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Cheese Glossary: A Glossary Of The Different Cheese Types

Page 10: Cheese Glossary S

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  Swiss Cheese
What Americans think of as “Swiss cheese”—with holes, or eyes, is actually just one type of Swiss called Emmenthaler. The different types of Swiss cheese are listed below. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

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.

  Semi-Hard Cheeses
Semi-soft cheeses. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
Semi-soft cheeses include Asadero, brick, Butter Käse, some crottins, Edam, some Fontina, Gorgonzola, young Gouda, Havarti, Limburger, some Monterey Jack, Muenster, young Provolone, Teleme, some Tilsit and Roquefort. Both semi-hard and semi-soft cheeses can also belong to other categories; for example, Bloomy Rind cheese or Surface Ripened cheese.

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.


  Semisoft Cheeses
Semi-soft cheeses. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
Sheep produce less milk by volume than cows or goats, accounting for the higher price of sheep cheese. Many sheep milk cheeses are formed into mid-size (five pounds) wheels. Examples include Pecorino Toscano From Tuscany, Agour Ossau-Iraty from the French Pyrenees and Manchego from Spain. Milked twice a day, sheep produce one quart of milk, goats produce 3-5 quarts of milk and cows produce 8-20 quarts per day. Also see cow’s milk, goat’s milk and water buffalo’s milk.


  Pecorino Toscano
Pecorino Toscano, a sheep’s milk cheese from Tuscany. Photo courtesy iGourmet.
Sheep produce less milk by volume than goats or cows. Many sheep milk cheeses are formed into wheels in the middle of the size spectrum, such as Abbay du Belloc, Pecorino Ginepro and Vermont Shepherd. In general, sheep milk is sweet and nutty and has a distinct flavor characteristic often described as wooly. Sheep milk has a higher fat content than either cow or goat milk. More about sheep cheeses

Silage is grass or other green fodder that compacted and stored airtight in a silo, without first being dried (like hay). It is used as
animal feed in the winter, for animals who typically graze on grass in the warmer months.


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


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.

Also called fresh cheese, a category of cheeses with high moisture content that are typically direct set with the addition of lactic acid cultures. Cheeses in this category include Cottage Cheese, Cream Cheese, Feta, Mascarpone, and Neufchatel, Ricotta and Queso Blanco. These cheeses must be consumed quickly; they are not made to age.



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, St. Andre and Teleme. 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 (see bloomy rind cheeses) 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.

  Soft Ripened Cheeses
Soft-ripened cheeses. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
Cheeses can be placed in a smoker to add a layer of smoked flavor. Examples include Gouda, Idiazabal, a handmade, unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese from the Spanish Pyrenees; and Rauchkäse, a smoked cheese from Bavaria. Any cheese can be smoked—from a fresh cheese like mozzarella, a Cheddar or a blue cheese. One of our favorite smoked cheeses is Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue, a smoked version of its Oregon Blue.
Regular Gouda (red wax)and smoked Gouda. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
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 is a type of Italian cow’s-milk cheese, about 50% milkfat, found in the Italian region of Lombardy. (Stracchino Crescenza has a somewhat higher milk fat content and a slightly creamier texture.) Eaten very young (i.e., minimally aged), it has a soft, creamy texture and a mild and delicate flavor—not unlike American cream cheese, but slightly more acidic. It is sold in a square or rectangular form. Stracchino can be used on pizza, in risotto, on focaccia, baked, or drizzled with honey for dessert. 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.

A cheese with a penetrating aroma and flavor.



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


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.


  Surface Ripened Cheeses
Surface-ripened cheeses. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
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. The categories of Swiss cheese include:

  • Extra-Hard: Sbrinz
  • Hard: Emmentaler (or Emmenthaler or Emmental), Gruyère/Greyerzer, Sapsago, Vacherin Fribourgeois
  • Semi-Hard: Appenzeller, Bündner Bergkäse, Mutschli, Raclette cheese, Tête de Moine, Tilsiter
  • Semi-Soft: Vacherin Mont d’Or
  • Soft: Gala

*Three types of bacteria are used in the production of Emmentaler cheese: Streptococcus thermophilis, Lactobacillus, and Propionibacter shermani. In a late stage of cheese production, P. shermani consumes the lactic acid excreted by the other bacteria, and releases carbon dioxide gas. This forms the bubbles that appear to be “holes” when the cheese is sliced. The cheese industry calls these holes or tunnels “eyes.” Swiss cheese without eyes is known as “blind.”

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Tilsiter is a semi-hard Swiss cheese. This Tilsiter is available at iGourmet.
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Last Updated  May 2018

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