Plus, tips on how to keep all of your cheese fresh.
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Varieties of cheese and bread sticks on pink background
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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

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.

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1 Chevre 

Chevre is a goat's milk cheese, which means it has a distinct earthy flavor and lower lactose content. In fact, people who are lactose intolerant can often eat chevre for that reason. "Chevre is one of my favorite cheeses. I love how creamy and tangy it can be," says Jackie Letelier, founder of Casero, a food company in Austin, Texas, that specializes in crafted charcuterie and cheese boards delivered to your door. "I like adding lemon zest, olive oil, some finishing salt, and cracked pepper to it. I usually serve it with raw veggies." 

RELATED: The One Key Ingredient Your Macaroni and Cheese Is Missing

2 Ricotta

If you've ever had ravioli or lasagna, you've likely enjoyed ricotta—an Italian whey cheese that can be made with milk from a sheep, cow, goat, or Italian water buffalo. While this creamy, mild cheese is probably best known for its ability to shine in many classic Italian dishes, including the aforementioned duo, it's great in other foods too. "To me, ricotta is a breakfast cheese that's great in pancakes or my favorite—soft scrambled eggs," Letelier shares. "Just add a couple of dollops at the very end. Top with fresh dill and serve on toast." 

3 Paneer

Paneer originated in India, and is made from cow or buffalo milk, which means it tends to be mild and milky. It's a non-aged cheese made by curdling milk with a fruit- or vegetable-derived acid, such as lemon juice, and it typically doesn't contain any salt. "Paneer is a simple cheese to make at home. I like making a quick appetizer out of it," says Letelier. "Cut it into cubes and toss with olive oil, paprika, and cumin. Then, heat a pan with a tablespoon of ghee and sear it on all sides for a few minutes. Top with some Maldon salt and chives. I usually serve this with some nice olives." 

For a main dish, try this Matar Paneer recipe, which pairs the fresh cheese with tomato sauce and spiced peas.

4 Mozzarella

This well-known Italian cheese is what you'll find just above the tomato sauce on many pizzas. It can be made from cow's milk, sheep's milk, goat's milk, or buffalo milk, which yields the cheese you've probably seen as an appetizer on many restaurant menus. Generally speaking, it has a delicate, slightly sour taste, and an elastic texture. Since fresh mozzarella has a very high moisture content, it's typically served within 24 hours after it's made. When shopping for fresh mozzarella, look for one that's packaged in a plastic container with its own liquid. Then, you can use the fresh cheese to top homemade pizzas, add some flavor and texture to your favorite pasta, or complete a savory salad.

Note: Due to the overwhelming popularity of mozzarella, it's also sold as slices, shreds, and cheese sticks. Though not considered fresh, these packaged, processed versions can be used in calzones, savory tarts, and more. 

Bloomy/Soft-Ripened Cheese

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.

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1 Brie

"This is the cheese most requested on our boards! It's buttery and decadent thanks to its high milk fat content," notes Letelier. "I like simply serving Brie with crisp red apple slices (instead of crackers) and Marcona almonds. A chunk of honeycomb on top is never a bad idea." For an easy appetizer you can whip up a baked Brie in about 30 minutes, or use the French cheese to bake Brie biscuits.  

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2 Camembert

Letelier describes Camembert as "similar to Brie but earthier," which is why she enjoys pairing it with earthy foods. "I actually like taking Camembert to the savory side," she adds. "Try quartering mushrooms and roasting them with thyme. Then, serve them on top of Camembert with some baguette slices." Not a mushroom fan? Try baked Camembert with sun-dried tomatoes.

3 Neufchâtel

"Similar to a cream cheese, but made from milk rather than cream, traditional Neufchâtel has a white rind and is often shaped into hearts in France," explains Letelier. "Eating Neufchâtel as dessert is a real treat. I mix a cup of fresh berries, juice of half a lemon, and a few tablespoons of sugar in a pan. Then I bring it up to a simmer, chill it, and serve everything with the cheese." You can also use Neufchâtel to make an elevated version of avocado toast.

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."

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1 Cheddar

Cheddar cheese originated in England, and is typically made with cow's milk, though Cheddars made with sheep's or goat's milk are becoming increasingly popular. This well-known cheese, which has a hard rind that's often cut off before it's sold, is generally made in mild to sharp varieties, and is incredibly versatile. A block or cubes of Cheddar are a great addition to a cheese board, while cheddar slices and shreds add flavor to sandwiches and quesadillas, respectively.

