Over 150 Recipes With Instruction on How to Buy, Store, and Serve All Your Favorite Cheeses
Paula Lambert

Excerpt from The Cheese Lover's Cookbook and Guide : Over 150 Recipes With Instruction on How to Buy, Store, and Serve All Your Favorite Cheeses

The World of Cheese:
Cheese Types and Characteristics

The world of cheese can be confusing, especially when it comes to classifying or categorizing cheeses by types, because often cheeses belong to several families. Many distinctions exist, and there are many considerations. For example, Gorgonzola can fall into the washed-rind category or the semi-soft or semi-hard category, depending on its age and whether it is a Gorgonzola dolce or a Gorgonzola piccante. Simultaneously, it can be classified as a blue-veined cheese or even just an aged, ripened, or cured cheese, as opposed to a fresh cheese. To add further to the confusion, it may have been made in Italy or in the United States. So there really are many possibilities.

An easy way to approach this dilemma is to group cheeses into families according to their textures: soft, semi-soft, semi-firm, hard, and extra-hard. This would seem simple. However, soon you begin to realize that cheeses change and evolve during their lives, developing completely different textures. For instance, a cheese such as a Crottin de Chavignol begins soft but eventually becomes rock-hard with age. The flavors also change as a cheese matures, moving from mild to sharp. The exterior of a cheese undergoes many changes as well. Crottins, for example, begin without a rind and in time mature to have a moldy, crusty, dry blue rind.

Another approach is to classify cheeses by ripening method, in categories such as fresh, surface-ripened, and so on. They can be classified according to taste, such as mild to strong. A completely different system is to classify cheeses by country of origin. What then do you do, though, about the different Gruyères that are produced in Switzerland, France, Germany, Australia, and even the United States? Should you just call all cheeses of this type mountain cheeses, since they all originated in mountainous regions? Similarly, there could be a category for the monastery cheeses that originated in monasteries during the Middle Ages. And yet another category might be table cheeses, cheeses that are used daily for eating and cooking. There seem to be as many methods of classification are there are cheeses.

The classification system that seems to make the most sense for me is to go by texture with subclassifications of ripening methods, veining, and other distinguishing characteristics, such as pasta filata cheeses, whey cheeses, and high butterfat cheeses. I have developed some tables (see the Cheese Tables beginning on page 351) in which cheeses are sorted according to texture, flavor, and country of origin.

Soft Fresh Cheeses

Soft cheeses are usually mild and milky in flavor. These are fresh cheeses that are just a step away from being milk. They do not go through a ripening period or maturing process. Simple and delicate, they are often unsalted, and some are even considered bland. They are best consumed soon after they are made. Among the most popular is Cottage Cheese, made of skimmed-milk curds mixed with cream. Fromage Blanc, or Fromage Frais, is fresh, very soft, barely coagulated lactic curds that have been quickly drained and sometimes whipped. The Germans have a similar cheese called Quark. Cream Cheese is a somewhat drier fresh cheese made creamy and smooth with the addition of cream. Commercial renditions are whipped and stabilized with gums, but artisanal cream cheese can be found every now and then.

From northern Italy comes Crescenza or Stracchino, so called because it was originally made from the rich milk of cows who had just come down from a summer of mountain-top grazing. This cheese, a younger cousin of Taleggio and Gorgonzola, is quite mild and creamy. A similar cheese that also comes from northern Italy is Robiola.

Farmer Cheese can take several forms: It can be a crumbly cheese of curds similar to cottage cheese, without the cream. It can be drained in a basket or mold. Or it can be pressed into a cake for slicing. Mexican Queso Fresco or Queso Blanco is quite similar to farmer cheese or pot cheese, but it is pressed into a disk shape.

Semi-Soft Cheeses

Cheeses that fall into this category are often buttery and mild in flavor. They are good table cheeses.

Bel Paese, a popular semi-soft cheese, originated in northern Italy. Bel paese means "beautiful country," and the cheese is named for a book written by Antonio Stoppani; the name is a trademark of the Galbani company. Stoppani's portrait and a map of Italy are on the label of the cheese made in Italy, while the American-made version has a map of the Western hemisphere on its label. Quite similar are Caciottas, small cheeses that are made on farms by artisanal cheesemakers. In Italy, they are sold still fresh, usually at about ten days, when they are relatively bland. In Tuscany, small Caciottas are made from sheep milk and called Pecorino Toscano.

From the Low Countries comes Havarti, created by pioneer cheesemaker Hanne Nielsen in the mid-1800s. It has lots of tiny irregular eyes and is often flavored with herbs or spices. The original Havarti was a washed-rind cheese. It is quite similar to German Tilsit.

Tomme de Savoie is semi-soft when young but becomes firm with age. Many other washed-rind cheeses also fit into this category because they are usually semi-soft in texture.

Semi-Firm Cheeses

Most cheeses in this category are pressed to become firm. They are often mild when young, becoming more and more flavorful as they age. They also become much harder as they age, and some, like Gouda, eventually move into the extra-hard family. When young, they are very good table cheeses, which means that they are good for cooking and for eating as snacks and in sandwiches. Some of the cheeses have small irregular eyes, others do not.

