|The selection of cheeses at farmers markets, specialty stores and well-stocked supermarkets is mind-boggling these days. Here is a guide to some of the best of what?s out there:
Asiago: Hard, straw-colored cheese of Italian origin, once made from sheep’s milk but now made from cow’s milk. A version is produced in Wisconsin. Good for grating over pasta
Brie: A cow’s-milk cheese that originated in France; has a white, edible rind with beige mottling and a soft, buttery interior that has a nutty, garlicky flavor and mushroomy aroma. Serve with any big red Bordeaux or Burgundy.
Camembert: Cow’s-milk cheese from Normandy region of France; ideally, it’s creamy and spreadable, with a floury rind speckled red and a fruity aroma. Good with Merlot.
Cheddar: Semifirm cow’s-milk cheese of English origin. Has a gray-brown, calico-wrap rind; straw-colored interior; buttery, rich texture; full, layered flavor; and sweet, grassy aroma. (Color is sometimes added to make it orange.) Relatives include English Cheshire, Gloucester, Lancashire, Leicester, Wensleydale; French Cantal: American Cheddar. Serve with light, fruity reds; dark beers and ales.
Chevre: Fresh, tangy, goat?s milk cheeses that, nowadays, come in multitude of shapes, from pyramids to logs to discs. Some are wrapped in grape leaves or rubbed with ash to prevent molding. Some are flavored with herbs and spices. Of all the French chevres, Montrachet is the most popular and versatile.
Emmental (Swiss): Partially skimmed cow’s milk from Switzerland. American Swiss and Norwegian Jarlsberg are relatives. Has a smooth, beige to yellowish rind; pale, yellowish-tan interior; random proliferation of large, walnut-size holes; mild, yet full, nutty fruity flavor with characteristic finishing savory bite. Pair with light, fruity reds.
Feta: Essential to Greek salad, feta cheeses are made with sheep’s or cow’s milk. Aged feta is dry and salty–firm enough to hold its shape but soft enough to crumble.
Fontina: Cow’s-milk cheese from the Piedmont region of Italy. Has a reddish-brown, brushed rind; beige interior; firm, supple texture; earthy, herby flavor; delicate, fruity, perfumed aroma. Serve with the Piedmont’s big reds.
Gouda and Edam: Mild, smooth and pale gold, they are the Netherlands’ best-known cheeses. Some are flavored with caraway or cumin. Good for grilling in a sandwich.
Gruyere: Deep nutty, fuIl-flavored, semifirm Cow’s-milk cheese from Switzerland. Excellent in fondues and quiches.
Havarti: Semisoft cow’s-milk cheese from Denmark. Mild, smooth and rindless, it comes flavored with herbs, spices or jalapeno pepper. Accompany with fruity white wine.
Jack: Extremely popular American cow’s-milk cheese, it’s soft in texture and has an acidic tang; often flavored with jalapeno peppers.
Kasseri: A firm, fairly mild sheep’s-milk cheese that is often fried and served with ouzo in Greek cuisine.
Mascarpone: A very creamy, fresh cheese soft enough to eat with a spoon, best known for its essential role in the classic Italian dessert tiramisu.
Mozzarella: Fresh mozzarella, often made with buffalo’s milk, has a sweet milky flavor and tender texture that bears little resemblance to the American versions used for pizza. Mozzarella comes in small balls floating in containers of water and is delicious paired with tomato slices and basil and drizzled with olive oil.
Munster: Originally produced by Benedictine monks in the eighth century. It’s a rich, creamy, semisoft cheese with an orange rind that is especially good paired with sausage and on sandwiches.
Parmigiano Reggiano: Hard, partially skimmed cow’s milk cheese from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Has a burnished, golden rind, yellowish white to straw colored interior (darkens with age); enormous, piquant, slightly salty flavor. Relatives include Pecorino Romano, American Dry Jack, Dutch aged Gouda and American Parmesan. Good with big Italian breads.
Provolone: Originally made from buffalo’s milk but now produced from cow’s milk. This semisoft cheese is mild when young but grows shaper with age. Great with roasted peppers, salami and crusty Italian bread.
Raclette: From both France and Switzerland, this cheese is traditionally warmed along the cut edge by a fire and scraped onto a plate, then eaten with boiled potatoes, ham and cornichons.
Roquefort: This rindless French sheep?s -milk blue cheese is soft but crumbly and moist. It has an ivory-colored interior with profuse green-blue veining and intense, complex, spicy flavor. Pair with strong reds or sweet whites such as Sauternes.
Saga Blue: A rich, white triple crème cheese with a creamy Brie texture and mellow blue flavor. Created in Denmark in the 1970?s. Good with pears and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Saint Andre: Rich, buttery, triple creme cheese with a crisp, clean flavor that pairs well with tropical fruits for dessert.
Stilton: English cow’s-milk blue cheese. Has a dry, rough, brownish rind; ivory-colored interior with liberal greenish-blue veining, pronounced full, rich, cheesy flavor; moist, firm yet crumbly texture; huge, spicy aroma. Italian gorgonzola is a relative. Serve with robust reds, sherry or port.
Sources “Cheese Primer? by Steven Jenkins (Workman, $16.95) and ‘The New Basics” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, $18.95).