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In France, cheese is an art form, and there is a rather heated debate regarding the pasteurization of cheese. Some assert that pasteurized cheese is superior, while others contend there is no difference where taste and quality are concerned between pasteurized and raw cheese.
Unpasteurized cheese, referred to as raw cheese, is made from milk that has not been pasteurized (heated to a temperature above 145° F). This allows the natural bacteria present in raw milk to continue to grow. Many cheese enthusiasts feel that this makes the cheese more flavorful and authentic.
Because of FDA regulations, it is illegal to sell unpasteurized cheese in the United States unless the cheese has been aged for at least 60 days. After this amount of time, harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli will die off, making the cheese safe for consumption. This means that raw cheeses that are meant to be consumed before 60 days of aging, such as Brie and Reblochon, are not sold in the U.S. Pasteurized versions are available, but these tend to be milder and less authentic.
Pasteurized cheese is made from milk that has been heated to at least 145° F to kill off any harmful bacteria that may be present. The bacteria necessary for making certain cheeses are then added back in during production. The difference is obvious, though, since a raw cheese will have an uneven, colorful rind, while a pasteurized cheese will have a monochromatic, even rind. Many connoisseurs say the pasteurization also affects the taste.
As the cheese debate goes on, many Americans say the FDA ban on raw cheeses is unnecessary. They refer to all of the European cheeses consumed with little incident of food poisoning. But still, the FDA holds firm and says they're acting in the best interest of Americans by keeping raw cheeses out of the country. So for now, the French have the corner on the raw cheese market.
France is home to so many types of cheese, it can be a little overwhelming to keep track of them all. Luckily, the French have developed a classification system of eight groups to help sort things out. Even if you tried a new kind of French cheese every day, it would still take you more than a year to try them all. Les huit familles des fromage (the 8 families of cheese) can steer you in the right direction when choosing French cheeses.
Fresh Cheeses - These white cheeses contain a lot of water and are not aged. They are eaten in a manner similar to yogurt or are used for baking or cooking. They can be made from cow, goat or sheep milk. (Petit Suiss, Brousse)
Soft Cheeses with Natural Rind - Made from cow's milk, these cheeses are aged for about one month. In France, they are traditionally served after the main course. (Brie, Camembert)
Soft Cheeses with Washed Rind - Similar to soft cheeses with a natural rind, these cheeses are made from cow's milk but the rind is washed during the aging process. This keeps mold from forming there and makes the rind soft and colorful. These cheeses are popular choices for French cheese platters. (Munster, Reblochon)
Pressed Cheeses - These cheeses are pressed during processing to remove all of the water. They are then turned, washed and aged for several months to form a uniform rind. (Cantal, Ossau-Iraty)
Pressed and Cooked Cheeses - Commonly produced in the mountain regions of France, these cheeses are a favorite topping for hot dishes. During processing, they are heated for about an hour before they are left in large canisters to age for a long time. (Emmental and Gruyère)
Goat Cheese - More than one hundred varieties of goat cheese come from France. They are artfully presented in many different shapes and sizes, and even in specialized little boxes. (Crottin de Chavignol, Selles-sur-Cher)
Blue Cheeses - These cheeses are so named because of the blue or green veins that run through them. They are ripened for a very long time and have a very strong smell to match. Blue cheeses are a great addition to any cheese platter. (Bleu de Bresse, Roquefort)
Processed Cheeses - These cheeses are used as a spread and are blended together from other types of French cheeses. They are often seasoned with pepper, garlic or other herbs. (Boursin)
This quick guide is just an introduction to the many, many delicious cheeses that come from France. Find a category that best suites your preferences and dig in!
Cheese is big business in Switzerland, where they produce over 180,000 tons of cheese each year. Most of it is produced in small, local dairies and only 1/3 of that cheese is exported to other countries. Different regions in Switzerland are known for different types of cheeses and you could make a career out of traveling around the country, eating to your heart's content. If taking an actual cheese tour of Switzerland isn't convenient for you, here are some of the highlights you can try right in your own home.
