Confused at the counter when your cheesemonger asks your preference between a soft-ripened and a triple crème? Nervous when picking washed rinds vs. bloomy ones? Here is the cheese glossary you’ve always wanted! This cheese resource is packed with easy definitions, terms to help you understand cheese and encourage you to make confident conversations with cheesemakers and cheesemongers.
1. A food made from the pressed curds of milk, firm and elastic or soft in texture.
All those additional foods that pair well with cheese (jams, fresh fruit, nuts, etc.). Check out what made it on our very opinionated list of Essential Cheese Plate Accoutrements.
French term for the craft of maturing and aging cheese, from the root affiner, which translates as, to finish, or to refine. Likewise, the affineur is the person who cares for cheeses during the maturing process.
The process by which cheese develops its flavor over time through microbial action on the proteins, sugars, and other molecules in the paste and rind.
Term for the high altitude Alpine fields where animals graze during the summer months. The fresh grass and flowers enhance the flavor and complexity of the milk and the resulting cheese. Formaggio d’alpeggio is therefore farmstead cheese, made only with pasture milk, in the temporary summer farm.
Any cheese made after the style of traditional cheeses native to the Alps (mountain range marking the borders of Switzerland, France, Austria, and Italy). Gruyère, Fontina, Beaufort all belong to this category.
Appellation d’origine contrôlée – French certification guaranteeing that the cheese originates from a specific region of France and has been produced in a traditional way.
Beta-carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids. It naturally occurs in grasses and imparts yellow coloration to the milkfat in cow’s milk, given their complex digestive system. Sheep and Goat’s milk is typically white because their milk retains no Beta-Carotene.
The white, mattress-like rind formed on certain young, soft cheeses such as in Brie and Camembert is edible. The pale yellow interior has the consistency of butter. To obtain the white downy coat, cheese affineurs spray the cheese surface before aging with a harmless, flavor-producing spores of Penicillium candidum mold, which allow it to ripen from the outside in and retain a high percentage of moisture.
Brevibacterium linens (B. linens, for short) are harmless bacteria cultivated on the surface of washed-rind cheeses, which lends an orange to flamingo-pink hue and a pungent aroma to the cheese. B. linens require moisture, oxygen, and a low-acid environment to flourish.
A cheesemaking style which intentionally contains blue molds (see Penicillium roqueforti) which gives it scattered pockets or “veins” of the mold throughout the cheese, which can vary in color through various shades of blue and green. This carries a distinct smell and lends character and runny texture in the paste. Blues lose moisture and become crumbly with age. Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort… all blue cheeses.
The natural fat found in milk.
The main protein present in milk and––in coagulated form––in cheese.
Cave / Cellar
Usually an underground room or even a grotto for storing and ripening cheese. The humidity and temperature remain constant.
The layer of cheese that’s just inside the rind. This tends to be more creamy and runny than the interior paste and can be thick or thin depending on the size, age, and style of the cheese.
The action or process of a liquid––in cheesemaking it’s milk––that changes to a solid or semi-solid state.
The process of coagulating milk thanks to the introduction of heat and rennet, which is an enzyme (see Rennet, Enzyme, Coagulation).
The solid mass that results from the coagulation of milk. In cheesemaking the curd, created under the influence of rennet, is like a sponge holding whey, fat, other milk solids and a rich abundance of acidifying and flavor-producing bacteria. The curd is then cut, pressed together into blocks or wheels, and aged to create the finished cheese.
Cutting the curd
Also ‘cutting the junket’ – this helps to release whey. The smaller the curd is cut, the more whey is released. The more whey that is released, the longer the cheese will age/keep.
Cheeses in which instead of rennet, lactic acid culture is used to “direct-set” or coagulate the milk.
A cheese set in this shape, think Brie or Camembert. This style allows quicker aging of the cheese, from the outer edges to the inner core.
Denominazione di Origine Protetta – An Italian trademark guaranteeing that a product has been made, prepared and processed in a designated geographical area, according to specified practices.
A soft, usually bloomy rind cheese, to which cream with a minimum butterfat content of 60% has been added.
The stage of cheesemaking when the whey drains from the curd.
A substance produced by a living organism which acts as a catalyst causing a specific chemical reaction.
Small holes in the cheese paste formed by trapped gas as a result of fermentation during the curing process. Naturally present in raw milk cheeses.
French term for cheese made by hand from milk produced by animals raised on the cheesemaker’s property.
A cheese that has not aged for more than a few weeks.
A tool with cutting wires used to cut curds in cheesemaking (see Cutting the curd).
Indicazione Geografica Protetta – Italian/EU system to protect the production of certain foodstuffs based on the concept of terroir.
The initial wobbly curd formed after the addition of rennet to heated milk. Junket is synonymous with curd.
The controlled storage of cheese. Different cheeses require different temperature and humidity ranges to mature to their optimum. Typically, hard cheeses of most types will mature well in a temperature range of between 53.6° F – 57.2° F and humidity between 85% and 90%.
The under-crust of the rind. The consistency of the nail can be an indicator of a high quality cheese. Present around the edges of the cheese, its color is slightly different to the inner paste, forming a border to the rind. It should be a fairly even thickness all the way around. An unpleasant tasting nail is a sure sign of a subpar cheese.
