe the nature of
FARMSTEAD CHEESES or FARM CHEESE - A cheese that is made on the
farm by the farmer, using only the milk from the farmer's own herd
or flock, on the farm where the animals are raised. Milk used in
the production of farmstead cheeses may not be obtained from any
FAT CONTENT - This term refers to the fat content in the dry
matter of the cheese. It is usually indicated on the cheese's
packaging. It can be as low as 4% and as high as 75%.
FIRM CHEESES or HARD CHEESES - Firm or hard cheeses are a broad
group that can be very mild to very sharp.
FRESH CHEESES or SOFT, UNRIPENED CHEESES - A
high-moisture-content, unaged cheese, intended to be eaten within
days of its production.
FROMAGERIE -The French word for cheese store.
HARD CHEESE or HARD PASTE CHEESE - Also known as firm cheese.
These have a dry, granular paste and are the hardest of all
cheeses, solid and heavy. Hard cheeses typically are aged more than
two years, during which the water and moisture evaporate to make
the paste hard (to be classified as a hard cheese, the water
content must be less than 40%).
HOLES or EYES - The openings in the body of Swiss-type cheeses
such as Emmentaler and Gruyère. The holes are spherical,
equally-spaced and about the size of cherry pits. They are caused
by bacterial activity which generates prioponic acid, causing gas
to expand within the curd and create the pockets, or holes.
LACTIC - Referring to the milk aroma, and sometimes flavor, of
LACTIC FERMENTING AGENT - Bacteria which encourage the
coagulation of milk by fermenting the lactose in the milk into
LACTOSE INTOLERANCE - An inability to easily digest lactose or
milk sugar in cow's milk. Many cheeses, particularly aged cheeses
such as Cheddar and Swiss, contain little or no lactose, as well as
sheep, goat, and buffalo milk cheeses. Cheese lovers who have
difficulty digesting lactose should try these alternatives.
LIGHTLY PRESSED CHEESE - These cheeses are pressed and uncooked,
as opposed to the pressed cheese group in which the curd is cooked,
MEMBRILLO - Membrillo is a fruit condiment made from quince. A
relative of the apple and the pear, quince is high in pectin, and
the resulting paste has the consistency of a thick jelly. It has a
sweet and tart taste and looks somewhat like a dense fruit gelatin
dessert. Any salty or blue cheese pairs well with membrillo, but it
works best with Spanish cheeses like Roncal, Mahón or Manchego.
MICROORGANISMS - Yeasts and other fermenting agents present in
milk and milk curd. They can be wild and naturally occurring or
cultured and introduced.
MOLD - Mold is a member of the fungus family. It can be on the
surface of cheese (such as the fluffy white bloomy rind
cheeses-which are somewhat reminiscent of mushrooms) or can be
developed internally. Surface molds are the result of cheese being
treated with the Penicillium candidum or Penicillium camemberti
spore. Internal molds are very different, and are created by the
introduction of Penicillium glaucum or Penicillium roqueforti
spores, both used to create blue-veined cheeses. Try our
Dunbarton Blue, Red Rock or Buttermilk Blue!
MOLD-RIPENED CHEESES - These are soft cheeses, not pressed, that
are salted and covered with the mold spores Pennicillium candidum
(white) and Pennicillium glaucum (grey). The spores use the
proteins and fats in the cheese to ripen it from the outside,
creating a white rind.
MONASTERY CHEESES or TRAPPIST CHEESES - Certain cheeses were
originally developed by monks and are known as monastery cheeses.
The majority are of the washed rind variety. Saxon Creamery's
Green Fields is a trappist-style cheese.
MUSHROOMY - A description of the flavor and aroma of certain
soft and semi-soft cheeses, particularly members of the Brie and
NATURAL RIND CHEESES - These cheeses have rinds that self-form
during the aging process. Generally, no molds or microflora are
added, nor is washing used to create the exterior rinds.
NUTTY - Often referring to hazelnut, a flavor that occurs
naturally in some cheeses.
PASTA FILATA CHEESES - Pasta filata, or spun paste, refers to a
family of cheeses, mostly Italian, that are cooked and kneaded, or
"spun." The cheeses range from very fresh to hard grating cheeses,
and include mozzarella, provolone and scamorza.