Commonly known as Swiss cheese, Emmentaler comes from the Emme river valley region. It has been produced since the 12th century and has been perfected over time. It is most easily recognized by the holes, or eyes, that are formed by carbon dioxide bubbles that are released during the late stages of production.
Appenzeller cheese is produced from a 700 year old recipe in about 75 dairies in the Appenzell region. It is used in many popular dishes and has a strong, distinguished smell that comes from the use of herbal brine during the curing process. It has a nutty or fruity flavor, depending on the type, and can be artfully paired with various foods. Like Emmentaler cheese, Appenzeller is full of holes, but they are much smaller.
If you're hungry for fondue, Gruyère is a very good option. It melts beautifully and is also great for baking. In some dairies it is made by hand, over an open fire, on a daily basis. Gruyère is named after the town of Gruyères but is produced in a few different areas. Its distinctive taste is not overpowering and blends well with other flavors.
These are just a few of the decadent cheeses from Switzerland that give a whole new meaning to the term “Swiss cheese.” With so many options to choose from, there are endless possibilities of tasty things to create from this region of the world.
There are two types of Gloucester cheeses, double and single, though the exact reason for the names are under some debate. Single Gloucester was used from milk that had been skimmed once. It is a flat, disc shaped hard cheese. Double Gloucester has a light orange hue that was originally caused by the cows eating summer grass high in carotene, but is now more commonly the result of the addition of annatto. It was made with milk from the evening milking with the addition of cream from the morning’s milking.
Lancashire cheese was traditionally made by farmer’s wives in the county of Lancashire. The small farms often did not produce enough surplus milk to make a whole cheese and there was no refrigeration to preserve the milk, so the surplus was generally made into curd and stored overnight to be mixed with milk and curd from the next day. Lancashire cheese can be produced to be creamy, rich, or crumbly.
What we call Red Leicester today used to be known as Leicestershire Cheese, named (as many other English cheeses) for the county where it originated. It can be traced back to the 1600s when farmers in Leicestershire wanted to make their cheese look and taste different from the cheeses produced in other regions. They began coloring the cheese with annatto to give it its characteristic dark orange, almost red, color. This coloring mimics the natural coloring of milk made from cows that have eaten rich healthy grass.
A cheese unique to England, Stilton is a soft, creamy cheese with distinctive blue lines running through it. It has a nutty flavor and is slightly acidic when young and gets creamier and mellower with age. It pairs well with dessert and Port and is traditionally eaten in England at Christmastime.
Wensleydale cheese was first made by Cistercian monks, but today is mostly made in creameries. It is a young, crumbly cheese with sweet hints of lemon and honey. Like cheddar, it is very versatile and goes well with a slice of bread or on a fancy cheese tray. You can also find a mild Bleu Wensleydale.
It is estimated that England produces more than 700 types of cheese, more than any other country in the world. The most famous English cheese is cheddar, but it is also well known for several other varieties. We’ll talk about cheddar in another post, but here is an overview of some of the other delicious English cheeses.
(Want to try these out for yourself? Shop our selection of English cheeses!)
Caerphilly is a crumbly cheese similiar to Cheshire, young Lancashire, and Wensleydale. It originated in a South Wales mining town of the same name. It became popular among the mine workers because its tough coat made it easy to eat with dirty hands and the salty flavor helped replace the minerals lost sweating away in the mine.
Cheshire is one of England’s oldest cheeses, dating back to the Roman era. It is said that the Roman soldiers would stick a block of Cheshire cheese on their swords and melt it over the fire. Most Cheshire cheeses are made in factories now and have a mild flavor, but the Cheshire cheeses that are made on the farms of Chesire, Shropshire, and Staffordshire have a nice, slightly marine taste because of the salt in the soil there. It is a firm, crumbly cheese that pairs well with fruit and wine. It also melts well, lending itself well to cooking.
Derby cheese was traditionally made directly on the dairy farms where the cows lived who produced the milk, but has the distinction of being made in the first creamery in the United Kingdom when a group of farmers pooled their milk to make the cheese on a large scale. It was generally sold at a younger age than cheddar and Cheshire and as a result is softer and more moist. As a young cheese, it is springy and mild, but develops a subtle sweet flavor and a firmer texture as it ages.