Cheese Thesaurus

ACID or ACIDIC

A term used to describe a cheese with a lightly sourish flavor.

AFFINAGE and AFFINEUR

The aging of cheese to its optimum maturity. Affinage is an expertise separate from cheesemaking. The affineur manages the cave* in which the cheeses are aged.

ALPAGE

Refers to cheeses made from Alpine meadow milk.

AMMONIATED

Certain cheeses past their prime and overripe, particularly soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, can smell and often taste of ammonia. They are still safe to eat.

ANNATTO or ACHIOTE

A natural food coloring derived from the ground seed pods of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana, also known as the Lipstick Tree), native to Central and South America. The seeds are lightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg. 

AOC (APPELLATION d’ORIGINE CONTRÔLÉE)

Controlled designation of origin, the AOC mark guarantees that the cheese originates from a specific region of France and has been produced in a traditional way. There are 35 types of cheese carrying the AOC mark.

À POINT

Pronounced ah-PWAN in French, à point refers to a cheese which is at the peak (the “point”) of its development, at the perfect stage to be consumed. The cheese is generally aged by an affineur, to bring out the finest characteristics in color and texture as well as the all-important taste. In English, say “at peak” instead of “at point.”

ARTISAN CHEESE

Artisan cheese refers to cheese that is produced in small batches, with particular attention paid to the traditional cheesemaker’s art. As little mechanization as possible is used in the production of the cheese. Artisan cheeses may be made from any type of milk; flavorings and inclusions (nuts, fruits, herbs, flowers, etc.) may be added. 

ASH-COVERED

After they are molded into shape, some goat cheeses are dusted with a fine powder of charcoal ash, traditionally from oak but more recently, vegetable ash. 

BANDAGE-WRAPPED or BANDAGED

A cheese that has been wrapped in cloth, generally instead of wax.  After the curds are removed from the press, the pressed cheese is wrapped with a sterile cloth “bandage”; the cloth becomes an inedible part of the rind.

BARNYARDY

A term often used to describe a cheese’s aroma and sometimes its taste: Aged goat cheeses are often barnyardy. It is considered a positive characteristic of the cheese.

BLOOMY RIND or WHITE RIND CHEESES

This class or category of cheese comprises the white cheeses with soft creamy interiors. The rind is composed the Penicillium candidum mold, which grows naturally as the cheese ages. The mold grows on the outside of the cheese, breaking down the protein and fat inside, making it soft, runny, and more complex.  Bloomy rind cheeses are generally aged for two weeks, which produces a mild flavor and subtle aroma. 

BLUE CHEESE, BLUE MOLD or BLUE VEINED CHEESES

 Penicillium roqueforti, Penicillium gorgonzola or Penicillium glaucum spores are added to the cheese, which provide the blue-green colors and piquant flavor. The mold will not thrive until oxygen comes into contact with it, so the cheeses are pierced with pins, which allows the mold to flourish and causes the cheeses to develop a very high acid content and crumb-like texture. 

BREBIS

The French term for a cheese made from sheep’s milk.

BRINE CURED

Many types of cheese are washed with, or submerged into, a brine bath as part of the cheese making process. The brining solution provides cheese with a slightly salty flavor and helps to limit the growth of unwanted bacteria.

BRUSHED RIND CHEESE

Certain types of natural rind cheeses, both cooked and uncooked varieties, have their rinds brushed during the period they spend ripening. This brushing helps the interior of the cheese to keep moist during the ripening periodand has an effect on the final flavor of the cheese. 

CASEIN

The element of milk which solidifies when coagulation takes place. Caseins are insoluble milk proteins which form suspended masses in milk, and thus create emulsions.

CAVE

A room, sometimes underground, where cheeses are left to ripen. Some cheeses, like Roquefort, are ripened in caves from which they pick up bacteria that give them their distinctive flavors.

CELLAR

A room, sometimes underground, where cheeses are left to ripen. Some cheeses, like Roquefort, are ripened in caves from which they pick up bacteria that give them their distinctive flavors.

