Nearly 2,000 varieties of cheese exist in the world, which means even the most sophisticated cheese connoisseur might still have some cheeses to explore. With this many different types, cheese lovers need to be able to categorize cheese the same way you categorize everything else you love — from books to movies to sports or types of pasta. Along with the all-important tasting notes, texture is another way to distinguish cheese. Understanding different cheese textures will help you determine which cheese to use for different occasions and how to select new cheeses to try on your lifelong cheese tasting journey.
What affects cheese texture?
Moisture content and aging are the two main factors that determine texture in a cheese. To keep it simple:
- the lower the moisture content, the firmer the cheese.
- the longer the aging process, the firmer the texture of the cheese.
In essence, the firmness of a cheese is what determines its texture, which can range from soft to hard. When shopping for cheese and trying to decide what texture to get, a good rule of thumb is to work backwards from how you want to use that cheese. Are you making a pizza, slicing for a sandwich, cubing for a cheese board, or sprinkling over a salad? Use our quick guide below to help you figure out what cheese texture you need based on how you plan to enjoy your cheese!
What are the main types of cheese texture?
Cheese texture is classified under the four following categories:
Hard cheese is made by removing most of the whey from the curds and applying pressure to them. The cheese is then left to develop its own unique edible rind, or is sometimes given a wax rind. Since hard cheese is aged longer, it tends to have a richer flavor spectrum. Expect hard cheeses to be rich, aromatic and complex in flavor with an occasional sweet aftertaste.
Common hard cheeses include Parmesan and Grana Padano. These hard cheeses are the best choice for grating and crumbling. They’re also perfect for snacking on alone or for adding a little extra pizazz to a cheese board. Pro tip: keep the edible rinds for adding to soups for a slow cooked flavor that lends richness to your favorite dish.
This lower moisture content category is home to some of the most popular and hardest working cheeses, like cheddar and swiss. These cheeses are aged less than hard cheeses and then set in wax rinds, which help prevent unwanted mold and keep the semi-hard cheese at the right moisture content level. Chances are you always have at least one semi-hard cheese in your refrigerator at all times, as this category covers lots of the most popular sandwich and cracker cheeses.
Common semi-hard cheeses include cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, Havarti, and Asiago. While flavor profiles are always multifaceted, semi-hard cheese texture usually signals a relatively mild flavor. However, some semi-hard cheeses are aged longer, which lends to sharper varieties and occasionally a more pungent flavor— like Swiss.
Cheeses with a semi-hard texture are incredibly versatile and can meet just about any cheese need. They slice well, making them an obvious choice for both sandwiches and cheese boards alike. When preparing a classic comfort dish like macaroni cheese or grilled cheese, any semi-hard cheese will deliver a creamy, yummy result.
The biggest difference between semi-soft and soft cheese is that the semi-soft cheeses usually have a rind, albeit a softer and edible one, due to a mold that forms during the short aging process. Common types of semi-soft cheese include Fontal, Muenster, and provolone. Flavor profiles for semi-soft cheeses can range from buttery and salty to more pungent and earthy, depending on how long they are aged.
Semi-soft cheeses make slicing a breeze, which makes them ideal for sandwiches and cheese boards, like semi-hard cheeses. Where they really stand out, though, is with melting. Try some of Cello’s rubbed Fontals on your next pizza for an extra kick of flavor.
This category is also sometimes described as “fresh” cheese because the cheese isn’t aged. Soft cheeses have a higher moisture content and no rinds. Common soft cheeses include Mascarpone, mozzarella, feta, and Chevre. The soft cheese category boasts a broad spectrum of flavors, from mild to complex, making it a fun cheese texture category to experiment with. From spreading on your favorite cracker to crumbling over your next salad, scrambled egg breakfast, or homemade pizza, some of these lesser-known soft cheeses can add a gourmet twist on an everyday meal.
Off to the Cheese Counter
Now that you understand the similarities and differences between the cheese textures, it’s time to apply what you learned at your local grocer. It’s easier to find the kind you want when you can describe the texture you need for your cheesing occasion. Ask your local cheesemonger (or our Cello Cheese chat feature) to walk you through the selection process. And don’t be shy, make sure to ask for samples to make sure you get the texture you need!
Through understanding cheese texture, taste, and use, you can really start to have some fun. Play around with your different options and learn what cheeses can be substituted for others so you can put your own spin on traditional recipes by trying different cheeses as key ingredients.
Want to learn even more about pairing, selecting, and cooking with cheese? Sign up for our newsletter, or download our guide to get help using these texture tips to create the perfect cheese board for your next get-together. You’ll be cheesing confidently in no time.