Cheese, like many things in life falls into a number of categories. Those categories are:
- Fresh cheese: These cheeses have not been aged. Due to laws in this country, since these cheeses aren't aged longer than 60 days, they are all pasteurized. Fresh goat cheese, ricotta, and mascarpone all fit into this category.
- Semi-soft cheese: These cheeses are high in moisture and are fairly young. Colby, Fontina and Raclette.
- Soft Ripened cheese: These are the "bloomy rind" cheeses. The rind is white and usually soft to the touch, almost fluffy in texture. These cheeses ripen from the outside in. Humbolt Fog, Brie and Camembert are good examples.
- Pasta Filata cheese: the name translates to spun pasta in Italian. These cheeses are cooked, and then kneaded, spun or pulled. Think Mozzerella and Provolone.
- Washed rind cheese: One my favorite categories. These cheeses are washed with either a brine, cider, wine, or beer in addition to a controlled bacteria while ripening. These cheeses also ripen from the outside in, but are not mild. They are also known as the "stinky" cheeses. Epoisses, Winnimere and Red Hawk are all good examples.
- Semi-hard cheese: due to how these cheeses are made (cooking, washing, draining, pressing) theses cheeses are firmer. Due to pressing and aging these cheeses have less moisture. Think of Vermont Shepherd, Montgomery's Cheddar or Pleasant Ridge Reserve
- Hard cheese: These cheeses have less moisture than any other category. Usually the curds are cut into smaller pieces which helps to expel more whey. That coupled with the aging process gives these cheeses complexity and depth of flavor in addition to a drier crumbly texture. Parmigiano-Reggiano, various Pecorino cheeses and five year Gouda all fit into this category.
- Blue cheese: This is a pretty big category. While all of these cheeses have been injected with mold, they can range from the creamy spreadable St. Agur to the crumbly dry Big Woods Blue.
If you know that you love Brie, you can tell by looking at the Camembert, or the Little Bloom on the Prairie that you're going to have a lot of the same characteristics. Ripening from the outside in, a bloomy soft rind, some mushroomy milky straw qualities.
If you see a cheese with an orange rind that's not paprika you know it's a washed rind cheese and that you can expect a certain level of barnyard, mustiness, funk. Or as it's known in my family either a "foot", "feet" or in very strong cases a "hoof".
Of course each category has mild and strong examples in it. Fromage d'Affinois is one of the mildest bloomy rind cheeses I've ever tried. True French Brie is a mushroomy, musty, foresty big cheese. Edel de Cleron is somewhere in the middle.
So go out there, and start eating some cheese already!