PASTE or PÂTÉ - The interior body (non-rind portion) of the
cheese. It is described by its texture, density, and color. When
milk is too low in beta carotene, producing pale cheese, the
vegetable dye annatto can be added to the curds to give the paste
PASTEURIZATION - Pasteurization kills all bacteria in
milk-beneficial as well as harmful bacteria. Because the beneficial
bacteria add flavor to the cheese, many cheesemakers prefer to use
raw milk. However, in the U.S., due to health concerns, raw milk
cheeses must be aged for 60 days so any harmful bacteria will be
PIQUANT - A descriptive term for a sharp-tasting cheese.
PRONOUNCED - A descriptive term for a cheese's aroma or
RAW MILK CHEESES - "Raw milk" refers to cheeses made from
unpasteurized milk, meaning that the milk has not been heated more
than 100°F (40°C). Below this heat threshold, hundreds of varieties
of benefitical bacteria remain alive, interacts with the milk to
provide more complexity and depth of flavor to the cheese. Due to
rare but potential illness from unpasteurized milk, the FDA
restricts the distribution of raw (unpasteurized) milk cheeses aged
less than 60 days. Many small farmers feel that fresh milk from
healthy animals, handled in a responsible manner and used
immediately, does not require pasteurization.
RENNET - Rennet is a coagulating enzyme that is added to milk as
the first step in making cheese. Used to curdle milk, it causes
clumps (curds) to form and separate from the liquid (whey).
rBST or rBGH - Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), also
called rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), is a growth
hormone used to increase milk production in cows. Many
health-conscious consumers prefer not to consume dairy products
from rBST-treated cows. Currently there is no test that can
distinguish between milk from rBST-treated and untreated cows.
Controlling the source of the milk is the key to guaranteeing that
dairy products are rBST-free. Farmers who do not treat their herds
generally label their products "rBST-free."
RIND - The protective external surface of a cheese. Its presence
affects the final flavor of the interior of the cheese. Rinds can
be natural or artificially created, thick or thin, hard or soft,
washed, oiled, brushed or paraffined. Their prime role is to
protect the cheese's interior and allow it to ripen and develop
harmoniously. However, many semisoft cheese rinds are absolutely
delicious and part of the enjoyment of the cheese.
RIPENING - Except for fresh cheeses, the majority of cheeses are
ripened in a ripening cellar or special storage room.
SEMI-HARD CHEESE - A classification of cheese based upon body.
The descriptions semi-hard and hard refer mainly to moisture
content, not to texture. The cheeses in this category actually
include a broad range of textures, from semi-firm to very firm and
from cheeses that are only weeks old to those aged up to several
months or more. Because these cheeses contain less moisture than
the soft and soft-ripened types, they hold their shape much better.
Examples include young Asiago, Cheddar, Colby, Edam, Fontinella,
aged Gouda, Manchego, Provolone and Queso Blanco. The difference
between semi-hard and semi-soft cheese is one of moisture:
Semi-soft cheese contains more than 45% water, while semi-hard
cheeses contain 30% to 45%. A cheese can start as semi-soft, then
move to semi-hard via aging, which evaporates the moisture.
SHARP - Sharp is a descriptive flavor term, referring to the
fully developed flavor of aged cheeses, such as traditional Cheddar
and SarVecchio. The flavor is actually sharp and biting, but not
excessively so. The more the cheese is aged, the sharper the flavor
SKIMMING - The removal of fat content from the milk. When part
or all of the cream has been removed from milk, the milk is
referred to as skimmed (although the more popular consumer term is
now fat free). Cheeses made from skimmed milk generally have less
fat; some (but not all) remain quite flavorful. Skimmed milk
cheeses have less than 20% fat, semi-fat cheeses have 20% to 41%
fat, and whole milk fat cheeses have 42% or more fat content.
SOFT-RIPENED CHEESE or SEMI-SOFT CHEESE - Cheeses in this
category span a wide variety, all made with whole milk, and melt
well when cooked. They include Blue Cheeses, Brick, Fontina,
Havarti, Monterey Jack and Muenster. Bloomy-rind examples include
Petit Frere. Soft-ripened cheeses are uncooked, unpressed cheese,
which, as a result, are creamy or even runny when fully ripe. They
ripen from the outside in, and have been allowed to mature to
various degrees. Some soft-ripened cheeses ripen (or age) inside of
a fluffy white rind and become softer and creamier as they age. The
rind is edible and is produced by spraying the surface of the
cheese with Penicillium candidum. Other soft cheeses may have a
reddish washed rind or no rind.
