A rustic display of a variety of cheeses, creams and other assorted dairy products.
Food & Drink

Delicious Differences: Cheese

We’ve been eating cheese for thousands of years. Experts hypothesize that the first cheese might have been a happy accident created after milk curdled while being stored in the stomach casing of a sheep or cow. The results gave humans a new way to preserve milk without refrigeration.

Around the world, cheese is a large part of the culinary culture. The methods are often handed down for generations. The milk used has often been whatever’s most available. Countries like Turkey and Greece, which are among the top sheep milk producers, gave way to cheeses like kelle and tulum cheeses in the former and feta and kasseri in the latter. 

I’m a lover of all things cheese. So, when I started sharpening my skills in the kitchen, I took a deep dive into some of the things that make different types of cheese stand out from the rest.

Different aging styles, different flavor profiles

Cheddar is my go-to cheese — it’s also the most widely eaten cheese in the world. I use it to top my casseroles, jazz up my omelets, and even pair with apple pie Vermont style. When I first started learning about cheese, I decided to begin my search with cheddar. I discovered that England is where this versatile cheese got its start. 

In my quest to learn more about the way different cultures prepare cheese, I decided to investigate the difference between English cheddar and the American version. I found out that the way the cheese is aged is the biggest difference. In England, it gets wrapped in cheesecloth as it ages. The resulting flavors vary. It’s often described as caramelized, earthy, or nutty. 

Although the early American settlers started out using the same aging methods, they soon realized that climate required a different kind of protection. Because we wrap our cheddar up tightly in wax, the cheese doesn’t lose moisture or risk spoilage like cloth-bound cheese does. This allows American cheesemakers to age their cheddar for longer and achieve stronger flavors.

When I first started learning about cheese, I decided to begin my search with cheddar. I discovered that England is where this versatile cheese got its start.

Milk matters

Clearly, the aging process plays a role in defining the flavor of cheese. As a cheese lover, I also wanted to get a clear picture on the flavor differences that milk makes. 

Cow’s milk: Like many Americans, I’ve always been most familiar with cheese made from cow’s milk. It’s the default source for the milk we drink and use for dairy products. Because cows eat grass and some soil along with it, the cheese has a bit of an earthy taste. Cow’s milk has large fat molecules, which can be challenging for some people to digest. It also gives these cheeses a heavier feel than goat cheese, which has a comparable fat level.

Goat’s milk: Goats eat different foods than cows, including thorny grasses and brambles. This typically gives the milk a strong flavor. Additionally, female goats sometimes experience spikes in their hormone levels, which can give the milk a distinct flavor that many describe as “barnyard.” The fat molecules in goat’s milk are small and the curds that cheesemakers get from it tend to be softer than cow’s milk. The cheese is bright and acidic, and it has a distinct tang. As the cheese ages, it gains more earthy and creamy flavors.

Sheep’s milk: Sheep’s milk has the highest protein and fat content of the three milk sources. That means that it takes less milk to make cheese compared to the same volume of sheep’s or cow’s milk. It has a high content of butterfat, which gives sheep’s milk cheese a rich, buttery flavor. Younger cheeses may be slightly gamy or nutty.

Top countries for cheese lovers to visit

I’m always on the lookout for new travel adventures. I gain culinary inspiration while satisfying my wanderlust. As I continued on my quest to find out more about the delicious differences of the cheese from various cultures and countries, I decided to make my travel bucket list, which includes my top five picks for countries where I want to taste all the flavors. This includes:

Mexico: They’ve been making cheese since the 16th century after the Europeans introduced dairy to the country. My favorites are queso anejo, cotija, and queso panela. 

The Netherlands: Cheesemakers here have perfected the process of making gouda cheese. They’ve been at it since 1184 or earlier, and they’re among the top cow’s milk consumers in the world.

France: Step aside brie; you’re not the only French cheese in town. I’m dying to taste the flavors of authentic French cheeses for myself. My dream samples range from creamy, nutty chaumes to creamy, spreadable fromage blanc to intensely flavored, mushroom-like camembert de Normandie.

Norway: Fudgy, caramelized gjetost has me dreaming of the sweet-savory contrast of a Norwegian waffle topped with their iconic cheese and raspberry jam.

India: I think India would be a foodie’s dream trip for many reasons. From a cheese perspective, I’m interested in sampling aged kalari, made in Kashmir, along with chhurpi, a hard yak’s milk cheese made in the Himalayas.

From all the research I’ve done, I know that I’ve only grazed the tip of the cheese wheel. Every chance I get, I try to incorporate new varieties into my cooking whether I’m making for a crowd or just experimenting for myself. For example, I recently made my favorite comfort dish — macaroni and cheese. Instead of my regular cheddar mix with a tiny bit of blue, I used a creamy, salty, slightly lemony Welsh Caerffili with nutty gouda from the Netherlands. 

I’ve also used the pasta attachment on my KitchenAid mixer to make fresh pasta. Then, I tossed it with Pecorino Toscano, which has a high level of butterfat. It added an unctuous quality to my riff on cacio e pepe. I’m excited to continue tasting my way through the cheese world, even if it’s just with different spins on my macaroni and cheese.