From Italy come Asiago, a strongly flavored cheese with irregular holes; Fontina, a marvelous melting cheese; and Montasio, another good melting variety. Another interesting cheese that falls into this category is Umbriaco, which means "drunkard." It has been soaked in wine and matured with a coating of grape skins and seeds so that its rind is stained purple. From Holland come Edam, a small round cheese that is often coated with red wax, and Gouda, a larger and more complex cheese. Mahón comes from the island of Minorca. It's a very attractive cheese with a rind that has been rubbed with olive oil and paprika. Morbier is a French cheese that has a layer of ash running through the middle of the cheese, which traditionally separated the curds from the morning and evening milkings.

Tête de Moine, whose name means monk's head, is a semi-firm cheese from Switzerland. The cheese is eaten by scraping off layers from the top using a girolle, a device with a rotating blade that leaves the cheese resembling the bald spot on a monk's head. Raclette is another Swiss cheese. Traditionally it is served by placing it near a fire so that the face of the cheese softens and melts from the heat. It is then scraped off onto a plate and eaten with boiled new potatoes, pickled onions, and cornichons, tiny gherkin pickles. Morbier can also be enjoyed in this same way.

Dry Jack, also known as Dry Sonoma Jack, is a California cheese that fits into this category because it begins as a mild cheese and hardens with age to become a drier and more flavorful cheese.

Cheddar-Style Hard Cheeses

All cheeses in this family go through the cheddaring process, in which the curds are cut into pieces and stacked in the cheese vat to drain and mat together. The cheeses are firm-textured and have a clean, mellow taste when young, becoming sharp and tangy with age.

Cheeses in this family include first, of course, Cheddar. Cheddar is so named because it was originally made in the town of Cheddar in England. It is a cheese that dates back to ancient times. Although it originated in England, it is now made all over the world, from New Zealand to Canada to South Africa to the United States. The finest Cheddars are traditionally made from unpasteurized milk and bound in cloth to age. Cheddars can be aged from three months to three years, the longer, the more flavorful. Two famous farmhouse English Cheddars are Keen and Montgomery. Tillamook in Oregon makes a fine Cheddar, as do Cabot, Grafton, and Shelburne Farms in Vermont.

Colby, invented in Colby, Wisconsin, around the turn of the century, is similar to Cheddar but softer, milder, and moister, with a more open texture. Longhorn is Colby made in a long tubular shape.

Another cheese that belongs in the Cheddar family is Cheshire, which is claimed to be England's oldest cheese. Cheshire is aged for only one to two months and does not store well. It is a good cooking cheese and, in fact, was the original cheese used for Welsh rarebit. Its flavor works well with eggs, especially in soufflés. Blue Cheshire has dark green-blue veins. Stilton also falls into the Cheddar family, as does Gloucester, which is a bright orange cheese that is aged for six to nine months. There are two types: Single Gloucester, made from partially skimmed milk, which is softer and milder, and Double Gloucester, made from whole milk, which is mellow, creamy, and stronger. A striking and lovely cheese is Huntsman, Gloucester with bands of Stilton in the middle. Another English cheese that is great for melting is Lancashire, which is made from curds combined from several days of milkings. And from Wales comes Caerphilly, another moist, crumbly cheese that is good for melting. Caerphilly is sold quite young.

Cantal, a cheese that has been made in southern France for centuries, is also made with the cheddaring method. When young, it is very similar to a Lancashire; when aged, it is very much like a Cheddar.

Hard Cheeses with Eyes

Most of the cheeses in this category were originally made in mountainous regions of Europe, mostly by farmers in isolated mountain houses. Their curds are all cooked and then pressed and aged, so these cheeses are more solid. Their interiors are dotted with holes (eyes) created by a gas that develops within the cheese during the ripening process. The gas is actually natural carbon dioxide that is given off with the growth of Propionibacter shermanii bacteria. Often these cheeses have tough, hard rinds.

Emmental is the cheese commonly called Swiss cheese. It has olive-shaped eyes that can be as large as a walnut. Law dictates that it cannot be exported until it is four months old. Some cheeses are gigantic and weigh almost three hundred pounds. The Norwegians created a similar cheese in the mid-1950s called Jarlsberg. It is claimed to be the most popular imported cheese in the United States.

Several cheeses fall into the Gruyère family. First and foremost is Swiss Gruyère. It is softer and smoother than Emmental and considered to be a better cooking cheese. The finest Gruyère has a slight dampness in its pea-sized eyes. The French cheese Beaufort, known as the Prince of Gruyères, is higher in butterfat than most Gruyères and has a sticky moist rind from the bacteria linens. Comté, also known as Gruyère de Comté, has been made in France since the thirteenth century. It has marble-shaped holes. Younger cheeses have a floral aroma, while older cheeses have a farmyard character. Appenzell is sharper than Gruyère and has an even more pungent farmyard aroma. During its aging period, it is washed with wine, spices, and salt. It has small, irregular pea-sized holes.