CHEDDARING

A cheese production technique where the curd is cut into blocks, which are turned and stacked at the bottom of the cheese vat at intervals of ten to fifteen minutes for about one-and-a-half hours. This is an additional step in the production of Cheddar-style cheeses, and one of the most complex techniques in cheesemaking.

CHEESEMONGER

A person who sells cheese. 

CHÈVRE  CHEESE

Chèvre is the French word for goat and goat cheese is characterized by its whiteness and tangy, distinctive flavor. I

CLOSE

Used to describe a cheese’s texture: A close-textured cheese is one which is smooth, unblemished and devoid of holes or cracks. 

CREAMLINE

The area between the rind and the paste of a bloomy rind, washed rind or semisoft cheese. The bacterial activity of the rind breaks down the solid paste into a liquid. 

COAGULATION

The transformation of milk into curd, which is the first step in cheese production. 

COOKED CURD CHEESES or COOKED PRESSED CHEESES

A step in the cheesemaking process when the cheese curd is heated, sometimes in the surplus whey. Cooked cheeses are all hard cheeses and other Swiss types—traditionally the biggest wheels of cheese from the mountains: Gruyère, Beaufort and the “cheeses with eyes” like Swiss Emmentaler, the cheese most Americans think of as “Swiss cheese.”   

CREAM

The fatty element of milk.

CREAMY

A term used to describe the taste, and sometimes the texture, of certain cheeses.

CRÈME FRAÎCHE

Crème fraîche is cultured cream, a thickened cream with a slightly tangy, nutty flavor and velvety, creamy texture. 

CRUMBLY

A term referring to a cheese that has portions that breaks off when the cheese is cut. Blue-veined cheeses are particularly crumbly.

CURD

Cheese is made of curds. Curd comes from the Latin word coagulare, meaning to thicken or to clot. Curds are obtained by curdling (coagulating) milk with rennet (an enzyme) or an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar; then draining off the whey. Whey is the liquid portion of milk, after the solids (protein and fat) have been extracted. The solids become curds when an acid (vinegar, lemon juice) or enzymes are added. 

CURDLING

An early stage in cheesemaking when milk coagulates after the introduction of rennet.

CURD MOLDING

The stage of cheesemaking in which the cheese curd is ladled into molds that determine the final shape of the cheese: round, rectangular, cylindrical etc. This process is also known as “hooping the curd.”

CURING or MATURING or AGING

The stage in the cheesemaking process when a cheese is left to ripen.

D.O. or DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN

In Spain, the Denomination of Origin is a regulated and controlled qualification managed by a council that is responsible for controlling the characteristics and authenticity of food products to protect their agricultural heritage: wines, cheeses, olive oils and other products. It reports to the Ministry of Agriculture. T

D.O.P. or DENOMINAZIONE d’ORIGINE PROTETTA

Denominazione d’Origine Protetta is the Italian certification of authenticity of origin. Some other countries in the European Union also use D.O.P. now, including Portugal.  

D.P.O.

The English translation of DOP (see above), Designated Protected Origin.

DRAINING

The stage of cheesemaking when the whey is drained from the curd. 

DRYING

The stage of cheesemaking when lactic cheeses are left for one to three days in a well-ventilated room, to allow the water to evaporate.

DRY MATTER

The part of the cheese that remains after all moisture is removed. Soft cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert, will contain on average about 50% dry matter and 50% water. Aged cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano are mostly dry matter with very little water.

EARTHY

A descriptive term often used to describe the nature of monastery cheeses.

FARMSTEAD CHEESES or FARM CHEESE

A cheese that is made on the farm by the farmer, using only the milk from the farmer’s own herd or flock, on the farm where the animals are raised. Milk used in the production of farmstead cheeses may not be obtained from any outside source. 

FAT CONTENT

This term refers to the fat content in the dry matter of the cheese. It is usually indicated on the cheese’s packaging. It can be as low as 4% and as high as 75%. 

