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Cheese Expert's Picks: 10 Essential Sheep Milk Cheeses to Know and Love

Sheep milk tastes...sheepy, but it's also good to know that sheep milk has nearly twice the solids (fat and protein) of cow or goat milk. Regardless of a sheep cheese's texture, you can feel the fat in these guys. Opulent and often tangy, sheep cheeses range from subtle and approachable, with an undercurrent of sweetness, to tart and briny, to caramelly and butterscotchy, to piquant and intensely gamey. Here are 10 sheep cheeses to look out for on your next trip to the counter. More

Cheese 101: The Incredible Cheese From America's Heartland

As the producer of 25% of America's cheese (three billion pounds!), Wisconsin certainly earns its title of America's Dairyland. Most of this output is mass-produced cheese destined for supermarkets. But Wisconsin's—and the rest of the Midwest's—undercurrent of craft cheesemaking is well worth paying attention to. Here is where 4,000 years of European tradition meets American gumption, and the result is some incredible cheese. More

Cheese 101: Southern Cheese Worth Seeking Out

Though the South is home to many delicacies, a longstanding cheese-making tradition isn't among them. But that's starting to change, and while cheesemakers are following all kinds of roads to cheese, the region's particular climate makes for some interesting commonalities among its increasingly delicious cheeses. More

Cheese 101: Hard Facts About Hard Cheese

Many of the best known cheeses in the world—Cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, "Swiss" (aka Emmenthaler) are firm to hard in texture. But their flavors can be radically different. So how do hard cheeses wind up this way—different from the limpid Bries, but also from one another? More

Cheese 101: The Stinky World of Washed Rind Cheese

Washed rind cheese is a broad but distinctive category of gloriously stinky curd. The telltale signs include a moist or sticky exterior, some variety of reddish-orange rind, and profound aromas reminiscent of often-unmentionable things—sweaty feet and barnyard animals figure prominently. More

Why Good Cheese Doesn't Come Cheap: The Sneaky Multipliers of Cheesemaking

@botdx: A quick correction: aged cheeses aren't higher in fat than unaged cheeses. They do have less water, so ounce for ounce a piece of aged cheese may contain more calories than a buttery, spreadable piece of cheese, but only because the latter contains more water.

As for subsidies--I'll leave that to the reader community to debate! I look at the agribusiness mono crops the U.S. subsidizes to the tune of billions of dollars annually and question why we need hormone-loaded beef and chicken as our status quo. If that's the only way to make food "cheap" perhaps we should pay more and eat less meat like my grandparents used to do...

Cheese Expert's Picks: 10 Essential Sheep Milk Cheeses to Know and Love

@Tkocareli: bitter and ammonia flavors are super characteristic of overripe washed rinds. Pont l'Eveque should be salty, pungent, bacony but never bitter. You probably got an old one :(

@CheesemongerJeff: Many of those classics were covered in my inaugural top 10 list of cheeses everyone should know (feta, Ossau, sheep Gouda). That list inspired the milk-specific ones. Glad to know we're on the same page!

Beyond Chevre: 10 Essential Goat Milk Cheeses to Know and Love

@A Serial Eater: Thanks! Ubriaco is usually cow, from the Veneto, but I've seen goat versions. It tends to be much wine-ier than Drunken Goat which winds up pleasantly if somewhat generically fruity.

@Amandarama: Technically edible though I find it plasticky and not texturally good eating. It doesn't amp up flavor either so the pros to eating it aren't evident to me.

@rickZ: Yeah it is!

Cheese Expert's Picks: 10 Essential Sheep Milk Cheeses to Know and Love

@Tkocareli: Thanks so much! The rind will never hurt you, so eating it is always a matter of preference (exceptions being those in wax or cloth--don't eat them :)

That said, my rule is "skin" vs "crust", or "apple" vs "orange": if the rind is a thin, cohesive, soft, furry part of the cheese (even if it's orange, grey or dotted with white/blue mold) I regard it as edible. These skins are often grown with molds, yeast or bacteria and contribute a lot of flavor and complexity. Example include Brie-types, soft-rinded goat cheeses and orange washed rinds. If the rind is hard, thick, sharp edged, dry I generally think of it as a "crust" to be cut away (mentioned here in this article: Fiore Sardo, Pecorino Romano, etc)

Always honor your taste preferences and know that aged, hard, dry cheeses have been sitting somewhere for many weeks or months. The exterior (rind) is more likely to smell and taste like a damp, woody, earthy aging space and may not be so enjoyable.

Cheese Expert's Picks: 10 Essential Cheeses to Know and Love

@saj14saj: Greek feta is here-- most people I know have purchased something called feta, but much of the market is cow and so bad...I'm always trying to push an upgrade to sheep/goat blend as traditionally produced in Greece because it might as well be a different cheese. Same name, wildly different eating.