Extra-Hard Cheeses

Cheeses in this category are all of the grating variety. They are very hard and very low in moisture, and they have a brittle texture. Mellow, robust, and sweet, they sometimes become sharp and piquant with age. They have all been cooked and then pressed and aged for years so they become hard and dry. Because they are so old, they often develop crystalline bits of casein that crunch when you bite on them.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is known as the the King of Cheeses. It has been made since ancient times. Boccaccio even wrote of a mountain of Parmigiano in The Decamaron in the fourteenth century. Produced in a restricted geographic region in Italy from the milk of specific cows during a specific period of the year, Parmigiano is graded throughout its aging process. According to set standards, true Parmesan cheeses are sold at different ages, called Giovane (young) at fourteen months; Vecchio (old), eighteen months to two years; Stravecchio (extra old), two to three years; and Stravecchione (very old), three to four years. Grana Padano is made in northwestern Italy. It is made just like Parmigiano, except in a different region. It is often sold when young; however, when aged for two or three years, it is very similar in taste and texture to Parmigiano. Pecorino Romano is a sheep milk cheese made near Rome and also in Sardinia. It is said to be Italy's oldest cheese. It is a good table cheese when young and develops into a very hard, sharp, and piquant cheese as it ages. Locatelli is a brand of Pecorino Romano.

Sbrinz, the oldest of the Swiss cheeses, is a very hard cheese of which Pliny wrote. It is similar in flavor to Parmigiano and wonderful for grating. Another unique Swiss cheese that falls into this extra-hard category is Sapsago. It is a pressed cheese made from cow's milk. Its pale green color comes from melilot, an herb that strongly and assertively flavors the cheese. This herb, which grows only in the area where the cheese is made, is thought to have been brought back from Asia Minor by the crusaders.

Bloomy-Rind and Soft-Ripened Cheeses

Cheeses in this category have rinds covered with a thin layer of a white mold, known as a bloomy down or flowery rind. To achieve this coating, the surfaces of the cheeses have been treated with a mold called Penicillium candidum, which develops into a white crust. Most of these cheeses are soft. Their interiors soften as they age, becoming creamy and sometimes thick and runny. The cheeses ripen from the outer edge to the center, so you can determine if a cheese is mature by lightly touching the center of the cheese to see if it is soft. The cheeses are tangy and rich, yet delicate and luscious. Their flavors become fuller with age. The white rind is edible, but if you don't like it, just cut it off and discard it.

The most famous bloomy-rind cheeses are Brie and Camembert. The most magnificent Brie of all is Brie de Meaux, which is farm-made in France from unpasteurized milk, and therefore seldom found in the United States. It has a satiny and silky texture and is runny when mature. It has an impressive history. Charlemagne was quite taken with it, as, centuries later, was the French diplomat Talleyrand, who declared it "the King of Cheeses" at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Most of the Bries imported into the United States are factory-made from pasteurized milk. They are much milder and do not mature like Brie de Meaux. Camembert is a similar cheese from Normandy, but it is smaller than Brie and has some brown mottling on the rind. Its flavor becomes more complex as it ages. Neither Brie nor Camembert should ever have an ammoniated aroma or taste. If they do, they are past their prime and you should not buy or eat them. Coulommiers is quite similar to Brie except that it is smaller in size and eaten at a younger age.

Most bloomy-rind cheeses have a butterfat content of 45 to 50 percent. Some, however, are triple-crèmes and have a butterfat content above 75 percent. These cheeses are exceedingly rich and luscious. They are almost like a mousse and literally melt in your mouth. They are wonderful with caviar as well as fresh fruit. The most famous of these are: Brillat-Savarin, named for the eighteenth-century writer and statesman who declared that "a meal that ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye"; Explorateur, named for the Explorer satellite rocket that was fired in 1958; and Saint André. These cheeses are a delicious, decadent addition to any cheese tray.

Blue-Veined Cheeses

Blue cheeses are among the most popular of all. Their blue interior veins and marbling are actually molds that range in color from blue to blue-green to blue-black. Some of the cheeses even have small pockets of mold throughout. All have been sprayed or inoculated with mold spores of Penicillium glaucum or Penicillium roqueforti. Sometimes the mold is incorporated into the cheese curds as well. During the aging process, the cheeses are pierced with wire needles to allow aerobic mold development throughout their interiors. Normally these cheeses ripen from the center out to the crust so that when they are fully mature the veining is well developed and well distributed throughout the cheese.

Blue cheeses all have intense, strong, tangy flavors. Some have a pungent aroma. Some are semi-soft; others are semi-firm and crumbly. Others, such as Gorgonzola, are quite soft and creamy.

The most widely known of the blue-veined cheeses is Roquefort, which is made from sheep milk. It is a controlled-origin cheese that has been aged in the same limestone caves in Cambalou, near Roquefort, in southern France for over one thousand years. Charlemagne was quite enchanted with Roquefort. There are also delicious blue-veined French cheeses made with cow's milk, such as Bleu d'Auvergne, about which Pliny wrote in the first century, and Fourme d'Ambert, which has been made since the seventh century and is unusual because it has a crusty rind.

