Tip #1: Appreciate seasonality
Just like fruits and veggies, cheese has its seasons. Hunting for fresh goat’s milk cheese in the dead of winter is likely to produce meager results, just as funky, washed rind treasures like Vacherin Mont d’Or are few and far between in the summer heat.
Seasonality has to do with a handful of factors: whether a cow, goat or sheep is eating hay or fresh grass influences the flavor of the milk, and, therefore the cheese (some cheeses are only made when cows are eating grass, or vice versa).
Tip #2: Taste it to believe it
The good news is you should always, always taste cheese! Each wheel of the same cheese - especially the kind of farmstead and small-production cheeses we feature at Bedford Cheese - has its own unique characteristics and flavors. Even if you think you know brie inside and out, ask for a sample before buying - that way you can be sure you’re getting what you want (and maybe, discover something new!).
Tip #3: Keep an open mind
Often times, customers come into a cheese shop with eyes for one cheese and one cheese only. While mongers respect this (we, too, have our favorites), chances are there is a case full of undiscovered flavors, textures, and stories in the case. Have a conversation with your cheese monger -- tell them what cheeses you absolutely love, what cheeses you hate, and trust that you are in good hands.
Tip #4: Familiarize yourself with styles
To develop cheese expertise, it helps to have a sense of the major families and styles. There are lots of ways of categorizing cheese: hard, soft, semi-firm, blue, natural-rind, washed rind, washed curd...the list goes on. You don’t need to memorize them all at once, but get comfortable with these four to start.
bloomy rind - Ignore, for now, the fact that bloomy rind cheeses are in and of themselves a diverse category: this broadly refers to cheese that ripen from the surface inwards. Have you ever cut into a piece of brie to find it super runny just below the rind, but slightly cakey in the very middle? That is in fact the ripening process at work -- most cheeses with white, white-ish, or ash-covered rinds fall into this family. The cheese tend to be soft and young.
washed rind - There are two quick and easy ways to identify washed rind cheeses: the orange-ish color of the rind, and their smell. Whether the soft and gooey things like Epoisse or aged, firm cheeses like Gruyere, the washed rind family brings a signature funky stink (when people say cheese smells like feet, this is the category they are likely talking about--fun fact, the kind of bacteria that grows on the surface of these cheeses, leaving them with that signature orange color, is the same one that grows on our bodies if we don’t shower...the foot comparison is pretty apt.)
Natural rind - Unlike bloomy or washed rind cheeses, these cheeses develop their rind, well, naturally--by exposure to air and salt. Consider them low-maintenance cheese (but don’t worry, the reward is high).
Blue - Don’t be fooled! Blue cheese is an enormously diverse category, with something for literally everyone. They range from crumbly and rich standards like Stilton to the peppery and aggressive Picon de Cabrales to the buttery, luscious and franky irresistible Bavarian beauty, Blauschimmel. As we like to say in the industry, anyone who says they don’t like blue just hasn’t had the right one yet.
Tip #5: Milk Matters!
Cheese is most often made from the milk of four animals (we’ve heard stories about camel cheese): cow, sheep, goat, and water buffalo. Each milk type has its own characteristics--goat’s milk, for example, has no beta carotene in it, which is why goat cheese tends towards pure white; sheep's milk is the highest in butterfat, and buffalo milk yields more cheese per gallon than cow milk. And finally, age influences the flavor of milk: while young, goat cheese is often tart, bucky and earthy, but as it ages, the milk turns sweet and buttery.
Want to visit the Bedford Cheese Shop? Head to their Williamsburg and Flatiron locations.
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