FIRM CHEESES or HARD CHEESES

Firm or hard cheeses are a broad group that can be very mild to very sharp. 

FRESH CHEESES or SOFT, UNRIPENED CHEESES

A high-moisture-content, unaged cheese, intended to be eaten within days of its production. 

FROMAGE

The French word for cheese.

FROMAGER

The French word for cheesemonger or cheese expert.

FROMAGERIE

The French word for cheese store.

FRUITIÈRE

Specific to the French region of Savoie, the word for a small cheese producer or cooperative that collects milk.

HÂLOIR

The cheese drying room, where cheeses are laid out during their maturation period. 

HARD CHEESE or HARD PASTE CHEESE

Also known as firm cheese. These have a dry, granular paste and are the hardest of all cheeses, solid and heavy. Hard cheeses typically are aged more than two years, during which the water and moisture evaporate to make the paste hard (to be classified as a hard cheese, the water content must be less than 40%).

HOLES or EYES

The openings in the body of Swiss-type cheeses such as Emmentaler and Gruyère. The holes are spherical, equally-spaced and about the size of cherry pits. They are caused by bacterial activity which generates prioponic acid, causing gas to expand within the curd and create the pockets, or holes. 

LACTIC

Referring to the milk aroma, and sometimes flavor, of some cheeses.

LACTIC FERMENTING AGENT

Bacteria which encourage the coagulation of milk by fermenting the lactose in the milk into lactic acid. 

LACTOSE INTOLERANCE

An inability to easily digest lactose or milk sugar in cow’s milk. Many cheeses, particularly aged cheeses such as Cheddar and Swiss, contain little or no lactose, as well as sheep, goat, and buffalo milk cheeses. Cheese lovers who have difficulty digesting lactose should try these alternatives.

LIGHTLY PRESSED CHEESE

These cheeses are pressed and uncooked, as opposed to the pressed cheese group in which the curd is cooked, then pressed.  

MEMBRILLO

Membrillo is a fruit condiment made from quince. A relative of the apple and the pear, quince is high in pectin, and the resulting paste has the consistency of a thick jelly. It has a sweet and tart taste and looks somewhat like a dense fruit gelatin dessert. Any salty or blue cheese pairs well with membrillo, but it works best with Spanish cheeses like Roncal, Mahón or Manchego. 

MICROORGANISMS

Yeasts and other fermenting agents present in milk and milk curd. They can be wild and naturally occurring or cultured and introduced.

MOLD

Mold is a member of the fungus family. It can be on the surface of cheese (such as the fluffy white bloomy rind cheeses—which are somewhat reminiscent of mushrooms) or can be developed internally. Surface molds are the result of cheese being treated with the Penicillium candidum or Penicillium camemberti spore. Internal molds are very different, and are created by the introduction of Penicillium glaucum or Penicillium roqueforti spores, both used to create blue-veined cheeses. 

MOLD-RIPENED CHEESES

These are soft cheeses, not pressed, that are salted and covered with the mold spores Pennicillium candidum (white) and Pennicillium glaucum (grey). The spores use the proteins and fats in the cheese to ripen it from the outside, creating a white rind. 

MONASTERY CHEESES or TRAPPIST CHEESES

Certain cheeses were originally developed by monks and are known as monastery cheeses. The majority are of the washed rind variety. 

MOUNTAIN CHEESE

According to Caseus Montanus, an international association of mountain cheese producers, a mountain cheese is one produced and aged above 800 meters (approximately 2500 feet). Most are made in France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. 

MUSHROOMY

A description of the flavor and aroma of certain soft and semi-soft cheeses, particularly members of the Brie and Camembert family.

NATURAL RIND CHEESES

These cheeses have rinds that self-form during the aging process. Generally, no molds or microflora are added, nor is washing used to create the exterior rinds. 

NUTTY

Often referring to hazelnut, a flavor that occurs naturally in some cheeses.