One of Antonelli's favorite Cheddar cheeses is Flory's Truckle. "Many old English Cheddars are made in a cylinder shape or 'truckle.' This domestic version from Milton Creamery in Missouri is wrapped in cheesecloth, coated with lard, and then aged at least 12 months," she says. "This treatment allows the cheese to breath during aging, resulting in a dry, crumbly texture and deep, nutty flavors that range from earthy and mustardy to caramel-like. For pairings, opt for a Tripel or oatmeal stout beer with sweet and tangy mustard seeds and Dodge City salami from Smoking Goose."

2 Gouda

Gouda is a cheese that's made predominantly with cow's milk, but you can also find goat's milk Gouda at many specialty cheese shops. It originated in the Netherlands and can be aged from one month to several years. Older Gouda cheese tends to have a sharper, nuttier flavor, and be harder and more dense than Gouda that has only been aged for a few months. When it comes to Gouda cheese, Antonelli loves "customer favorite" Brabander Gouda. "Made exclusively from the milk of Saanen goats in the Brabant region of Holland, this Gouda is hand selected by Betty Koster and aged at a slightly warmer, ambient temperature in order to develop a fuller flavor and dense paste," she explains. "Flavors of hazelnuts and buttered sourdough bread dominate and cut ever so slightly with a hint of lemon rind and caramel. We love Brabander paired with a crisp, fruity, yet tart dry cider and lemon curd."

Aged, smoked Gouda works great on a cheese board or as the star of some flavorful cheese puffs, while younger, milder Gouda is versatile enough to be used in macaroni and cheese, pizzas, sandwiches, and hamburgers.

3 Manchego

Manchego cheese originated in the La Mancha region of Spain (hence its name), and is made with sheep's milk. Spain's most popular cheese is typically aged from one month to two years, and is known for its grassy aroma and a fruity, nutty, and tangy flavor. However, according to Antonelli, "not all Manchegos are created alike!" Her favorite variety is 1605 Manchego.

"Hand-selected by Essex St. Cheese Co., this cheese is made at a ranch that's been in operation since the 1870s, and is one of the only Manchegos that is made with milk from a single herd. Similarly unique, it is unwaxed, allowing it to develop a natural rind and resulting in a balanced flavor of sweet almond and spice notes that never get too harsh," she explains. "Enjoy it with Ribera del Duero Tempranillo wine, Marcona almonds, and guava paste (just to shake it up from a traditional pairing of quince paste)."

Thanks to its mild, grassy flavor, Manchego works well with vegetables, or paired with some sweet fig jam and crostini for an easy, irresistible appetizer. 

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Hard/Grating Cheese

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.

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1 Pecorino

This Italian sheep's milk cheese is known for its crumbly texture and sharp, salty taste, which only intensifies as it ages. Pecorino, which boasts a natural rind, also has protected designation of origin (PDO) status, which means it must be produced using only traditional methods in its areas of origin. In this case, those areas are the Lazio and Sardinia regions of Italy. Though often confused with Parmesan Reggiano, Pecorino contains more fat and is decidedly saltier than that cheese, but is still ideal for grating over pizza, pasta, and soups.

"If you're looking for a great aged Pecorino (meaning 'little sheep' in Italian), try Mitica Sardo, a hard sheep's milk cheese from the island of Sardinia. It's made from fresh, raw milk from Sardinian-breed sheep—an adaptable breed that can live in mountainous or lowland terrain," advises Antonelli. "Aged about eight months, this cheese develops a deeper, richer flavor than its mainland cousins. Shave it over a salad or grilled veggies, or enjoy a chunk with dried apricots or booze-soaked cherries."

2 Parmesan Reggiano

"This is the King of Cheese! After these 90 pound behemoths come out of their molds or 'fascera' (marked with their production date and code number of the cheese house), they are set in a brine solution for at least seven days, set out to dry in the sun for seven days, and then aged for at least two years," Antonelli says. "Pair Parm with fresh fruit, drizzle it in honey (or aged balsamic), and enjoy it alongside caramelized walnuts."

Of course Parmesan Reggiano, which tends to be more expensive than many similar cheeses, is also the perfect finishing touch to a variety of pasta dishes, salads, and even scrambled eggs or a savory broth.

