Crumbly. Firm. Silky. Soft. These are just a few of the mouth-watering descriptions we use to describe the texture or feel, of our favourite cheeses. And texture, is in fact, one of the most important ways cheeses are marketed and classified.
Depending on how they were made, cheeses may be supple, grainy, creamy, or hard. In general, texture is largely dependent on moisture content and age. Softer cheeses are higher in moisture content, while hard ones may be subjected to heat and longer storage periods to make them drier. Let’s take a look at how various cheese textures are created and classified.
Fresh vs. Ripened
Firstly, cheeses can be broken down into two very broad types: fresh and ripened. Fresh (unripened) cheeses are ready to be eaten soon after the whey is drained from the curds. They may be pressed or moulded into different shapes, but they are almost all delicate in flavour and quite soft, milky or spreadable in texture. The most popular fresh cheeses are Ricotta, Mascarpone, Cottage Cheese and Cream Cheese.
With ripened or aged cheeses, the curds are further drained by a variety of methods including cooking, soaking or bacteria inoculation. After curing, ripened cheeses are stored according to various “recipes” depending on the cheese type being produced. By using various temperature and humidity controlled environments, cheese makers can achieve a variety of characters and textures.
Hard: Cooked, pressed, and typically aged for at least two years, these cheeses are famously firm and dry. Well-known varieties include Parmesan, Asiago, and Pecorino.
Semi-Firm: These cheeses are cooked and pressed, but not aged as long as the cheeses in the hard category. They are generally firm, but not crumbly. Popular semi-firm cheeses include Cheddar, Swiss, and Edam.
Semi-Soft: Soft, yet sliceable, these cheeses are pressed and may be cooked or uncooked. Cheeses in the semi-soft category include Tilsit, Gouda, and Monterey Jack.
Soft-Ripened: These surface-ripened cheeses are neither cooked nor pressed. Instead they are subjected to various bacteria processes to ripen them from the outside in. Soft-ripened cheeses develop white or golden-coloured rinds and they range from semi-soft to quite creamy. Favoured varieties include Brie, Camembert, and Pont L’Évêque.
Some cheeses achieve unique texture qualities through special cheese making techniques. Blue cheeses, for example, are inoculated, punctured or sprayed with spores of moulds like Penicillium roqueforti during the ageing period. These cheeses develop veins and pockets of blue-green mould, creating their characteristic creamy and crumbly-gritty texture. Another category of special process cheese is called “pasta filata.” To make these “spun paste” cheeses, the curd is put in a hot whey bath and kneaded and stretched until pliable. Pasta filata cheeses include the famous stringy-textured, stretched-curd Mozzarella and Provolone from Italy.
Storing According to Texture
To fully appreciate the distinctive textures of your favourite cheeses, it’s important to store them according to type. Follow these simple tips and you’ll enjoy every last creamy, crumbly bite.
Fresh cheeses like Ricotta, Pot Cheese, and Cream Cheese are highly perishable. Be sure to buy them at markets with rapid turnover and always check the packages for expiry dates. Once home, tightly wrap fresh cheeses and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator for no more than two weeks. Cream Cheese should be rewrapped and used within one week of opening. And to keep cottage cheese fresher longer, simply turn the sealed container over and store upside down.
To bring cheeses like Brie and Camembert to perfect ripeness, tightly wrap and store them at a cool room temperature for a day or so. Once ripened, tightly re-wrap and store in the coldest part of the refrigerator for no more than two weeks. Mould on soft-ripened cheese is an indicator that it's well past its prime and must be discarded.
Firm, Semi-Firm and Semi-Soft
Cheeses such as Parmesan, Cheddar, and Gouda should be wrapped airtight in a plastic bag and placed in your refrigerator’s cheese compartment (or the warmest location). Most varieties will keep for several weeks. For longer storage, lightly dampen a paper towel with cider vinegar and fold around the cheese before wrapping and refrigerating. This will help inhibit mould growth. If a little mould does appear on firm, semi-firm, or semi-soft cheeses, simply cut away the moulded portion and discard. The rest of the cheese is still good to eat!