OPEN

A texture description referring to a cheese which contains openings and holes in its body. It is the opposite of close.

PARMIGIANO REGGIANO 

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard-textured cheese that is cooked but not pressed. It has been described by connoisseurs as the King of Cheeses. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a D.O.P. protected trade name. Parmigiano-style cheeses that are made outside of the Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy regions of Italy, and outside the jurisdiction of the Consorzio, anywhere in the world, are called Parmesan.

PASTA FILATA CHEESES

Pasta filata, or spun paste, refers to a family of cheeses, mostly Italian, that are cooked and kneaded, or “spun.” The cheeses range from very fresh to hard grating cheeses, and include mozzarella, provolone and scamorza.

PASTE or PÂTÉ

The interior body (non-rind portion) of the cheese. It is described by its texture, density, and color. When milk is too low in beta carotene, producing pale cheese, the vegetable dye annatto can be added to the curds to give the paste more color.

PASTEURIZATION

Pasteurization kills all bacteria in milk—beneficial as well as harmful bacteria. Because the beneficial bacteria add flavor to the cheese, many cheesemakers prefer to use raw milk. However, in the U.S., due to health concerns, raw milk cheeses must be aged for 60 days so any harmful bacteria will be killed. 

PROTECTED DESIGNATION OF ORIGIN or PDO

A trademark issued by the European Union that guarantees that a product is produced, prepared and processed in a designated geographical area, according to specified practices. 

PERSILLE or FROMAGE À PÂTE PERSILLE

A French term for a blue-veined cheese (blue cheese). It is so named because the blue veins resemble parsley (persille in French).

PIQUANT

A descriptive term for a sharp-tasting cheese.

PRESSED, UNCOOKED CHEESES

One of the largest groups of cheeses, pressed, uncooked cheeses comprise hard and semi-hard cheeses. Thus, the pastes are generally semi-firm to firm. 

PROCESSED CHEESES

These are cheese by-products made from a combination of natural cheese and added ingredients, such as stabilizers, emulsifiers and flavor enhancers. The objective is not to create artisan cheese, but a consistent and shelf-stable product for mass market consumption. 

PRONOUNCED

A descriptive term for a cheese’s aroma or flavor.

RAW MILK CHEESES

“Raw milk” refers to cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, meaning that the milk has not been heated more than 100°F (40°C). Below this heat threshold, hundreds of varieties of benefitical bacteria remain alive, interacts with the milk to provide more complexity and depth of flavor to the cheese. Due to rare but potential illness from unpasteurized milk, the FDA restricts the distribution of raw (unpasteurized) milk cheeses aged less than 60 days. Many small farmers feel that fresh milk from healthy animals, handled in a responsible manner and used immediately, does not require pasteurization. 

RENNET

Rennet is a coagulating enzyme that is added to milk as the first step in making cheese. Used to curdle milk, it causes clumps (curds) to form and separate from the liquid (whey). 

rBST or rBGH

Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), also called rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), is a growth hormone used to increase milk production in cows. Many health-conscious consumers prefer not to consume dairy products from rBST-treated cows. Currently there is no test that can distinguish between milk from rBST-treated and untreated cows. Controlling the source of the milk is the key to guaranteeing that dairy products are rBST-free. Farmers who do not treat their herds generally label their products ”rBST-free.”

RIND

The protective external surface of a cheese. Its presence affects the final flavor of the interior of the cheese. Rinds can be natural or artificially created, thick or thin, hard or soft, washed, oiled, brushed or paraffined. Their prime role is to protect the cheese’s interior and allow it to ripen and develop harmoniously. However, many semisoft cheese rinds are absolutely delicious and part of the enjoyment of the cheese.

RIPENING

Except for fresh cheeses, the majority of cheeses are ripened in a ripening cellar or special storage room. 

