Your Guide to the Hard Cheeses of Europe

Know your Comté from your Emmental. (And what to do with them!)

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Some of the most well-known cheeses are also some of the hardest. Though their textures and consistencies are similar, their flavors vary widely, from the butterscotch notes of Mimolette to the hazelnut-tinged Abondance. Much of this is due to the wide variety of methods used to make different hard cheeses as well as their vast aging times.

Geographical Indications are very important to the EU, which replaced member states’ denominations by PDO, Protected Designation of Origin. France alone has 46 cheeses, three butters and two creams.

In addition to keeping your eyes peeled for these labels, knowing the key flavors and aromas found in various cheeses can help you choose the right one for your next cheese plate. So, without further ado, here are the hard cheeses of Europe that you need to know.

Abondance, PDO

There’s nothing wrong with an abundance of riches and Abondance, with its supple texture, will not be a disappointment. Originally produced by monks, it is now made exclusively in the Haute-Savoie area with raw milk collected twice a day. Wrapped in cloth and pressed for twenty-four hours before salting, it is aged for 100 days, when it is regularly scrubbed with brine and turned over. It is known for its slightly bitter hazelnut taste.

Beaufort, PDO

Why do Beaufort wheels have a concave heel? After moulding in linen cheese-cloths, this cheese is pressed into a beechwood mould which gives it its characteristic shape. Summer Beaufort ("été") is produced between June and the end of October, when cows graze in mountain pastures. Beaufort "Chalet d’Alpage" is made twice a day in mountain chalets above 5,000 feet, using milk from a single herd.

Bethmale

If you look as far back as the 12th century, you’ll find the creation of this cow’s milk cheese—the first of its kind was introduced during the Moor occupation. It features a leathery, orange rind while its inside is strewn with tiny holes. Because of its earthy, creamy, slightly sweet flavor, Bethmale goes best with a light red or a sweet white wine.

Cantal, PDO

Cantal is known as one of the oldest cheeses in the world. Its flavor varies greatly between its three sizes, which are all aged for different periods of time. A younger Cantal, known as Cantal Jeune, starts off with a sweet, milky taste that develops a hazelnut-tinged flavor as it matures into Cantal Entre-deux and later Cantal Vieux, which is aged over eight months. Use it in your favorite cheesy casserole dish or enjoy with nuts, grapes, and a bold, fruity wine.

Comté, PDO

With notes of apricot, chocolate, butter, cream, hazelnuts, and toast, Comté doesn’t skimp on flavor. Due to its high demand, more than 40,000 tons of the cheese is produced per year. It melts incredibly well, making it ideal for fondue, risotto, omelets, and sandwiches. You can even bread and fry Comté for an extra gooey treat—there’s truly no limit to what it can do.

Emmental

Cheese fondue on stick in front of black background.

Emmental cheese has been using the pseudonym “Swiss” for years. Its iconic holes are called eyes, which is the result of a fermentation process that creates carbon dioxide. Mild and sweet, the cheese works on everything from a burger to an omelet, but we can’t resist using it as a gooey fondue. The hoppy flavors of a saison are best for letting Emmental shine.

Laguiole, PDO

A spoonful of pommes aligot (cheesy mashed potatoes) being lifted from a small handled pot

Originally made by French monks, Laguiole is one of the main ingredients in the traditional French mashed potato dish aligot. It features a thick, grayish-brown rind and a sour, sharply flavored interior that melts very easily. Pour yourself a glass of fruity red or dry white wine when enjoying this cheese.

Mimolette

Mimolette’s strikingly orange color and distinct spherical shape makes it an ideal centerpiece for your next cheese plate. As it ages, its complex flavor offers sharp, nutty, and fruity flavors, with a subtle hint of butterscotch that floats throughout. Best of all, it melts easily, making it perfect for all kinds of cooking, though we’re partial to using it to whip up a crisp grilled cheese. For a fresh, balanced beverage pairing, opt for a Doppelbock, a beer with caramelized and smoky notes.

Ossau-Iraty, PDO

Hailing from the scenic mountains of the Pyrenees, Ossau-Iraty is a hard cheese wrapped in an ashy-orange colored rind. The sheep’s milk semi-firm cheese is a little granular and very rich, boasting toasted wheat aromas and nutty, herby-sweet flavors. Dry white wines like Zinfandel serve as an excellent pairing with this cheese.

Salers, PDO

Salers’s flavor ranges from fresh cream to vegetal notes of grass and hay; hazelnuts, citrus, and grilled shallots. Its rind typically becomes rough and crusty with age. Serve this farmstead cheese melted with a platter of bread and fruit for the ultimate fondue night.