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Cheese Glossary: A Glossary Of The Different Cheese Types

Page 1: Cheese Glossary A

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  Jasper Hill Farm
Wonderful wheels! Photo courtesy Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont.

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


The aging of cheese to its optimum maturity. Affinage is an expertise separate from cheesemaking. It is an analogous division of labor to the agriculturalist who grows the grapes and the winemaker who creates the wine. The affineur manages the cave* in which the cheeses are aged. Fine restaurants noted for their cheeses and which offer many different cheeses, like Picholine and Artisanal in New York City, have a full-time affineur to ensure the cheeses offered to diners are at peak development (“a point”) for their enjoyment.

*In the industry the French pronunciation, cahve, is used. While some farmstead cheeses in Europe are aged in the same rock caves used 1,000 years ago to acquire the bacteria and other environmental elements that provide their distinctive qualities, today’s aging caves are state-of-the-art units that allow for different temperature zones and other settings that accommodate the needs of different types of cheese.


The late Daphne Zepos, one of the pioneers in American affinage. Photo courtesy Artisanal Cheese.
Except for the fresh cheese group, all cheeses are aged, or ripened. The longer they are aged, the harder the paste becomes (that’s the main edible portion under the rind) and the more pronounced (sharp) the flavor. Some cheeses are made to age for two years or longer—Asiago, Cheddar, Gouda and Parmigiano-Reggiano, for example. Others age for just a few weeks to several months before they are ready to enjoy. See maturation.



Refers to cheeses made from Alpine meadow milk

  Aged Cheese
Aged cheeses: Gruyère, Emmenthaler, Grana Padano and Cheddar. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
Alpine cheese refers to a range of cheese produced in the Swiss and French Alps. These “mountain cheeses” are only produced in the summer months, using milk from cows that spend the summer on mountain pasture, enjoying the grass plus herbs that are unique to each region. The milk creates strong, aromatic cheeses, often made in large wheels. Cheeses include Appenzeller, Gruyère, Raclette and Vacherin Mont-d’Or, among others. See also mountain cheese and Swiss cheese.


Vacherin Mont d’Or: a real treat. Photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese.

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.



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. Cheese is naturally the color of the milk from which it is made. Some traditional cheeses once had a natural orange hue caused by the vitamin D that cows ingested from grazing on green plants. But commercial cheeses are made from milk from cows that aren’t permitted to graze. Even with fine cheese, winter milk comes from cows that are fed silage (forage plants that are stored in a silo); the cheeses that result from this milk are white. This variation persuaded some cheesemakers to color their cheeses so they would look uniformly nutritious.

The earliest cheese colorings were carrot juice and marigold petals. For the last century at least, cheesemakers who wish to use color have used annatto instead. It is used in cheeses such as Brie and Cheddar, in butter and margarine and in custard powder (and has numerous non-dairy applications, such as smoked fish). While annatto adds a slightly sweet and peppery flavor to recipes, it does not impact the flavor of the cheese.

Annatto seeds, also called achiote for the achiote tree on which they grow. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

Controlled designation of origin, the AOC mark guarantees, among other things, 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, which guarantees that: (1) The cheese was produced within a specific geographical area, from milk from specific herds of animals in the same area and partly matured there. (2) The cheese was made using strictly defined methods that have been handed-down over several centuries. (3) The characteristics of the cheese that have been precisely defined—its size, type of rind, texture and minimum fat content—are adhered to strictly.
(4) The producers submit themselves to review by a public control commission, which guarantees the authenticity and quality of the products. See also D.O. and D.O.P.


  Goat Cheese
Selles-sur-Cher was the first chèvre to be designated AOC, in 1975. It is made of raw goat’s milk. Photo courtesy


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.”




A cheese’s scent, which can vary from faint and milky (fresh cheeses), to lightly aromatic, to pungent and overpowering. While most strong-smelling cheeses will also be strong-tasting, this is not a hard and fast rule: Limburger, Brick and Liederkranz have distinctive aromas, but are not overly strong-tasting cheeses unless well-aged.


Another word for a washed rind cheese, such as Epoisses, Livarot and Munster. See washed rind cheese.

Limberger may be the most famous “stinky” cheese because of the old TV series, Spanky And Our Gang, where the kids hated the aroma. This washed rind cheese, or aromatic, was originally created by Belgian Trappist monks. It originated in the historical Duchy of Limburg, which is now divided between modern-day Belgium, Germany and Netherlands. In the 1880s, New Yorker Emil Frey copied the recipe for Limburger and created Liederkranz. This pasteurized cow’s milk cheese has a tangy, creamy, Brie-like flavor with an incredibly pungent aroma. Photo courtesy




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. See also farmstead cheesefor the difference between artisan cheese and farmstead cheese.


After they are molded into shape, some goat cheeses are dusted with a fine powder of charcoal ash, traditionally from oak but today often vegetable ash. These are known as ash-covered goat cheeses (or chèvres). Originally, the ash was used to protect the delicate cheeses during transport. While some people think it is now decorative in these days of modern transportation and refrigeration, the ash actually makes the cheese ripen more quickly. With the Valençay goat cheese at the right, the ash-covered variety is a bit creamier than the plain cheese of the exact same age; in general, the cheese gets creamier with age.


Valençay, named after a town in France’s Loire Valley where it is made, is shaped like a pyramid with the top cut off (in fact, it is sometimes called Pyramide). This classic French chèvre is available plain or coated with wood ash. You can buy it from

One of the most common Italian cheeses, Asiago is a grana-type cheese, made from cow’s milk. It is a sweet curd, semi-cooked cheese in the grana group, a group that also includes Grana Padano and Parmigiano Romano. (Grana is the Italian word for grain; it refers to a coarse-grained cheese.) Typically pale yellow in color, Asiago has a mild, cheddary, nutty flavor; it gets more flavorful and more crumbly as it ages.
See a comparison of Asiago, Grana Padano and Parmigiano-Romano.

Continue To Page 2: Cheese Terms Beginning With B
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Thanks to Artisanal Cheese, iGourmet, Murray’s Cheese Shop, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and other experts who contributed their expertise to this glossary.

  Asiago Cheese
Asiago cheese with figs. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
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Last Updated  May 2018

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