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3 Grana Padano

This Italian cow's milk cheese is another variety with PDO status, but since Grana Padano is permitted to be produced in a larger area, it's more affordable than Parmesan Reggiano. Grana Padano is milder than Pecorino, and has a savory, nutty flavor that's similar to the taste of Parmesan. However, Grana Padano is softer and less crumbly than Parmesan. From a culinary perspective, this means that Grana Padano can easily be worked into sauces, salads, and pasta dishes.

Washed Cheese

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."

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1 Epoisses

"First washed in a salty brine, then aged in humid cellars for four weeks, this classic is then washed again with Marc de Bourgogne—a liqueur by-product of the local wine industry," notes Antonelli. "While it packs a major aromatic punch, this cheese is actually much milder than the smell would lead you to believe. It's salty, earthy, a tad sweet, and unbelievably creamy. Be brave and have a taste! Due to its palate-coating nature, pair it with something acidic, like pickled okra or even pickled blueberries. I love it with brandy."

2 Taleggio 

"Hailing from the Val Taleggio in the Lombardy region of Italy, Taleggio has been made since Roman times. This decadent cheese has a comparatively mild flavor and an unusual fruity tang with a meaty and yeasty flavor," shares Antonelli. "The rind is thin and edible, with a slightly crusty texture and a little bit of a bite. While Taleggio actually makes a great cheese board cheese (with a mostarda!), it's also a fantastic melting cheese. Use it in mac and cheese with pancetta."

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3 Livarot

This smelly French cheese, which yields to the touch, comes from the Normandy region of France and is made with Normande cow's milk. It boasts a powerful aroma, creamy texture and a nutty, salty, beer-like flavor. Pair some Livarot with a full-bodied red wine, and enjoy it with some crusty bread. Due to its creamy texture, you can also add it to soups and gratins. For a quality Livarot, look for one made by Graindorge or Levasseur.

Blue Cheese

"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.

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1 Roquefort

"Roquefort cheese is made in a small area of Southern France from sheep's milk," says Letelier. "This is another cheese I would serve as a dessert course, with a poached pear in the fall or poached peaches in the summer." Creamy Roquefort, which has a sharp, tangy, and salty taste, also adds flavor to a quiche, and makes for a savory, decadent salad topper.

2 Gorgonzola

"Made in northern Italy, this is a great cheese to add to a green salad," Letelier notes. "My go-to version is arugula with toasted pecans tossed in a Champagne vinaigrette, and topped with hunks (rather than crumbles) of Gorgonzola. Complete your meal with some nice crusty bread." This aromatic cheese has a salty, earthy flavor. Its texture can range from creamy and soft to semi-firm and crumbly, depending on how long it has been aged.

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3 Stilton

According to Letelier, Stilton is "milder than Roquefort or Gorgonzola." She adds: "It has a rich and mellow flavor, which is why it is great on a large cheese platter. It also appeals to a crowd." To make Stilton shine on your next cheese board, Letelier recommends serving it with dried fruit, which will help balance out the rich, salty flavor. You can also use it to top bruschetta, or, as with the other blue cheeses, toss some crumbles in a salad.

Goat Cheese

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."

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1 Goat Brie

"Due to the rind, a goat Brie-style cheese is mild, milky, and mushroomy. Since goats don't process beta carotene, the paste will be white and not yellow," says Downey. "I like to use a goat Brie on a sandwich with sliced apples."

2 Humboldt Fog

"Humboldt Fog is an American artisan classic. It is tangy and grassy in flavor, and the striking line of vegetable ash lends beauty," notes Downey. "Pair with a crisp white wine, like a Sancerre."

3 Le Chevrot

"Covered in a delicately wrinkled rind, Chevrot has a dense, lemony center, surrounded by a mushroomy, piquant creamline full of earthy intensity. It is from Poitou, just south of the Loire Valley of France," Downey shares. "I love Chevrot with a dollop of fig spread."

4 Goat Gouda

"This super-aged goat cheese is typically waxed and very firm in texture. Because it is aged four to eight months, it will be sweet with notes of caramel and brioche," Downey explains. "A good goat Gouda is the kind of cheese that needs little accompaniment. Break off pieces so you can experience the texture and maybe pour a lovely pinot noir."

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5 Goat Tomme

"Goat tommes are typically semi-firm in texture and sport a naturally rustic and earthy rind," Downey explains. "Flavor-wise they are distinctly goat-y and slightly musky, with some delicious herbal and floral notes. One of my favorites is goat tomme from Twig Farm in Vermont. Pair this cheese with an off-dry cider, a mid-weight stout, or a light red wine." Enjoy it on pizza, or with fennel and sausage.