Italian for “spun paste” – a process in which curds are doused with boiling water and stretched before being molded into a desired shape, creating cheeses like mozzarella, provolone, burrata and scamorza.
The interior of a cheese beneath the outer rind, which can range in texture from soft and creamy to firm and smooth to hard, dry, and crumbly.
The process of heating something to a high temperature for a set length of time in order to kill off pathogens. Pasteurized cheese is made with milk heated to a temperature of 161° F for 15 seconds, or to 145° F for 30 minutes or more.
“Pecora” is the Italian word for sheep; pecorino is any cheese made with sheep’s milk.
An edible mold added to soft-ripened cheeses to promote the growth of a white, bloomy rind.
An edible mold used in the making of typically milder blue cheese like Gorgonzola and some varieties of Bleu d’Auvergne.
The primary blue mold used in the making of blue cheeses like Fourme d’Ambert, Roquefort, Shropshire Blue, and Stilton, Cambozola, Cashel Blue and Danish blue. Originally found in the cheese caves in Roquefort, France.
A measure of acidity. The lower the pH, the more acid. Neutral is 7.0
Milk that has not been pasteurized. U.S. law requires all cheese, both domestic and imported, which is less than 60 days old, to be made only from pasteurized milk, not raw.
An enzyme used in cheesemaking to break down the milk proteins so that they will coagulate into curds. Rennet is extracted from the 4th stomach of an unweaned calf, kid or lamb. The term now describes any enzyme used to curdle milk in cheesemaking. (see Vegetarian, or Non-animal rennet)
A word used to describe both the period of, and changes during the aging of a cheese.
The exterior of a cheese. Rinds can be natural or artificial, thick or thin, hard or soft, washed, oiled, brushed or flavored. They protect the cheese’s interior and allow it to ripen appropriately. Non-edible rinds are usually covered in plastic or wax, or are cloth-bound.
Adding salt to the curd. Salting helps to draw moisture and arrest the growth of bacteria and thus delay the development of acidity. Salting is usually one of the following three ways:
- By sprinkling salt directly onto the curd in the vat.
- By placing the freshly formed cheese into a salted water (brine) bath. This is the salting method for Parmigiano Reggiano and mozzarella.
- By rubbing salt into the skin of a newly made cheese. This is the salting method for Pecorino Romano.
Cheeses in this category span a wide variety, they’re all made with whole milk, and melt well when cooked. All cheeses in this category have a high moisture content. Mild when young, they usually develop a fuller, more intense flavor as they age. Soft-ripened cheeses are uncooked, unpressed cheese. As a result, these are creamy or even runny when fully ripe. They ripen from the outside in. Some soft-ripened cheeses ripen (or in some cases age) inside of a fluffy white rind and become softer and creamier as they mature. The rind is edible. It is produced by spraying the surface of the cheese with Penicillium candidum.
A bacterial culture that, when added to milk, consumes lactose and produces lactic acid. The resulting acidification is one of the preserving techniques used in cheesemaking.
The word whose root is stracciare (‘tearing to rags’) is the name of the filling of Burrata, made with torn pieces of mozzarella mixed with heavy cream, contained in a mozzarella pouch.
The process of heating milk to less than 160° F for fewer than 15 seconds prior to cheese production: this is a lower temperature for a shorter period of time than that of pasteurization. Cheesemakers often favor this method because enzymes and bacteria thought to be crucial for cheesemaking, survive in this gentler pasteurization method.
Triple cream, aka Triple-crème
A fresh soft French cheese containing at least 72% fat.
Seasonal guided migration of livestock to higher alpine pastures, where they graze on open fields of grass. Then the cheese is produced after each milking in the temporary farm (see Alpeggio).
Lover of cheese.
Amino acid clusters that naturally occur in mature cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, Gouda, Gruyère and Piave Vecchio after 8-10 months of aging. Most turophiles consider the crunchy texture one of the delights of the cheese. The word “tyrosine” is from the Greek tyrós, meaning cheese, as it was first discovered in 1846 by German chemist Justus von Liebig in the casein protein.
Italian for ‘drunk’ and a general term for wine-washed cheeses traditionally made in northern Italy (now increasingly produced elsewhere).
Veining, or Veins
The blue-green-gray mold in blue cheese.
Vegetarian, or Non-animal rennet
Today non-animal rennet (derived from artichoke, cardoon, wild thistle, fig latex and nettle plants), as well as microbial rennet (an enzyme extracted from mold) are commonly used instead of animal rennet. The ones made with the latter rennet are the only true vegetarian cheeses.
A cheese that is bathed in brine, whey, beer, cider, wine, or brandy during ripening to encourage the growth of B. linens bacteria, which lends a pungent aroma, full, salty flavor, and ultimately, a reddish-orange rind (think Taleggio or Epoisses).
A triangular section cut from the center of a wheel of cheese.
The liquid part of milk left after it’s been coagulated (the formation of curds).
We hope you found our Cheese Glossary useful. Stay tuned for more cheese content coming soon.