Cheese Expert's Picks: 10 Essential Cheeses to Know and Love

@saj14saj: Parm Reg is a classic for sure, but it's also one of the first "good" cheeses people branch out to. Similarly Manchego and Gruyere. The idea behind this list was the 10 classics a cheese explorer might not pick up on their own.

How the Northeast Set the Course of the American Cheese Industry

@ardubs81 @marluce Copy has been edited to clarify-- Vermont has more artisan cheese makers per capita than any state in the Union. 46 known makers (thought I'm confident there are more); 626,562 people as of July 1, 2014 Equalling 1 maker for every 13,620 people.

How the West Coast Became a Cheesemaking Titan

@Bristow91 thanks for the Straus and Pt. Reyes/Petaluma corrections. On Vella/Rogue, as mentioned above 1935 is the year I understand Tom to have brokered the takeover. As Ig explained it to me the initial goal was to use JL Kraft's financing to enable small farmers to buy back their cows and subsidize Kraft's purchases of cheddar. Once the plant become financially viable the exploration into blues began, with mold spores smuggled back from France. Sounds like you've got some knowledge of the family and creameries--love and appreciate the insider details!

How the West Coast Became a Cheesemaking Titan

Rebecca@BringBackDelicious: some do, some don't but their web sites will have more info. Also the CA Artisan Cheese Festival happens at the end of March and there are many associated tours for which you can buy tix: http://artisancheesefestival.com

How to Make the Ultimate Thanksgiving Cheese Plate

@TashaK24 Why you gotta put me in the middle of the ruckus ;)

Okay, so my knee-jerk reaction (and personal preference) is to side with your husband. You put cheese out early and people kill it and then are full for the actual meal. When I am having a dinner party I do cheese as a course after savory and before (or instead of) dessert. And yet I'm bringing cheese as appetizers to Aunt Jane and Uncle Billy's next week. Thanksgiving dinner is, itself, so big and so heavy (and so traditional) that cheese afterwards feels wrong. Like I'm trying too hard. So for holidays and bigger parties I serve a spread ahead of time, for more intimate gatherings of up to 12, seated around my table, we cheese at the end. Both work. Both make people happy.

How to Make the Ultimate Thanksgiving Cheese Plate

@WhattaTomata: Here's my approach on rinds: It's a matter of personal preference but if the rind is soft, moist and "skin-like" (as on Brie or Taleggio) it is edible, and I personally recommend eating it as the molds/yeasts contribute much to overall flavor. If the rind is hard, sharp-edged, crust-like or waxed (as on Manchego, Parmigiano, Garrotxa) I generally consider it to be inedible. That being said, I would never recommend cutting rinds off any cheese before serving because 1. The rind is part of the beauty and character, it looks better when cheese is presented with its rind 2. Your guests may not share your personal preferences (you don't like Brie rind but I do, so if you cut the rind off I lose). I leave rind removal to each person on their own little plate. Hope this helps!

How to Make the Ultimate Thanksgiving Cheese Plate

Rock on everyone! If I wasn't bringing the cheese to my 51st group gathering this Thanksgiving I'd be at your place.

@WhattaTomata: for shizzle. Provide separate knives so people aren't dragging the blue through the Brie and so on. Soft, creamy cheeses are best cut with as thin bladed a knife as possible (some blades have holes in them instead). This is to reduce surface area and prevents people having to scrape the cheese off the knife. Serve the cheeses on a single board with the mildest (generally creamiest) at 12 o'clock, moving clockwise through to the stronger, then harder, then eventually blue cheeses. Tell people to taste their way around the clock. Remind guests that soft, skin like rinds are edible and not to be afraid to try them. LMK what else you're wondering about! And enjoy the holiday!

Cheese 101: Behind the Costs and Deliciousness of Sheep Cheese

@Balmagowry: the breed of sheep discussion came from several American producers whose point to me was the sheep/genetics they have access to in the States are far less voluminous producers than their Euro counterparts (Liam Callahan at Bellwether said, "They have sheep that make 4 times the milk ours do!") but they can't go buy those sheep directly and this has a direct impact on the profitability of American sheep dairies. Not being a farmer or breeder myself I can't say what genetics are available and successfully integrated but this has been a consistent explanation from makers as to why there are so few sheep dairies here vs Britain and the EU. They just can't make enough milk enough of the time to make money on a scalable level.

Maybe we should change the lanolin descriptor to "wet sheep?" :)

Cheese 101: Why Imported Italian Mozzarella Isn't Always Better

Sorry folks for the radio silence. I just moved from NYC to New Orleans! Whew. So...
@Ida Yu: Midwest production is dominated by Wisconsin producers. Crave Brothers was making farmstead and relatively available mozz but was nearly shut down in 2013 due to a listeria outbreak. They're getting back on their feet. Bel Gioioso is the dominant supermarket brand, also out of WI. There are likely small (farmers' market only) farms that I am not familiar with.