Every country has its own blue cheeses. In England, the most famous is Stilton, a cheese of ancient origin with a crumbly texture and a natural crust. Colston Basset is considered the finest and creamiest Stilton of all because it is made from unpasteurized milk. Another interesting English blue is Shropshire Blue, easily recognized by its intense orange color, which comes from annatto. It's sharper than Stilton and quite striking in appearance. From Ireland comes Cashel Blue, a cheese that is tangy and crumbly when young and softens as it ages. Cabrales is a powerful Spanish blue that is traditionally wrapped in sycamore leaves that impart a distinctly woody flavor. Italy's Gorgonzola is said to be the oldest named cheese, dating back to 879. Creamy and moist, it is made in the same way as Stracchino and Taleggio. In fact, the legend is that some Stracchino was forgotten and left in the storeroom of an inn in the town of Gorgonzola, where it developed mold. When the innkeeper served it to his guests rather than throw it away, it was such a hit that the practice of leaving the cheese to mold became a tradition.

Several blue-veined cheeses are more recent additions to the world of cheese: Danish Blue was developed after World War I as an imitation of Bleu d'Auvergne. Maytag Blue, a cow's milk cheese made in Iowa since 1941, is based upon Roquefort. And Cambozola, which is made in Germany, is a rich and creamy Brie-type cheese with a bloomy rind and blue interior veining -- thus its name: camb for camembert and zola for Gorgonzola.

Pasta Filata Cheeses

These are cheeses with curds that have been heated, kneaded, pulled, and strung, or stretched, repeatedly in hot water to achieve an elastic consistency. Fresh cheeses of this family have an elastic texture and are quite springy to the touch. As they age, this elasticity decreases and the cheeses become softer, depending upon their moisture content.

The best-known cheese in this family is Mozzarella. There are actually two types of mozzarella: high-moisture mozzarella, a cheese with more than 52 percent moisture, commonly called fresh mozzarella, and low-moisture mozzarella, a drier and firmer cheese. Fresh mozzarella is like the cow's milk mozzarella found throughout Italy that is called fior di latte. Usually it can be purchased salted or unsalted. It is available in Italian delis and stores with specialty foods. It has a shorter shelf life than low-moisture mozzarella, a cheese that was developed in the United States to withstand transportation and storage for long periods of time. Low-moisture mozzarella is often shredded and used for pizza. In Italy, fior di latte is made from cow's milk, and mozzarella di bufala is made from water buffalo milk, with a higher butterfat content and a gamier taste. Mozzarella can be formed into small balls that are called bocconcini, and it can also be smoked. A specialty of southern Italy is fresh mozzarella formed around a lump of sweet cream butter, called burrata or burrino.

It is a misconception that fresh mozzarella should be purchased floating in its whey. Water is used in the manufacture of mozzarella, and once the cheese is strung with hot water, it is must be placed in cool water to firm and chill. Years ago, refrigeration was rare in Italy and the only way to keep the mozzarella cool was to surround it with fresh well water. Nowadays the tradition continues and often mozzarella is sold surrounded by liquid, but the longer the cheese remains in the liquid, the more whey leaches out of the cheese and into the water, thus giving it a milky appearance. Sometimes the liquid contains citric acid, which helps preserve the cheese. When fresh mozzarella is removed from the liquid and packaged, its texture and consistency will be slightly firmer, yet it has more flavor because its whey is not being continually leached out and replaced with water.

Scamorza and Provolone are the cheeses often hung from the rafters in Italian food shops. Scamorza is a small cheese that is firmer than fresh mozzarella. Creamy and mild, it is shaped like a pear with a little topknot. Sometimes it is smoked. Provolone is still firmer. It is usually formed into a bell or a sausage shape, some as large as eight hundred pounds, and hung to age. Provolone Piccante is made with kid lipase and rennet and is very sharp when aged. Caciocavallo is another pasta filata cheese that has been made since Roman times. Its name is said to come from the fact that two cheeses are tied together with raffia and hung over a pole to dry as if they were on horseback: cacio for "cheese" and cavallo for "horse." Similar cheeses are made in other nearby countries: Kashkaval in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and Kasseri in Greece.

Washed-Rind Cheeses and Cheeses with Pungent Aromas

The cheeses in this group are all rubbed, brushed, or washed with a liquid while curing. The liquid can be brine, whey, or wine or spirits, and it fuels the growth of surface bacteria that affect the flavor of the cheeses. These cheeses are usually cured for longer periods than bloomy-rind cheeses. Some develop thick crusts and others have sticky surfaces that encourage the development of the linens bacteria, which causes them to become very pungent and powerful in aroma. Despite the fact that they are so stinky, they vary in taste, some having very strong and pronounced flavors, while others are surprisingly mild. Generally, washed-rind cheeses are semi-soft in texture; however, some become very soft and runny when mature. The development of many of these cheeses can be traced back to monastic orders during the Middle Ages; therefore they are sometimes referred to as monastery cheeses. The monks spent a great deal of time and effort developing these various cheeses, which have a range of flavors from mild and luscious to gutsy and even meaty.

