Navigate the Cheese Aisle with This Simple Tip

July 11, 2017

Oh, cheese. Ooey, gooey, tangy, sharp, smoky, smelly cheese. It’s my ultimate comfort, a supportive friend at the end of a long week. But, when I wander down my grocery store’s cheese aisle, or glance at a dessert menu’s cheese list, butterflies in my chest accelerate to hummingbird speeds. I know I like Brie. Havarti is my preferred night cheese. Cheddar tastes like childhood. But I’m not fluent in cheese, and fancy names and labels utterly confound me.

James Ransom Photo by James Ransom

Which is why I’m grateful for food stylist and writer Suzanne Lenzer, whose new book Graze guides readers from dish to dish without committing to a single one, and brings me one step closer to cheese competence. In order to navigate the American and European cheese divide, Lenzer shares a lesson from a cheesemonger friend (Where can I get one of those??).

“European cheese names encompass a broad array of eating experiences, while American cheeses have one name for each cheese,” she writes. “Meaning, you may like Manchego, but what you've enjoyed could have been a young, aged, or even an oil-cured version—ostensibly three very different cheeses.”

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While American cheeses are individually identified by the maker and a unique name, European cheeses may have the same name, origin, and look, but taste and feel entirely different. When sampling European cheeses, it’s best keep in mind that the rind (fresh, bloomy, washed, etc.) and milk (cow, goat, sheep) are just two of the flavor components. The rest is a fun experiment.

Photo by James Ransom

If you like predictability (hey, we all have those days), you can stick to your American brand until the cows come home. Everything should remain the same, with the exception of seasonal or processing changes.

Empowered with this knowledge, I’m going to brave the cheese counter, explore the funky and fresh, and learn to speak cheese.

Will you join me in #fearlessfromage? If you have any gouda recommendations, let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • The Corkdork
    The Corkdork
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    Cheri Mayell
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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


The C. July 13, 2017
Gouda? Can't go wrong with Beemster. You can press gently on the cheese to help gauge the age and dryness. Dry usually means saltier too.
Cheri M. July 11, 2017
Remembering a cheese moment in time as a Young girl I had a small 1" cube of soft cheese wrapped in foil which you opened & sprinkled with sugar! I never remember what it was called but it was lovely!
HalfPint July 17, 2017
@Cheri Mayell, small cube of cheese wrapped in foil sounds a lot like Laughing Cow. My family loved it too! Though we never thought to sprinkle sugar on it. Must try :)