@ukemochi: you're welcome!

@Bigbananafeet: depends how much of a purist you want to be. Most "fresh mozzarella" made by stores and restaurants is actually purchased curd that is dipped in warm water, stretched and formed into a ball. Not exactly cheesemaking, more curd manipulation, but super easy at home and lots of fun (little kids love it, so do cocktail swilling grownups). Hands down best curd is Caputo Brothers (http://caputobrotherscreamery.com) and they ship nationwide.

If you want to start from scratch (milk) there are several home cheesemaking kits that provide starter and directions. The queen in that arena is Ricki Carroll (http://www.cheesemaking.com) who offers everything you need.

@cheeseguy: Thanks for tip. I haven't had their cheese in probably 8 or 9 years.

Cheese 101: Why Imported Italian Mozzarella Isn't Always Better

@A Serial Cereal Eater: an oversight on part. Bel Gioioso is the most common brand of "fresh" mozzarella in supermarkets nationwide. They now make a bur rata as well. I think the quality of their cheese has only improved in the past 10 years and when I'm in the sticks (which is often) I seek them out as a reliable choice.

@Prufrock31: Thanks for the great share

@mother91: MY mother would shame me (she was an editor and publisher for 35 years). Thanks for the correction.

@dashofginger: Those are the great delights of one's local market. My goal with these pieces is to give a nationally applicable overview with, potentially, some regional suggestions. That said, fresh mozz is a cheese many small retailers pull fresh each day (usually the purchase the curd already made and do the dipping and stretching) but also a cheese that many farmstead and artisan cheese makers start with because they can sell a lot at farmer's markets or other outlets. If you have some favorites, by all means share 'em here!! We'd all like to know what to look out for when traveling! Many thanks

Cheese 101: The World of Real 'Swiss' Cheese

@billiev: that's the cradle of Swiss immigrants to the States mid 19th C and many recipes came over. Much of the Emmenthaler sold in the States is actually made in Wisconsin!

@Coozle: glad to hear it! :)

@larush62: I bet you're an eater of black label Appenzeller Extra--the most aged and intense version. Also I was interested to see how much fondue in the region around Gruyere was only Gruyere and Vacherin Fribourgeois. I, too, think of the threesome you mention when I think of fondue Stateside.

@Bigbananafeet: Here, too. But rare in terms of walking into any old supermarket and finding them. I love that in Switzerland it's typical to buy good cheese at the gas station. We have our work cut out for us!

@nofunlatte: Good spot. Originally I'd planned to write about the Swiss cheese scene and some of the best American cheeses inspired by these recipes, but there's wasn't enough room this week. In addition to PRR, the recently American Cheese Society best in show winner Spring Brook Tarentaise, blue ribbon Rupert from Consider Bardwell Farm and Jasper Hill Alpha Tolman are all amazing and worth seeking out.

Cheese 101: How 4 Simple Ingredients Yield 10 Zillion Different Cheeses

@Stevie Oneder: totals. Historically, ash made cheese "susceptible" to ambient molds, but this proved to be a positive thing. These days, the lowered acidity post-ashing supports growth of added molds and yeasts that a cheese maker is intentionally cultivating.

Cheese 101: How 4 Simple Ingredients Yield 10 Zillion Different Cheeses

@jackiecat: Thanks so much!

@zorazen: Traditionally fresh cheeses were covered in ash (as in, yes, straight from a fire pit) to protect a cheese's exterior from insects. What became readily apparent is that cheeses with ashed exteriors are susceptible to secondary molds and yeasts due to the pH (acidity) change that the ash causes. These days ashed cheeses (characteristically small format goat cheeses from France's Loire) are produced using sterilized vegetable ash sold by cheesemaking supply companies. This is sprinkled on the exterior of a fresh cheese that is inoculated with p. candidum or geotrichum during the make process and, after 1-3 weeks you wind up with a foggy grey or brainy looking rind. California's Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog is a great example. They also use ash as a decorative center line ala French Morbier.

Cheese 101: How 4 Simple Ingredients Yield 10 Zillion Different Cheeses

@nr706: With a 700-800 biweekly post the point of these columns is to take broad, often extremely complex and scientific, questions about cheese and give enthusiasts and consumers more info to understand why things turn out the way they do. My primary point in this post is that "bacteria" or "cultures" or "enzymes" (as they appear on a cheese ingredient label) are not in fact one thing but thousands of possible things that do different work in the cheesemaking and aging process that result in wildly different final products (like "Cook" in a recipe might mean braise, boil, bake or grill and the end result is extremely variable).

