20+ Cheese Types You Should Know—and What to Pair Them With
Cheese is a staple in virtually every culture, and is often the focal point of many beloved, comforting dishes that are enjoyed around the world—from mac and cheese to saag paneer. Since cheese is so ubiquitous, it can be difficult to classify. For example, you can group different cheeses based on a variety of characteristics, such as what type of milk was used to make the cheese, or the cheese's country or region of origin.
One of the most popular (and simplest) ways to classify cheese is to do so based on texture. This method allows you to include everything from Brie—a French staple—to America's own Colby cheese, which has roots in Colby, Wisconsin. The number of cheese categories that exist depends on who you ask, but generally speaking, there are around five to seven, and they include cheeses of various textures, those made from the milk of different animals, such as cows, goats, or sheep, and those made with mold.
To get the lowdown on all the different types of cheese, as well as what they taste like, what foods they pair best with, and how to properly store each cheese, we consulted a team of fromage experts.
Fresh cheese is cheese made with fresh curds that have not been pressed or aged. These cheeses, which don't have a rind, tend to be soft, spreadable, and typically boast a mild flavor. If made without any additional preservatives, these cheeses will spoil within days and must be stored properly.
How to Store Fresh Cheese
When it comes to storing fresh cheeses, refrigeration is key. Many of these cheeses are sold in plastic containers filled with their natural liquid, and should be kept in the original packaging once opened. While the shelf life for each cheese varies slightly, fresh cheeses will generally last for seven to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Soft-ripened cheeses have a thin rind that's soft and edible. During the production process, mold is added to the milk used to make the cheese, which creates the rind and allows the cheese to ripen from the exterior inwards. These cheeses tend to be soft and creamy, with a buttery, earthy flavor.
How to Store Soft-Ripened Cheese
Like their fresh counterparts, soft-ripened cheeses need a one-way ticket to the fridge in order to maintain peak quality. Wrap these cheeses in cheese paper so they can breathe. While the paper will protect these cheeses and prevent them from drying out, it also allows a little bit of air to filter through. If you don't have cheese paper, waxed parchment paper is a suitable substitute, but cheese paper is ideal. Pro tip: Stick your cheese in vegetable crisper, where the temperature is cold and stable. According to the USDA, soft cheeses can stay in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Semi-Hard/Cooked Pressed Cheese
This group of cheeses, which includes Alpine cheeses like Swiss and Gruyère, are, as their name suggests, harder than the cheeses that have already been mentioned. Semi-hard cheeses are typically packed into molds under more pressure, and aged for a longer time than soft cheeses. They can be aged from about one month, to four years, and are generally made from the milk of a cow, sheep, or goat. "Firmer cheeses make for great table cheeses. When combined with semi-soft cheeses (to add more moisture), they add great flavor in melted dishes too," explains Kendall Antonelli, co-owner and founder of Antonelli's Cheese Shop in Austin, Texas.
How to Store Semi-Hard/Cooked Pressed Cheese
"Store these cheeses in specialty cheese paper, which allows them to 'breathe.' Alternatively, wrap them in wax paper. Firmer cheeses can keep for a while but they start to absorb ambient aromas," explains Antonelli. "For ideal flavor, I recommend eating them within seven to 10 days of purchase. After that point, they're still good, but may be less of a showstopper on a cheese board, so use them in the kitchen cooked into your favorite recipes."
When you reach for some Parmesan to complete your pasta, you're using a grating cheese. These dense cheeses are firmly packed (often in large wheels) and are aged for months to years at a time. They also often have natural rinds.
How to Store Hard/Grating Cheese
"Aged, hard cheeses can last a long time in your fridge or cupboard. While other cheeses continue absorbing ambient aromas, these are heartier," Antonelli shares. "You can just keep them in food storage containers." According to the USDA, these cheeses do not require refrigeration for safety, but they will last longer if they are refrigerated. Blocks of hard cheese will last for six months unopened, and up to a month after being opened.
Washed cheeses can be either hard or soft. The name comes from the fact that a washed cheese is one that is periodically treated with brine or mold-bearing agents. This washing process encourages the growth of certain bacteria on the surface of the cheese, which results in a distinctive flavor. "Washed rind cheeses are identifiable by their sunset-hued rind, a result of the bacteria known as brevibacterium linens (or 'b linens') that are prolific on the rind," explains Antonelli. "Regular washing or brushing of the cheese with a brine creates the ideal environment for these bacteria to thrive. Look for meaty, bacony, woodsy flavor profiles."
How to Store Washed Cheese
"These cheeses are characteristically stinky. There is nothing wrong with them. So that your entire fridge doesn't stink, wrap them in cheese paper or wax paper and keep them in food storage containers," Antonelli explains. "It's good to allow new air into the storage containers every few days, but the best thing to do is consume these cheeses within a week or two."
"Blue cheese" is a generic term used to describe a cheese made with cow's, sheep's, or goat's milk that is ripened with specific mold cultures. There are several different varieties of blue cheese, but each of them typically have a salty, sharp flavor and a powerful aroma. This is why "blue cheese" is the star of many dressings and dips.
How to Store Blue Cheese
Since blue cheese is already moldy, it can last for one to two months in the refrigerator. To maximize its shelf life, wrap blue cheese in cheese paper before placing it in the fridge.
Goat cheese simply refers to any cheese that is made with goat's milk. As with cow's milk cheeses, there are dozens of different types of goat cheese that encompass a variety of textures and flavors depending on how they are produced.
"The differences between goat's milk cheese and cheese made with cow's milk have to do with the diet of the animal; the age of the cheese; the breed of cow or goat; and the production process of the cheese. However, there are significant differences in the actual milk too," says Laura Downey, cheese expert and owner of a subscription cheese service called Cheesemonger Box. "The fat molecules in cow's milk are larger, making cow's milk cheese harder for some people to digest than cheese from goats. Cow's milk and goat's milk both have about the same levels of protein and fat, but because of the difference in the structure of the fat, cow's milk cheese feels richer in the mouth than goat cheese. These short- and medium-chain fatty acids also give goat's milk a particular flavor. It tends to be tangy and earthy when young, and sweet and caramelly when aged."
Need some tips on what goat cheeses are worth your money and what to pair 'em with? The varieties below are some of our favorites.
How to Store Goat Cheese
"The best way to store any cheese is in specially designed cheese paper, which most good cheese shops use. Cheese hates plastic wrap! It is a living food with all sorts of beneficial microbes. If left in plastic too long the good microbes die, and the undesirable molds will grow," Downey warns. "In the absence of cheese paper, I like to wrap my cheese in wax paper or parchment, and then place it in a ziplock bag. I give it some air every other day."
She adds: "Remember, a cheese like a fresh goat log isn't meant to keep. It is a fresh cheese and should be consumed within a few days. More aged varieties will keep longer."