SEMI-HARD CHEESE

A classification of cheese based upon body. The descriptions semi-hard and hard refer mainly to moisture content, not to texture. The cheeses in this category actually include a broad range of textures, from semi-firm to very firm and from cheeses that are only weeks old to those aged up to several months or more. Because these cheeses contain less moisture than the soft and soft-ripened types, they hold their shape much better. Examples include young Asiago, Cheddar, Colby, Edam, Fontinella, aged Gouda, Manchego, Provolone and Queso Blanco. The difference between semi-hard and semi-soft cheese is one of moisture: Semi-soft cheese contains more than 45% water, while semi-hard cheeses contain 30% to 45%. A cheese can start as semi-soft, then move to semi-hard via aging, which evaporates the moisture.

SHARP

Sharp is a descriptive flavor term, referring to the fully developed flavor of aged cheeses, such as traditional Cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The flavor is actually sharp and biting, but not excessively so. The more the cheese is aged, the sharper the flavor becomes.

SILKY or SATINY 

These texture descriptors refer to the mouthfeel of soft cheeses. They can be spreadable or sliced cheeses like a ripe Brie or Camembert.

SKIMMING

The removal of fat content from the milk. When part or all of the cream has been removed from milk, the milk is referred to as skimmed (although the more popular consumer term is now fat free). Cheeses made from skimmed milk generally have less fat; some (but not all) remain quite flavorful. Skimmed milk cheeses have less than 20% fat, semi-fat cheeses have 20% to 41% fat, and whole milk fat cheeses have 42% or more fat content.

SOFT-RIPENED CHEESE or SEMI-SOFT CHEESE

Cheeses in this category span a wide variety, all made with whole milk, and melt well when cooked. They include Blue Cheeses, Brick, Fontina, Havarti, Monterey Jack and Muenster. Bloomy-rind examples include Brie, Camembert.. Soft-ripened cheeses are uncooked, unpressed cheese, which, as a result, are creamy or even runny when fully ripe. They ripen from the outside in, and have been allowed to mature to various degrees. Some soft-ripened cheeses ripen (or age) inside of a fluffy white rind and become softer and creamier as they age. The rind is edible and is produced by spraying the surface of the cheese with Penicillium candidum. Other soft cheeses may have a reddish washed rind or no rind.

All cheeses in this category have a high moisture content. Mild when young, they usually develop a fuller, more mature flavor as they age.

STARTER CULTURE

Also called a “friendly” culture, starter cultures are added to milk at the start of the cheesemaking process. The cultures change the lactose or milk sugar, the carbohydrate in milk, into lactic acid. This equalizes the pH so the milk protein will form curds when the rennet is added. The cultures used by the cheesemaker are a closely guarded secret as they contribute to the distinct qualities of each cheese.

STRACCHINO

Stracchino is a type of Italian cow’s-milk cheese, about 50% milkfat, found in the Italian region of Lombardy. The name derives from the Italian word stracca, which means “tired.” The belief is that the milk from tired cows is richer in fats and more acidic; according to legend, these qualities were discovered in the milk of “tired” cows that were moved up and down the Alps to different pastures. Gorgonzola is in the stracchino family, but aged.

STRONG

A cheese with a penetrating aroma and flavor.

SUPPLE

A descriptive term describing a cheese’s texture, e.g., firm but not hard; pliable and resilient. Fontina is an example.

SURFACE RIPENED

A cheese that ripens from the exterior when a special bacteria, mold or yeast is applied to the surface. Bloomy-rind cheeses, like Brie and Camembert, and washed-rind cheeses, such as Pont L’Eveque and Taleggio, are surface-ripened.

SWISS CHEESE

Swiss cheese is the generic name used in the United States for several related varieties of cheese, originally made in Switzerland. Emmentaler is the cheese Americans think of as the generic Swiss cheese. While Americans believe that Swiss cheese has holes, properly known as eyes, not all kinds of Swiss cheese do.There are 450 known Swiss cheeses, classified into five categories: extra-hard, hard, semi-hard, semi-soft and soft. Cow’s milk is used in 99% of the cheeses produced. 