Among the cheeses in this category is Brick cheese, which originated in Wisconsin before the turn of the century, in an attempt to recreate German Limburger. It was called brick cheese both because it is shaped like a brick and because it is pressed using bricks. Another American cheese in this family is Liederkranz, which originated in Ohio. It was meant to replicate German Schlosskäse. It is quite pungent, but less so than Limburger.

The French developed many of the washed-rind cheeses. They range in strength from mildly flavored cheeses to the strongest imaginable, often complete with aromas of barnyards and stables. Pont l'Evêque, which is quite mild in flavor, is a monastery cheese; the first record of it dates to the thirteenth century. Reblochon, another monastery cheese, which dates back to the fifteenth century, also has a mild flavor. It was so named because it was made from milk that came from a second milking, reblochon, that occurred after the landlord had passed by to collect the milk that paid the rent. Port Salut, a mild and mellow cheese, was created by Trappist monks during the French Revolution. Munster, developed by the Benedictine monks in the seventh century, is mild in flavor when young but becomes very pungent -- and smells like a stable -- when old. Maroilles, created by monks in the tenth century, has a very pungent aroma but a medium-strong flavor. Livarot, which is strong and assertive in both flavor and aroma, is sometimes called "the colonel" because the strips of grass that encircle the cheese resemble the stripes on a colonel's uniform. The rind of Epoisses is washed with an eau-de-vie. It is very runny when ripe, has a pungent and barnyardy aroma, and is quite strongly flavored.

Limburger, which was originated by Trappist monks in Belgium, is a very smelly cheese with a pronounced and pungent aroma. It is strongly flavored, but it does not taste as strong as it smells. Italian Taleggio has a pungent aroma and is very runny when mature but is relatively mellow in taste. Among the more mildly flavored washed-rind cheeses are Gubbeen and Milleens, from Ireland.

Vacherin Mont d'Or was traditionally made at home by Swiss farmers in the winter when it was so snowy in the mountains that they couldn't deliver their milk to the cheesemaking facilities. It is a very pungent, runny cheese that is contained within a thin strip of pine that encircles the cheese while aging. When mature, it has a strong, barnyardy flavor. It is best eaten in its box, by removing the top rind and scooping out the interior with a spoon.

Triple-Crème Cheeses

All the cheeses in this group are exceedingly rich because cream is added to the milk to achieve a cheese with a butterfat content of 72 to 75 percent or more. They are all luscious, velvety and very creamy.

Some, like Mascarpone and Boursin, are meant to be consumed when fresh. Technically speaking, mascarpone is not a cheese but rather clotted cream. It comes from northern Italy, where it is used in both sweet and savory dishes. French Boursin is a fresh triple-crème cheese that is often flavored with garlic and herbs.

Other triple-crèmes are aged for about three weeks. Among this group are Brillat-Savarin, Saint André, and Explorateur, which are ripened with bloomy rinds, and the blue-veined Cambozola.

Whey Cheeses

These cheeses are made from whey drained away from curds used to make another cheese and recooked to form a secondary cheese. Whey cheeses range from very soft, mild, and fresh to firm, aged, and sharp.

Typically Ricotta is made from whey that comes from the curds used to make mozzarella. It can be made from cow's, sheep, goat, or water buffalo whey. The whey is boiled or recooked (thus the name ricotta, which means "recooked" in Italian). The curds are precipitated from the whey by the addition of an acid and then ladled into baskets to drain. Ricotta can be salted, pressed, and aged to become a firm, sharp cheese called Ricotta Salata. In Greece, a similarly made firm cheese is called Manouri. Mizithra, another Greek sheep milk-whey cheese, is both eaten when young like ricotta and aged.

In Norway, Gjetost is made by cooking whey from cow's milk or goat milk with sugar until it caramelizes and becomes dark golden brown.

Goat Cheeses

Chèvre is the generic name for all goat milk cheeses in France, and the name is widely used in the United States as well. There are said to be more than eighty varieties of goat cheese produced in France alone. They are made in all shapes and sizes, with various rinds and molds, and each has its own distinct characteristics and flavor. Many are rustic and homespun in appearance, with flavors that are earthy and tangy. Goat cheeses develop wonderful, pronounced, complex flavors when they age. The French are masters at affinage, which means aging. Often the young cheeses are sold to shopkeepers who age and coddle them until they are ready to sell.

Montrachet, imported from France, is the most commonly found fresh goat cheese in the United States. It was named for the glorious Burgundian white wine of the same name. A soft fresh log of goat cheese, Montrachet is very mild in flavor and usually sold at an age of less than one month. Most Montrachet imported into the United States is factory-made, sometimes from dried milk or frozen curds. But there is an abundance of American-made goat cheese, and I urge you to seek out these cheeses rather than purchasing factory-made French Montrachet. The American-made cheeses are all finely made artisanal cheeses of high quality. Names you should look for are Laura Chenel, who pioneered American-made goat cheese in the 1980s; Capriole, from Kentucky; Cypress Grove, from California; Coach Farms, from New York; and Vermont Butter and Cheese Company.

