Style and Stubstance

Lucie Inns of Cheesology writes for the love of cheese…

In the UK we now have over 700 handmade cheeses – more than the French, apparently. Broadly speaking, cheeses can be categorised into texture and type. Within these categories there is a wide range of variations and with every year that passes more cheeses are created. Here’s an outline of the main styles of cheese.

Fresh cheeses – these are cheeses that are really young, a matter of days old and so young in fact that they have no skin or rind. Their flavour tends to be fresh and delicate with a soft spreadable texture. Some of these cheeses have a coating of herbs or peppercorns for decoration or to add a distinctive taste. The most recognisable of these cheeses tend to be made from goat’s or ewe’s milk.

Soft cheeses – these are young cheeses which have developed a skin or rind but are still soft textured on the inside. The most familiar will be the mould-ripened ones which have a soft bloomy white mould on their exterior, like brie or a soft goat’s cheese. To achieve this fluffy rind the cheesemaker generally adds a Penicillium starter culture to the milk and as the cheese matures so a thin coating of white mould develops. The cheese will ripen from the outside inwards and when it’s ready to eat the interior will still be gooey. Many of this type of goat’s cheese have an additional coating of charcoal ash which both encourages extra mould growth and balances out the acidity.

Semi-soft cheeses – these are cheeses that are generally characterised by a pungent odour. Stinking Bishop and Burwash Rose fall into this category. They are known as washed rind cheeses. As the cheeses mature, the cheesemaker will wash or brush the rind with either a salt water brine or alcohol which encourages the growth of particular bacteria and develops a sticky orange or brown rind. The pungency often fools people into thinking that the flavour of these cheeses will be strong, perhaps even overpowering but this is not the case. Most of these cheeses are mild and delicate in flavour. Like the soft cheeses, the bacteria on the exterior of the cheese encourages the inside curd to develop a soft voluptuous silky texture.

Hard cheeses – most of Britain’s traditional cheeses fall into this category, Cheddars, Double and Single Gloucesters, Wensleydales, Cheshires, Lancashires and so forth. This type of cheese is aged for longer than the other types, sometimes up to 2 years, creating a depth of flavour and a firmer drier texture.

And, finally, the Blue cheeses – these were originally created by aging the cheese in a cool humid atmosphere, like a cave or cellar where a natural growth of bacteria would form on and in the cheese. Today the process is more controlled with cheesemakers adding a particular blue mould to the curds and piercing the cheese with long thin needles allowing the air to penetrate deep into the cheese and encouraging the moulds to develop within.

So, what’s your favourite style of cheese?

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