If you find yourself daydreaming about nachos or lovingly describing your last fondue, you’re not alone. Cheese is a dietary staple on every continent in the world, and recent studies have found the soft, tangy treat to be just as addictive as drugs due to the fact that the fats in cheese trigger the release of casomorphins, or opiates in the body that flood our brains with a sense of reward, which can be addictive.
So consume at your own risk, but if you’re not quite ready to kick the hard stuff, here’s a buyers’ guide that will help you categorize different types of cheese and maybe even inspire you to try something new.
How Do We Classify Cheese?
According to Cara Warren, east coast sales representative for Isigny America, an international cheese cooperative, your local grocer or cheese monger’s case is divided by rind type and cheese making style. "The case is usually divided by aged sheep's milk cheeses, washed rind cheeses, bloomy rind cheeses, aged cow's milk cheeses, and then blue cheeses,” Warren says.
Normally, a grocer’s case will have goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and cow’s milk cheeses. Sheep’s milk cheeses contain the most butterfat of all the animals, and will generally have a fuller, richer taste.
Washed rind cheeses are the ones we usually think of as "stinky,” though newcomers shouldn’t let the term throw them off. Washed rind cheese, which is usually sticky with a reddish or pink exterior, can also have bread-like, or even beefy flavor. The taste, explains Warren, comes from the aging process.
"Washed rind cheeses which can be soft and fruity like Taleggio, while others are more nutty and firm like Gruyere, but they're all washed every other day during the ripening stage with a brine solution that usually has a fortified wine or local spirit added to the solution to develop bacteria to seal in the cheese and ripen the paste,” Warren says.
Bloomy rind cheeses, on the other hand, have soft, edible rinds, like those found on camembert and brie, and are often known for their "mushroomy” flavor.
And while blue cheese has a tendency to freak people out, probably because of its namesake blue mold powder added during the cheese making process, the cheese can actually be quite buttery, like brie, as in Cambozola or nutty and spicy, like Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue, a Vermont cheese that Warren says "you cannot make anywhere else in the world.”
If you’re looking for an aged gouda or clothbound cheddar, Warren says, you’d probably do best to look outside the cheese case, as those are usually too large to store comfortably.
How Should You Buy Cheese?
The bad news, according to Warren, is that you get what you pay for when it comes to cheese, and a really good one can run you upwards of twenty dollars per pound.
"If a cheese has a silky texture and flavors that mingle long after you taste it, that probably means this is very high quality cheese, but that may also mean the cheese is going to be $35 a pound.”
The good news is, a pound is probably much more cheese than you’d want to buy. Most good cheese shops or counters will let you taste different cheeses and then offer to cut you as little as a quarter pound to enjoy at home.
And once you’ve bought a new cheese, you should protect your investment! The American Cheese Society recommends wrapping uneaten cheese first in wax or parchment paper and then in plastic wrap to seal in air and moisture and prevent the cheese from drying out. Store it in the refrigerator, preferably away from other strong-smelling foods. They also recommend fresh wrappings each time the cheese is taken out of the refrigerator to prevent your cheese from picking up other flavors.
The most important part of cheese buying: indulgence. Don’t be afraid to try something new and decadent. Get those reward centers firing!