How to Pick the Perfect Cheese

With a veritable galaxy of cheese on offer it can be a daunting task to choose the right cheese for an occasion, to match to wine or for personal preferences. 

We asked Russel Smith, Chief Judge for the Australian Grand Dairy Awards, to explain the various cheese types and what to do with them. 

Fresh Unripened Cheese 

This cheese group includes cottage cheese, cream cheese, feta, ricotta, chevre, labne and mascarpone.

Qualities

  • These cheeses are known for their delicate milk flavours and are made by gently souring milk with special cultures or acid.
  • With no rind and a soft texture, they are high in moisture and generally lower in fat than firmer cheeses.
  • Often used in cooking and baking due to their versatility and convenience.

How to Select

  • Fresh cheeses that are snowy white in colour. They should be moist but free from excess liquid.
  • Finally, they should be fresh and milk smelling with a sweet or pleasantly sour aroma.

What to Pair With

  • Fresh berries, seasonal fruits or honey if you’re after a sweet partner.
  • Tomatoes, olives, smoked fish and cured meats are good go to savoury options.

How to Use

  • Within a few days or purchase or by the best before date.
  • These cheeses are best served cool, unlike mature cheeses which are best served at room temperature. Take them out of the fridge about 10-15 minutes before serving to take off the chill.

White Mould Cheese

This cheese group includes camembert, brie, double brie and triple cream.

Qualities

  • White mould cheeses (like brie, camembert and triple cream) are known for their rich, buttery flavours and creamy texture.
  • They ripen from the outside in towards the centre, once the mould has fully covered the rind of the cheese.

How to Select

  • A cheese with a velvety white rind, with no dry edges. A ripe cheese will show signs of breakdown on the rind which indicates it’s at its peak. 
  • The centre of the cheese should ooze or bulge when cut – if you can’t see the inside of the cheese, test with a gentle squeeze as you would for an avocado – soft and the edges and in the middle!

What to Pair With

  • Fresh stone fruits such as nectarines or cherries, or baked apples, pears and fruit bread for a sweet partner.
  • Roast chicken, ham, nuts, lavosh or smoked salmon for savoury.

How to Use

  • These cheeses are best consumed around the time of their best before date, so use the best before as an indication as to when the cheese is at its peak.

Blue Cheese

Qualities

  • From milky and sweet to strong and spicy, blue cheese covers a range of styles from creamy to crumbly
  • The flavour develops from the blue, grey or green veins that develop as the cheese matures.
  • Blue mould spores are inoculated into the milk during cheesemaking. During maturation, the cheesemaker spikes the cheese with stainless steel needles to allow air to penetrate the cheese, which allows the blue mould to start growing.
  • Australian manufacturers produce blue cheese in a variety of styles and market them under specific brand names.

How to Select

  • Blue cheeses with even veins radiating out from the centre right to the edges.
  • The rind should be damp but not too sticky – avoid blues with wet or sticky rinds.
  • The colour of the veining can range from blue to green or grey – as a general rule, the more veins in the cheese, the stronger the flavour.
  • Avoid cheese with excessive cracks or splits in the rind or with excessive browning on the cut face of the cheese.

What to Pair With

  • Meats including pork and steak or earthy vegetables such as mushrooms, roasted beetroot or potatoes for a savoury partner.
  • Opt for honey, quince paste and other fruit pastes, pecans or figs for sweet pairings.

How to Use

  • Crumbled through salads, or combine with sour cream to dollop on potatoes or steak. Melt through cream as a sauce for pasta of gnocchi or stir into risotto.

Cheddar Style Cheese

Cheddar-styles include: Cheddar, Cheshire, Colby, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester

Qualities

  • Cheddar is Australia’s most popular cheese.
  • The many variations of cheddar reflect different cheese-making methods and the length of maturation.
  • For example, a vintage cheddar crumbles in the mouth and has a deep lingering flavour perfect for a cheese platter, whereas a mild cheddar will slice well for sandwiches etc.

How to Select

  • A cheese with an even yellow colour (cloth-wrapped cheddars can be darker around the rind).
  • Young cheddars will have a smooth texture, mature cheddars should have a crumbly (but not hard) texture that is free from excessive dryness or surface cracks.
  • The longer the cheese is aged the more the flavour and texture will develop – often small white crystals will appear in vintage cheeses which indicate a well matured Cheddar and contributes to the “bitey” flavour and mouthfeel many seek out.
  • Cloth wrapped cheddar – traditionally all cheddar was made in wheels wrapped in cloth, which allows the cheese to breathe and protects the rind. As the cheese ages it develops a distinctive earthy flavour and crumbly texture.
  • Waxed cheddar – cheddar coated in wax develops a moist texture and a fruity flavour profile which is well loved in Australia.
  • Rindless cheddar – is matured in a vacuum-sealed bag which prevents moisture loss, so it develops a similar flavour profile to waxed cheddar. It is generally moist in texture although vintage versions can be crumbly.

What to Pair With

  • Try pickled vegetables, piccalilli, mustard or chutney if you’re looking for a savoury options. Smoked meats and smoked almonds go particularly well.
  • For a sweet option fresh or baked apples and pears, grapes, fresh or dried figs always go well with cheddars. Fruitcake is a surprisingly great pairing for vintage cheddar.

How to Use

  • The possibilities are endless, milder cheddars are a great melting cheese for sandwiches etc. While vintage cheddar works wonderfully on a cheese platter.

Cheese Glossary – Know your cheese speak

Farmhouse Cheese
Cheese made on the farm using only milk from that farm.

Surface Ripened
Cheese that ripen from the outside in towards the centre. They normally have a coating of special moulds on the outside, such as white mould and washed rind cheeses.

Maturation
Also known as ripening or ageing. Fresh cheese are not matured, but most other cheeses spend some time maturing before they are ready to eat – e.g. white mould cheeses are matured for about 6-8 weeks, and cheddar cheeses can be matured for anything from three months to two years.

Rind
The external surface of the cheese. It can consist of moulds or bacteria (in the case of white mould and washed rind cheeses), a hard crust (such as parmesan or gruyere), or be covered in cloth or wax (as for many cheddars). Generally, fresh cheeses don’t have a rind.

Ripening
Refers to the process of maturation, in which the cheese blooms to its peak flavour and texture – at which point it’s referred to as “ripe”.  Cheese is usually ripe around the time of its best before date, so use it as a guide. Like fruit, cheese will also eventually become overripe and much like an overripe banana the point in which people find it unpleasant to eat is varied.

 

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