Another oft-imported French goat cheese is Bucheron, a fat log of fresh goat cheese that has been coated with a bloomy rind and ripened. Sainte-Maure is a somewhat thinner log of goat cheese that is covered with ash, coated with a bloomy rind, and aged. Sainte-Maure from the Touraine is made with a long straw running inside the cheese to help hold it together. Selles-sur-Cher is a smaller round coated with ash. As it ages, a blue mold often grows under the ash.

Chabichou, which means "little goat," is a cylindrical cheese with a bit of mold atop its white bloomy rind. Valençay is also known as Pyramide because of its flattened pyramid shape. It has a bloomy rind covered with ash. Crottin de Chavignol is a tiny round of goat cheese that is aged to become hard as a rock. (Then it really does resemble the animal dropping for which it is named.)

Banon, named for a town in Provence, is unique in that it is first dipped in eau-de-vie and then wrapped in a chestnut leaf to cure. Banons can be made from any milk, but they are usually associated with goat milk. When made from cow's milk, they may be called Saint-Marcellin.

Many other cheeses are produced from goat milk, including Arina, a goat milk Cheddar from Holland, Gjetost, and Feta, to name only a few.

Sheep Milk Cheeses

The generic name for all sheep milk cheeses in France is brebis. In Italy, the term used is pecorino. Since sheep milk has two to three times the butterfat of cow's milk, all sheep milk cheeses are exceedingly smooth and rich. Cheeses made from sheep milk come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and types and range in flavor from mild to sharp.

There are some delightful young sheep milk cheeses made in Italy, especially in Tuscany and Umbria, where they are called Pecorino or Pecorino Toscano. There are also many sheep milk cheeses in Sardinia and Sicily, which makes one of my favorites, Pepato, which is studded with black peppercorns. Pecorino Romano, which is commonly found in the United States, has been made in the countryside around Rome for the last two thousand years. When young, it is a table cheese, and when aged it is hard, sharp, and piquant and an excellent grating cheese.

Brin d'Amour can be made from sheep milk, goat milk, or a mixture of the two. It is a lovely cheese that is coated with ash and then dried herbs and aged. Originally made in Corsica, it is soft when young, then it becomes runny, and, eventually, quite firm. Brin d'Amour means "sprig of love," and it is so named for its coating of herb sprigs.

Manchego is the most famous Spanish sheep milk cheese. It is a pressed cheese and quite firm. Its rind is ridged with the pattern of the mold in which the cheese is made and often shows traces of a green-black mold that grows on the cheese during aging. Idiazábal is a fabulous cheese from the Basque region of Spain. Traditionally, it is lightly smoked.

The dry, rocky terrain of Greece is well adapted to goats as well as sheep. Many cheeses there are made from sheep milk, as are the cheeses of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. Sheep milk was originally used to make Feta. (Its name comes from fetes, which means "large block of cheese" in Greek.) Today it is still made with sheep milk, but there is often a bit of goat milk mixed in because Greek shepherds usually have a few goats living in the midst of their herds. Others of the sheep milk cheeses that abound in Greece include Manouri, Mizithra, and Kasseri.

The popular blue-veined Roquefort and Cabrales are both sheep milk cheeses.

Mild, Bland, and Buttery Cheeses, or Table Cheeses

Table cheeses are cheeses that are good for cooking as well as eating plain or in simple sandwiches. Cheeses that fall into this category have smooth, creamy textures and mild, pleasant flavors and aromas. Such cheeses as Monterey Jack and Caciottas fit into this group. Cheeses such as Edam, Gouda, and Havarti fall into this category when they are quite young, as do many others.

Flavored cheeses

Flavored cheeses can be found in all countries and in all cheese catagories. Flavorings range from pungent garlic or fiery chiles to the mildest of herbs. Cheeses can be coated with herbs, studded with nuts, or coated with grape seeds. The list is endless.

In France, Gaperon is a well-known flavored cheese. This soft cheese is very strongly flavored with garlic and peppercorns, coated with a bloomy rind, and hung to ripen. In olden times, Gaperon was hung from kitchen rafters to age, and the number hanging was an indication of a farmer's wealth.

In Denmark, Havarti is often flavored with herbs or caraway seeds. In Holland, some cheeses are flavored with cumin seeds. Italian Pecorino can be flavored with peppercorns. In France, Boursin is flavored with herbs and garlic or coated with black pepper, and fresh goat cheeses are often rolled in fresh or dried herbs. England's Derby Sage is flavored with sage. In Switzerland, Sapsago is flavored with herbs. Corsican Brin d'Amour is completely coated in herbs.

Leaves also impart special flavors to the cheeses they wrap: Banon is wrapped in chestnut leaves, Cabrales in sycamore leaves. At the Mozzarella Company, we wrap goat cheese with hoja santa leaves, which impart a sassafras flavor.

