cheese lover’s glossary
Learn how to describe your favorite gourmet cheese (fromage? Oui!) or just impress your foodie friends. Our cheese dictionary will make you a cheese expert in no time.
Affine/Affinage: The French word for "to finish or refine," it is used to describe a perfectly ripe cheese. Also refers to the process of curing cheeses.
Aging: The process of curing or ripening cheeses in carefully controlled environments to allow the development of microorganisms that accentuate the basic cheese flavors.
Ammoniated: A term describing cheese that smells of ammonia as a result of being overripe or improperly ripened. A hint of ammonia is not objectionable with white bloomy rinds after they are first unwrapped, as they should be allowed to breathe.
Annatto: A natural vegetable dye used to give many cheese varieties—especially New York and Wisconsin Cheddars and some English cheeses (Double Gloucester, Red Leicester) with a yellow-orange hue.
Bleu: The French word for blue.
Bloomy Rind: The white, sometimes-mottled rind that grows on soft-ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert.
Brebis: The French word for cheese made from sheep’s milk.
Butterfat: The ratio of protein and fat that remains in a cheese after all the water is removed. Cheese is essentially made up of water, fat and protein. 50% butterfat on dry matter means that half of the dry matter is fat, and the other half is protein and minerals. Butterfat percentage is very different from the percentage of fat in a cheese.
Buttermilk: The low-fat liquid that is drained off in making butter.
Cabra: The Spanish word for goat and goat’s milk.
Capra: The Italian word for goat and goat’s milk.
Certified Organic: Consisting of at least 95% organic product ingredients. Cannot include genetically modified foods (GMO). Animals must be fed 100% organically grown feed and given access to outdoor land and pasture. Antibiotics cannot be used.
Cheddaring: The traditional English way of preparing curds in Cheddar-making that enhances its texture, stacking the curds to let the whey drain.
Cheese Dip: Very soft cheese infused with a wide variety of flavors.
Cheese Spread: Soft, spreadable, cheese-based products available in a wide variety of flavors.
Creme: A classification of cheese derived from the butterfat content. Double creme cheeses contain at least 60° per ounce butterfat. Triple creme cheeses contain at least 70° per ounce butterfat.
Dry Matter: All the components of cheese solids excluding moisture. Dry matter includes proteins, milk fat, milk sugars and minerals.
Emmentaler: The Swiss word for a PDQ Swiss cheese, which must be made in a wheel from heat-treated milk.
Eye: A hole within cheese that is caused as a result of fermentation during the curing process. Eyes are common in all Swiss-type cheeses.
Farmhouse: A term referring to artisanal cheeses handmade on farms in England and elsewhere (including the U.S.).
Fat: Many cheeses have 8 grams of fat per ounce. Low-fat and reduced-fat cheeses have between 3 and 6 grams per ounce. Flavor in cheese is greatly due to its fat content.
Fondue: A delicious combination of Gruyere and Emmentaler, fondue is one of the national foods of Switzerland. It is a communal meal where all the diners use slender forks and dip bite-size portions of toasted bread into a large pot of melted cheese.
Formaggio: The Italian word for cheese.
Fromage: The French word for cheese.
Grana: The Italian term for hard-grating cheese.
Kaas: The Dutch word for cheese.
Käse: The German word for cheese.
Lait Cru: The French term for raw milk.
Pasta Filata: Cheeses whose curds are heated and then kneaded and stretched to become elastic.
PDO: Protected Designation of Origin symbols were created by the European Union (EU) to protect the names and reputation of specific regional foods from misuse and imitation. The legislation for these seals was formed in 1992 and is enforced by the EU to ensure that foods such as Fontina and Asiago can only be labeled as such if they come from the designated region.
Pencillium: The molds in or on certain cheeses for the purpose of ripening. Penicillium Candidum is used to develop soft-ripened cheeses such as brie, Penicillium Glaucum is used for gorgonzola and Penicillium Roqueforti is used for Roquefort and Danish Blue cheese.
Processed Cheeses: Traditional cheeses, whey powders, and cheese waste that are melted and mixed together with many ingredients like milk, salt, preservatives and food coloring. These cheeses are usually easy to melt and have a smooth consistency. American cheese, Cheez Whiz and flavored cheese spreads fall into this category.
PGI: Similar to PDO, the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) symbols were created by the European Union (EU) to protect the names of cheese types in smaller regions. Examples of PGI include: lsigny Butter, Oueso de Valdeon, Tomme de Savoie.
Queijo: The Portuguese word for cheese.
Raw Milk: Milk that has not undergone pasteurization. All raw milk cheeses sold in the U.S. are aged over 60 days.
Rennet: An enzyme that coagulates milk and separates the curds from the whey. Rennet can come from animal, vegetable or microbial sources.
Rind: The outer surface of cheese that can vary in texture, thickness and color. Cheeses may be rindless, have natural rinds or be covered in wax.
Ripe: A descriptive term for cheese when it has arrived at its peak flavor through aging. The optimum period of aging varies widely among cheese varieties.
Room Temperature: Almost all cheeses could benefit from being left out about one to two hours at room temperature, between 65° F and 75° F, before serving, so their textures and flavors are allowed to develop.
Sodium/Salt: Salt is used in the cheese production process to prevent the cheese from spoiling as it cures. Some authentic cheeses are naturally high in salt (Feta, Pecarino, Romano), while many others are naturally low in salt (Mozzarella, Swiss Emmentaler).
Stretched Curd: Cheeses whose curds are heated and then kneaded and stretched to become elastic. The Italian term for these cheese varieties is "pasta filata." Mozzarella, Provolone and string cheese are plastic-curd type cheeses.
Surface Ripened: A term referring to cheese that ripens from the exterior. Bloomy-rind, washed-rind and some blue cheeses are surface ripened; also referred to as soft ripened.
Terroir: Whatever an animal eats will have a direct effect on the quality of the milk it produces, which in turn affects the quality of the cheese made. The French call this terroir, which very loosely translates into "sense of place." While traditionally used in wine making, terroir has applications in cheesemaking as well.
Tomme: The French word for a wheel of cheese made in the mountainous regions of France such as Tomme de Pyrenees and Tomme de Savoie.
Turophile: A connoisseur or lover of cheese, also referred to as a caseophile.
Vegetarian: Cheese made with vegetable rennet instead of animal.
Whey: The watery part of milk that is separated from the curds during cheesemaking. There are cheeses made predominantly from whey such as Ricotta.