Cheese is delicious, there’s just no denying it. And while stuffing your face full of cheese for every meal (and snack in between) isn’t the wisest of health choices, true connoisseurs can rejoice in knowing that a recent study showed cheese consumption doesn’t increase the likelihood of heart attack or stroke. In fact, scientists have actually discovered a slightly lowered risk of heart disease associated with cheese consumption.
With such wonderful news in mind, it’s time to explore all the fantastic cheeses the dairy case has to offer!
How to Shop for Cheese
If at all possible, sample a small piece before you buy any cheese. The taste of cheese can differ from batch to batch or wheel to wheel, especially when it comes to product from smaller cheesemakers. Most cheese is sold in plastic wrap due to the higher cost of parchment paper, and as long as it’s being eaten relatively quickly, you can leave the cheese you buy wrapped in plastic.
Regardless of how a cheese is packaged, make sure you’re shopping at a store that has high product turnover. While certain firm cheeses are fine for longer periods of time, soft and semi-soft cheeses have a distinctly finite shelf life.
Raw Versus Pasteurized
Although raw milk cheesemaking is still popular in many parts of Europe, raw cheeses sold in the United States must abide by the 60-day rule. This means that the cheese must be aged for a 60-day period before being sold. While there is the potential for listeria growth in younger raw cheeses, cheeses that are pasteurized are still susceptible to listeria growth as long as the cheese is microbially alive.
If you’re pregnant, buying cheese, and worried about listeria, it’s wise to avoid any cheese that’s technically still living (such as blue, washed-rind, and bloomy rind cheeses). While raw milk cheeses have distinct nutritional benefits—including reducing symptoms of asthma and hay fever and aiding digestion—a 2017 study published in Cancer Research found that spermidine, a compound found in aged cheese, can prevent liver cancer.
Many popular cheeses are sold unpasteurized in the United States today. In order to be labeled as such, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyere, and Roquefort all must be made with unpasteurized milk and aged according to the 60-day rule.
Now, let’s get into the specifics of great cheeses so you can craft your perfect shopping list.
Cow’s Milk Cheeses
Because it’s the most prevalent milk in North America, cow’s milk cheeses are ubiquitous throughout fridges all across the country. Never boring and often surprising, artisan cow’s milk cheeses are experiencing a renaissance as cheesemakers experiment with time-honored recipes in small batches.
An award-winning cheese from Oregon, this complex pick is perfect for people just beginning their excursions into the world of blue cheese. Sweet white wines with plenty of body such as Gewürztraminer pair well with this cheese. It’ll also make an ideal accompaniment to your next whiskey or sherry-tasting session.
This funky washed-rind cheese from Jasper Hill Farms is an American riff on Vacherine Mont d’Or, an unpasteurized cheese from the Jura mountains along the French–Swiss border that is only available seasonally. Wrapped in spruce bark to contain its oozing middle, this cheese is pungent, savory, and tantalizingly creamy. Serve Winnimere with your favorite red ale, strong-bodied white wine, or medium-bodied Pinot Noir.
Goat’s Milk Cheeses
Goat’s milk cheeses in the United States are often relegated to the kind of fresh chevré that is most often seen topping salads and pasta dishes. While creamy chevré is an outstanding addition to many dishes, there’s a whole world of goat cheeses waiting to be discovered. Thanks to smaller protein chains, goat’s milk cheese is more easily digested than cow’s milk and has even been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Goat’s milk cheeses have a distinctive gamey taste and rich texture.
Goat cheddar will be right at home on a grilled cheese sandwich and can be used to make nachos or fondue. The older the cheddar is, the sharper its flavor will be.
Made by California’s Cypress Grove cheese alchemists, this stunning cheese is sure to be a showstopper on any cheese plate. Although Humboldt Fog looks like a blue cheese, this soft-ripened goat cheese has a layer of ash running through its center and is encased in a white bloomy rind. Depending on its age, a young Humboldt Fog will pair well with a rosé while an aged version can stand up to the intense hoppiness of an IPA.
Sheep’s Milk Cheeses
Sheep’s milk cheeses are easy to digest for most people, including individuals who suffer from lactose intolerance and lactose allergies. This is largely due to the fact that sheep’s milk cheeses have lower amounts of lactose than either goat or cow’s milk cheeses. Sheep’s milk cheeses tend to lack the gamey flavors definitive of many goat’s milk cheeses. Popular examples of sheep’s milk cheeses include:
A kitchen staple, this firm Italian grating cheese is great on pasta (especially in the delicious Cacio e Pepe). In fact, any cheese whose name features the prefix “pecorino” is made from sheep’s milk as the word “pecora” means sheep in Italian.
This versatile Spanish cheese is available in a variety of ages and is most often sold at 3, 6, or 12 months of age in the United States. Full of nutty and slightly fruity flavors, Manchego is incredibly wine friendly (white, red, and champagne all pair well).
Full of personality, this French bleu cheese is made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese that has been inoculated with Penicillium roqueforti. Roquefort has a tangy flavor that pairs best with fortified wines such as sherry or port, or sweet Rieslings, Gewürztraminers, and Muscats.