TABLE CHEESE

As opposed to a cooking cheese, which gets incorporated into recipes (mozzarella and ricotta, for example), a table cheese is cheese meant to be eaten at the table—as part of a cheese plate, on a sandwich or a burger, etc.

TANGY

A descriptive term describing a cheese’s flavor as sharp, distinctive, flavorsome.

TERROIR

Pronounced tur-WAH, the French word for soil, land or terrain. The term is used to convey the larger concept “of the land,” i.e., how the specific place where an agricultural product is produced bears the taste of that particular piece of land, its specific soil composition and microclimate. In the case of cheese, the grass and other vegetation upon which the animals graze impart flavor nuances to their milk. 

TEXTURE

A cheese’s texture can be soft, firm, supple, waxy, open, close, etc. Texture is largely dependent on moisture content: the softer the cheese, the higher its moisture content.

TOME or TOMME

A name for a small or medium-size rustic wheel or mountain cheese. The term originated in the Haute Savoie region of France (the French Alps). Tommes are typically produced from the skimmed milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and richer cheeses (or when there is too little milk to produce a regular cheese). As a result, they are generally lower in fat than other cheeses.

TRIPLE-CRÈME CHEESES

Cream is added to the milk to create the richest, most buttery group of cheeses. Triple crèmes are a type of bloomy rind cheese and also are aged about two weeks. In order to qualify as a triple-créme, the cheeses must have more than 72% butterfat content, which provides the smooth texture. As with other cheeses that have short aging periods, the flavors are mild and the aromas are subtle. 

TYROSINES

These small, crunchy white crystals in the paste of certain cheeses, are a crystallization of the amino acid, tyrosine, a result of the breakdown of casein(the main protein in milk) as the cheese ripens. Certain aged cheeses, like Gouda, Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggioano and Piave Vecchio will have a preponderance of them. Most cheese lovers consider the crunchy texture one of the delights of the cheese. 

TUROPHILE

A lover of cheese. The word comes from the Greek words for cheese, tyros, and lover, philos. The love of cheese is turophilia.

ULTRA-PASTEURIZED

The process of super-heating milk or cream to 275°F for 4 to 15 seconds. Also referred to as UHT. While this keeps the product fresher for a longer period of time, ultra-pasteurized cream is not best for whipping.

VEGETARIAN CHEESE 

A cheese that is not made with rennet. Rennet, a dried extract of the rennet membrane of a calf, is used to curdle the milk in the cheese making process. Animal products are not eaten by vegetarians. Vegetarian cheeses like paneer are curdled with lemon juice, other food acids or vegetable “rennets.”

WASHED CURD

During the cooking process, half of the whey is removed and replaced with water at the same temperature to speed up the shrinking process (syneresis).  Examples include Edam and Gouda.

WASHED RIND CHEESES

Washed rind cheeses are surface-ripened by washing and brushing the cheese throughout the ripening/aging process with brine, beer, wine, brandy, a mixture of these ingredients or any other interesting liquid that will impart flavor and create a different chemical balance for the growth of the bacteria, Breyibacterium linens, which ripens from the outside in by breaking down the proteins and fats inside. The rind is cleaned and brushed off, which causes the cheese to age more quickly, enhancing the flavor and acidity of the cheese and creating a bolder, more noticeable tang. Most of the aromatics will ripen into soft, pungent cheeses; however, some aromatics are firm cheeses that will never go soft. 

WHEY

Whey is the liquid portion of milk, after the solids (protein and fat) have been extracted. The solids become curds when an acid (vinegar, lemon juice) or enzymes are added. 

WHEY CHEESE

When milk is renneted and sets, it becomes curds, the solids; and whey becomes the liquid.  This liquid contains a percentage of the albuminous proteins that were in the milk from the start but which the rennet didn’t capture in the curd. The method of capturing this leftover protein is with high heat and an acid, like vinegar. The protein coagulates at about 175°F with the addition of acid (vinegar or other), into a very light mass creating the great fresh cheese, ricotta. 

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