I didn't get too deeply into milk variations (per your beef vs pork vs lamb comment) though touched on fundamental differences in fat, for example.

It seems like you read the headline and didn't go any further.

Cheese 101: There's More to Blue Cheese Than You Think

@TimoG I want to have a great answer for you but I don't. What I can say is that most Cabrales sold in the States isn't really Cabrales, it's Pico or Valdeon. So if people come across real Cabrales (no leaves, people) they hate it because it burns their soul. That's its nature. It's a mixed milk cheese, super acidic and the burn is part of the experience. It's Yoda-colored. I imagine part of it is that Cabrales is aged in natural caves and the mold growth is less moderated by the maker as a result. But I'm sorry to say I can't say why exactly that cheese can kick your ass.

@Patrick Moran It's Caves at Faribault and they do great things!

@jfultz thanks much!

Cheese 101: Hard Facts About Hard Cheese

@Luby25 @Gina_ sorry to go AWOL. Next column is dedicated to you.
@helloterrestrial the blessing and the curse of being over here, yes? I stopped at the gas station in Switzerland and got beautiful strawberries. Oh, and every place has buffalo mozzarella. That's not even their cheese!? Sigh. We have a ways to go back home...

Cheese 101: Hard Facts About Hard Cheese

@A Serial Cereal Eater and @Countdreg: thanks dudes

@V_for_Vendetta: @nohofoods has a great suggestion for rinds if you're going to cook with them. In general I don't condone freezing cheese. It kills the texture, making it kind of mealy in a way that never recovers and it also kills the flavor. It doesn't taste bad, it just doesn't really taste like much.

@SteveSCT: I also feel guilty. It's hard to fit it all in. This one was meant as a VERY high level primer and I think I'll go further in depth on each of the hard cheeses in the future. That said, I have begun to regard Gouda as 2 different cheeses. The red wax kind and the aged kind. Both are washed-curd (meaning whey is removed and replaced with hot water during the make which lowers acidity and makes a more placid tasting cheese) but the young is more like Havarti and the aged more like Parm in terms of character. The aged stuff, unlike Parm, is pressed, hence that crayon-y texture rather than Parm's fine, dusty texture.

@BostonAdam: I have definitely kept Parm for 2 months too. It does get the little mold spots, you can scrape them off. The biggest risk is that it will get hella dried out. Also, it does start to lose complexity. Not that it tastes bad per se, but if you taste a freshly cut piece of Parm next to a 2 month old one it would be evident. This being said, a virtue of Parm is that you can squirrel it away and always know it's there :)

Cheese 101: The Stinky World of Washed Rind Cheese

@A Serial Eater:
Yes, but you must check back in another month. I'm headed to Switzerland, Austria and Bavaria for the month of July and will be writing a deep dive post about Alpine cheeses, starting with Gruyere, as I'm visiting an alpine producer, a village producer and 2 aging facilities (caves).

As part of my research trip I'm going to verify everything I'm about to write here:
The Gruyere that was known on the American market until 25 or so years ago was rindless blocks of cheese sold for slicing behind the deli counter. Emmi introduced the concept of cave aged Gruyere with their Kaltbach brand as a way to differentiate "real" Gruyere from block crap. So in that sense cave aged began as a marketing differentiator. That's not to say, however, that's it B.S.

All Gruyere spends time in an aging facility (a "cave", which is a temperature and humidity controlled warehouse). The cheese is made by cooperatives and then sent to caves for aging. So any Gruyere you buy at a cheese counter is cave aged. Different cooperatives produce different flavor profiles as a result of the milk they're buying, and the length of aging impacts flavors as well. One of the reasons I'm going overseas is to untangle how much of an impact these variables make and what the best Gruyere really is (i.e. what brand should a consumer look for). Stay tuned!

Cheese 101: The Stinky World of Washed Rind Cheese

@Burger365 I love them too. They're my favorites, which I feel guilty about, like I prefer one of my kids over another.

On Cowgirl Red Hawk, it is definitely a classic. For these 101s I try to focus on examples that are readily available to a national audience. Cowgirl's cheeses are so popular that demand outstrips supply so I find them spottily available, even in cheese-centric urban markets. Hence the exclusion. But feeling the love.

Cheese 101: The Stinky World of Washed Rind Cheese

@KevinMofM: I'm impressed with this tactic because I find heating washed rinds often makes them more intense. First, you may just not dig this style and that's cool. I hate heavily oaked Chardonnay but it put California on the wine map. It's just not my thing. That said, the firmer washed rinds tend toward nuttier, peanutty flavors as opposed to full-on sweaty socks so consider that. Also, if you don't eat the rind you'll get less of the funk.

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