All cheeses in this category have a high moisture content. Mild
when young, they usually develop a fuller, more mature flavor as
STARTER CULTURE - Also called a "friendly" culture, starter
cultures are added to milk at the start of the cheesemaking
process. The cultures change the lactose or milk sugar, the
carbohydrate in milk, into lactic acid. This equalizes the pH so
the milk protein will form curds when the rennet is added. The
cultures used by the cheesemaker are a closely guarded secret as
they contribute to the distinct qualities of each cheese.
SURFACE RIPENED - A cheese that ripens from the exterior when a
special bacteria, mold or yeast is applied to the surface.
Bloomy-rind cheeses, like Petit Frere, and washed-rind cheeses,
such as Pont L'Eveque and Taleggio, are surface-ripened.
SWISS CHEESE - Swiss cheese is the generic name used in the
United States for several related varieties of cheese, originally
made in Switzerland. Emmentaler is the cheese Americans think of as
the generic Swiss cheese. While Americans believe that Swiss cheese
has holes, properly known as eyes, not all kinds of Swiss cheese
do.There are 450 known Swiss cheeses, classified into five
categories: extra-hard, hard, semi-hard, semi-soft and soft. Cow's
milk is used in 99% of the cheeses produced.
TABLE CHEESE - As opposed to a cooking cheese, which gets
incorporated into recipes (mozzarella and ricotta, for example), a
table cheese is cheese meant to be eaten at the table-as part of a
cheese plate, on a sandwich or a burger, etc.
TANGY - A descriptive term describing a cheese's flavor as
sharp, distinctive, flavorsome.
TERROIR - Pronounced tur-WAH, the French word for soil, land or
terrain. The term is used to convey the larger concept "of the
land," i.e., how the specific place where an agricultural product
is produced bears the taste of that particular piece of land, its
specific soil composition and microclimate. In the case of cheese,
the grass and other vegetation upon which the animals graze impart
flavor nuances to their milk.
TEXTURE - A cheese's texture can be soft, firm, supple, waxy,
open, close, etc. Texture is largely dependent on moisture content:
the softer the cheese, the higher its moisture content.
TRIPLE-CRÈME CHEESES - Cream is added to the milk to create the
richest, most buttery group of cheeses. Triple crèmes are a type of
bloomy rind cheese and also are aged about two weeks. In order to
qualify as a triple-créme, the cheeses must have more than 72%
butterfat content, which provides the smooth texture. As with other
cheeses that have short aging periods, the flavors are mild and the
aromas are subtle.
TYROSINES - These small, crunchy white crystals in the paste of
certain cheeses, are a crystallization of the amino acid, tyrosine,
a result of the breakdown of casein(the main protein in milk) as
the cheese ripens. Certain aged cheeses, like Gouda, Gruyere,
SarVecchio will have a preponderance of them. Most cheese lovers
consider the crunchy texture one of the delights of the cheese.
TUROPHILE - A lover of cheese. The word comes from the Greek
words for cheese, tyros, and lover, philos. The love of cheese is
ULTRA-PASTEURIZED - The process of super-heating milk or cream
to 275°F for 4 to 15 seconds. Also referred to as UHT. While this
keeps the product fresher for a longer period of time,
ultra-pasteurized cream is not best for whipping.
WASHED CURD - During the cooking process, half of the whey is
removed and replaced with water at the same temperature to speed up
the shrinking process (syneresis). Examples include Edam and
WASHED RIND CHEESES - Washed rind cheeses are surface-ripened by
washing and brushing the cheese throughout the ripening/aging
process with brine, beer, wine, brandy, a mixture of these
ingredients or any other interesting liquid that will impart flavor
and create a different chemical balance for the growth of the
bacteria, Breyibacterium linens, which ripens from the outside in
by breaking down the proteins and fats inside. The rind is cleaned
and brushed off, which causes the cheese to age more quickly,
enhancing the flavor and acidity of the cheese and creating a
bolder, more noticeable tang. Most of the aromatics will ripen into
soft, pungent cheeses; however, some aromatics are firm cheeses
that will never go soft.
WHEY - Whey is the liquid portion of milk, after the solids
(protein and fat) have been extracted. The solids become curds when
an acid (vinegar, lemon juice) or enzymes are added.
WHEY CHEESE - When milk is renneted and sets, it becomes curds,
the solids; and whey becomes the liquid. This liquid contains
a percentage of the albuminous proteins that were in the milk from
the start but which the rennet didn't capture in the curd. The
method of capturing this leftover protein is with high heat and an
acid, like vinegar. The protein coagulates at about 175°F with
the addition of acid (vinegar or other), into a very light mass
creating the great fresh cheese, ricotta.