In the United States, many cheeses are flavored, such as Pepper Jack, a Monterey Jack with hot chiles. At the Mozzarella Company, we flavor many of our Caciottas with herbs and chiles to regionalize them. Many cream cheeses are flavored with herbs and some with fruits and nuts.

Smoked Cheeses also fall under the category of flavored cheeses. Most are hung and smoked with natural smoke; some, however, such as mozzarella, may merely be painted with liquid smoke.

Processed Cheeses

Processed cheeses are natural cheeses of varying types that are heated, pasteurized, and cooked together to blend them into a new cheese. Velveeta is a prime example. Processed cheeses are quite hardy, able to withstand long periods of time unrefrigerated.

You put your left index finger on your eye and your right index finger on the camembert...if they sort of feel the same, the cheese is ready.



Fresh Cream Cheese

Cream cheese is a simple cheese to make at home. The entire cheesemaking process will take at least three days, but not much of that involves actual work, and the finished product is well worth the effort. This fresh cream cheese won't look like store-bought cheese. It will be soft and appear a little curdled, but it smoothes out easily once it warms to room temperature and is stirred. It can be whipped using the food processor or a hand mixer, but be careful not to overprocess it because it can break down very quickly and become runny. Use it in cheesecakes, fruit tarts, or vegetable dips. Of course, it's great on bagels too.

Makes almost 2 pounds, or 4 cups

1 gallon homogenized whole milk
One 10-pound bag ice
1 packet mesophilic cultures (see Note)
4 drops vegetable rennet (see Note)
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Prepare a sanitizing solution of 1 quart water and 1 tablespoon household bleach.

Rinse a large stainless steel or enameled stockpot or soup pot with the sanitizing solution and pour the milk into the pot. Heat over medium heat, using a sanitized spoon to stir as necessary to keep the milk from scorching, until it reaches 165¦F. While the milk is heating, fill the sink or a large bowl with the ice and a little water.

Once the milk has reached 165¦F., remove the pot from the heat and place it in the ice bath. Stir occasionally until it cools to 90¦F.; this should take about 20 minutes. Transfer the milk to a sanitized bowl. Add the mesophilic cultures to the milk (the instructions on the package say that one packet inoculates 2 gallons milk, but you should use the whole packet for this recipe) and stir well for 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and then with a dish towel. Set aside, undisturbed, in a warm place (70¦ to 80¦F.) for 45 minutes; an unheated oven is a good place.

Dilute the rennet in 1/2 cup cold water, stirring well. Add this to the inoculated milk and stir in a figure-eight pattern for 2 minutes. (The rennet is very concentrated, so the dilution and stirring are critical.) Cover the container with clean plastic wrap and then with a dish towel and set aside, undisturbed, in a warm place (70¦ to 80¦F.) until the whey (clear yellow liquid) appears on top and the curd is firm enough for you to press gently on it without breaking it. This should take between 18 and 28 hours: When the milk is properly coagulated, the curd will resemble white gelatin or yogurt and be firm enough to hold its shape on a spoon. (If this doesn't happen within the given time range, the room temperature may be too cool or the cultures may be slow in their acid development; just wait a few more hours and test the curd for coagulation again.) To test the curd, wash your hands and dip them into the sanitizing solution. Dip your forefinger into the coagulated milk and slowly raise it to the surface, with your finger extended horizontally. The curd should rise up slightly and then there will be a clean breaking line in the curd if the milk is properly coagulated.

Rinse a colander and a large piece of muslin or several layers of cheesecloth in the sanitizing solution. Wring out the cloth to release the excess water. Line the colander with the cloth and set the colander in the sink or over a large bowl. (If you want to save the high-protein whey for cooking or baking, set the colander over the bowl.)

Once the curd has coagulated, use a sanitized ladle or a mesh skimmer to carefully scoop the curd into the colander. When transferring the curd, be careful to break it up as little as possible. If the curd is shattered, it will expel more whey and that will make the cheese drier and less flavorful. Fold the excess fabric over the curd and set the colander in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours to drain and chill.

Transfer the cheese to a sanitized bowl, stir it with a spoon, and add salt to taste. Cover tightly and refrigerate; use within 1 week.

Note: The cultures and rennet are available from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.



Asiago-Stuffed Veal Roll

In Italy, meat rolls with fillings are quite popular. They are not difficult to make. All you do is pound veal scaloppine thin, arrange it to form a large sheet, spread on the filling, and then roll it up and tie it. All the work is done ahead of time so that you are free while it's merrily cooking away in the oven.

This one, with roasted garlic, spinach, and Asiago, can be served either warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6

1 bunch spinach, stems removed and washed (about 12 ounces)
10 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds veal scaloppine
1 1/2 teaspoons Seasoning Salt (page 79) or salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 ounce Asiago, grated (1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons drained capers
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste
Kitchen string
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cups Paula's Tomato Sauce (page 84) or store-bought
6 sprigs fresh basil, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the spinach in a large skillet, add 1 tablespoon water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and steam for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, remove the cover, and set aside to cool.

Place the garlic in a small ovenproof dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, or until soft. Remove from oven, uncover, and set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface, place a piece of veal on the plastic, and cover with another sheet of plastic wrap. With a meat pounder or other flat utensil, pound to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Repeat with the remaining pieces.

Arrange the scallopine on a clean sheet of plastic wrap, with the grain all going the same way, slightly overlapping each other so that they form a rectangle of about 16 x 12 inches, with a long side facing you. Sprinkle the meat with 1/2 teaspoon of the seasoning salt. Spread the spinach leaves out flat on top of the meat, completely covering it. Top the spinach with the bread crumbs and Asiago, distributing them evenly. Sprinkle the capers, oregano, and pepper on top.

Remove the garlic from the oil and squeeze it out of its skin. Smash and flatten with the flat side of a knife. Distribute on top of the veal. Roll up the meat fairly tightly, starting with the long bottom edge, to enclose all of the stuffing. Push anything that pops out back into the roll, and do not worry about any small separations on the inside. Place the roll on a cutting board and cut in half crosswise using a sharp knife, so that you have 2 rolls about 8 x 3 inches. Tie each roll with kitchen string, wrapping the string around the roll at 1-inch intervals, and then tie lengthwise to contain the filling. Rub the veal with the remaining 1 teaspoon seasoning salt. (The meat can be prepared to this point and refrigerated for up to 24 hours; increase the cooking time by 15 minutes.)

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the veal rolls and sear on all sides, turning as necessary using tongs. Place the veal in a baking dish about 13 x 9 inches. Pour the tomato sauce over and around the veal.

Place it in the oven and roast for 45 minutes, or until the meat is golden brown and registers 155°F. on a meat thermometer. Remove from the oven, snip and remove the string, and set aside, loosely covered with foil, for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

To serve, slice the rolls into 1-inch slices. Place 2 slices on each heated serving plate and spoon sauce over the edges of the slices. Garnish with the basil. Pass the remaining sauce.


Cannoli Filled with Pistachio Ricotta

While they are now available all over Italy, cannoli are traditionally a Sicilian dessert in which ricotta is mixed with candied fruits, nuts, or chocolate to fill crispy pastry shells. Cannoli shells are easy to make yourself, but they can also be found in Italian grocery stores or gourmet shops, in both regular and mini sizes.

Because Sicily is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, over the ages many different people colonized it. You'll find Greek, Arab, Roman, and even Norman influences. So while toasted pistachio nuts and dried cranberries may not be a traditional cannoli filling, they still have a Sicilian feel. Not to mention an Italian color scheme -- green, white, and red.

If you are game, you can easily make cannoli shells using egg roll wrappers. The hard part will be finding something to use as a mold. I use aluminum tubing that was cut to the proper length at a hardware store, but some specialty gourmet shops do carry cannoli molds.

Makes 8 large or 12 mini cannoli
Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries, chopped
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur
8 ounces ricotta, homemade (page 70) or store-bought, well drained (1 cup)
1/4 cup sugar
2 ounces (1/4 cup) mascarpone, homemade (page 73) or store-bought, cold
1/4 cup toasted pistachio nuts, chopped
8 large or 12 mini cannoli shells, homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, for garnish

Soak the dried cranberries in the amaretto in a small bowl for 30 minutes.

Combine the ricotta and sugar in a small bowl and whip until smooth. Add the mascarpone and stir to incorporate. Be careful not to overmix, or the mascarpone might separate. Fold in the pistachios and dried cranberries with their soaking liquid.

Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe the mixture into the cannoli shells. If you don't have a pastry bag, put the filling into a plastic bag, snip off one corner, and squeeze the filling out into the pastry shells. (Do this close to serving time so the shells won't lose their crispness.) Refrigerate until serving time.

To serve, dust with confectioners' sugar, using a sieve. Serve chilled.

Canolli Shells

12 egg roll wrappers
1 cup vegetable oil

Cut the egg roll wrappers into circles 4 inches in diameter. Roll the wrappers around molds or pieces of aluminum tubing that are 1 inch in diameter and 4 1/2 to 5 inches in length. Moisten the overlapped flap of dough with water to seal each wrapper.

Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot but not smoking, about 350°F. Add the shells, still on the tubing, and fry, turning with tongs as necessary, until golden brown and crispy on all sides. Remove immediately, using tongs, and stand the tubing on end on paper towels to drain. When cool, slip the cannoli shells off the tubing.



Serves 8

Rather than using the cannoli shells, slice a 2-pound pound cake, about 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches, into 3 horizontal layers. Place the cake layers on a flat surface. Drizzle each layer with amaretto liqueur. Spread the ricotta filling on all the layers and reassemble the cake. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. To serve, garnish the top of the cake with the dried cranberries and toasted pistachios pressed down into the ricotta. Cut the cake into 1-inch slices. Serve chilled.

Copyright © 2000 by Paula Lambert

--From The Cheese Lover's Cookbook and Guide : Over 150 Recipes With Instruction on How to Buy, Store, and Serve All Your Favorite Cheeses, by Paula Lambert. © November 2000, Simon & Schuster used by permission.