The Wide World of Popular Cheeses!
How Many Types of Cheese Are There in The World?
Reading Time: 6 minutes
There are many popular cheeses out there but which is the most popular? And how many types of cheeses are there in the world, anyhow?
These are questions that professional cheesemongers are often asked, so I took them right to my favorite monger, Kelly Liebrock. Kelly works for me as a cheesemaking instructor, is a Certified Cheese Professional, and also works as a cheesemonger for Whole Foods, so I figure she knows a thing or two about popular cheeses! This is what she had to say:
“The most produced and sold cheese in the U.S. is mozzarella, mainly because of America’s favorite Italian dish — pizza. Mozzarella is also a great mild staple for melting on just about anything. The next most popular would have to be cheddar. From topping burgers to blessing a cheese board, this is an American must-have. As a cheesemonger, people are always asking me for a good, sharp cheddar. This can mean different things to different people, but I take that to mean something with a bit of a bite, and those wonderful calcium lactate crystals that are a tell-tale sign of a well-aged cheese. Third most popular in my experience would have to be American-produced Parmesan or its Italian king, Parmigiano Reggiano. Like mozzarella, Parmesan is good on just about anything but packs more of punch and is good for adding some salty, savory, cheesy goodness to your life.”
None of these popular cheeses are traditionally goat cheeses (although you can certainly make each of them with goat milk), and since this is a goat-focused publication, I pursued the question to focus on popular goat cheeses. I took a little road trip up to Ft. Collins, Colorado and had a nice cheesy meetup with Tina Mooney, owner of The Fox & the Crow, a wonderful cheese shop and bistro there. According to Tina, the most popular goat cheese is definitely chèvre, and part of the fun of this classic soft goat cheese is that it’s available in all kinds of interesting flavor varieties. We’ve all had chèvre rolled in Herbes de Provence or cracked black pepper, but have you ever tried it with sour cherry and bourbon, or fig and cognac, or blackberry habanero? I sampled a delicious vanilla orange chèvre served with dried orange and apple slices while I was visiting, and I have to tell you, I’m hooked! One of the stranger and non-traditional flavor pairings Tina encouraged me to try was chèvre with Fruity Pebbles. I’m not sure I’m convinced on that one, but she says it’s a hit with her customers.
Tina also told me about some goat cheeses I had never heard of that are quite popular in her shop. One of those was called Polder Gold, a sweet and creamy aged Gouda from Holland named after a land formation found near the canals in the area. I visited one of the cheese shops near Amsterdam when I was in Europe last year and found an astonishing number of varieties of Gouda, in different flavors and aged for different lengths of time, as well as being made from different species of milk. In just one cheese shop I bet there were 50 different kinds of Gouda.
Another well-loved goat cheese that Tina told me about is an aged goat cheese from Capriole Creamery called Piper’s Pyramide. Named after the Indiana cheesemaker’s red-haired granddaughter, this award-winning cheese is laced with spicy, smoky paprika. I was so excited about this cheese, as well as the number and varieties of other goat cheeses in the well-stocked cheese cases at The Fox & The Crow, I’m thinking I may have to tinker with a few new recipes for making goat cheese to share here at a later date!
When it comes to how many types of cheeses there are in the world, that’s much tougher. In fact, I’d say it’s impossible to list every single variety being made out there. New cheeses are being created every day and there are old cheeses that we may never get a chance to know about.
So, I decided to take this question to my cheese education mentors, Linda and Larry Faillace of Three Shepherds Farm in Vermont. According to Larry, “It very much depends on who you ask. Even with similar methods and milk, the outcome and names can vary enormously. For example, many people think of Robiola as ‘a’ cheese, and if you classify it by what you find in U.S. cheese shops, that would seem correct, other than the fact that there are due latte and tre latte versions. However, if you go down the rabbit hole a little further, you will find many versions in Italy, including a version we had aged in macerated cherry leaves. Still called Robiola, but VERY unlike any version we had ever had before. Linda’s succinct answer is that there are hundreds of types of cheeses and thousands of varieties.”
One way to consider how many types of cheese there are in the world is to look at how you define “type.” Type could refer to “categories” or “cheesemaking methods” or even “types of rinds.” Each of these would give you a sense of the vast array of delicious fromage out there to be enjoyed.
Categories of Cheese:
At The Fox & The Crow, Tina Mooney teaches a class called Cheese 101 where she covers nine different categories of cheese:
|1. Fresh||Chèvre, Fromage Blanc, Ricotta|
|3. Bloomy||Brie, Camembert|
|4. Semi Hard||Cheddar, Gruyère|
|5. Hard Pressed||Parmesan, Manchego|
|6. Washed Curd||Colby, Havarti, Gouda|
|7. Washed Rind||Taleggio, Limburger|
|8. Blue Veined||Gorgonzola, Roquefort|
|9. Pasta Filata||Mozzarella, Provolone|
Often these categories overlap or can be combined. For instance, Colby might be considered a semi-hard cheese but it is also a washed curd cheese. Cambozola is a cross between a bloomy and a blue. So, you can see how quickly those nine categories can become many more.
Cheesemaking “Coagulation” Methods:
Linda and Larry Faillace cover five different ways to make cheese in their cheesemaking courses. These include:
- 1. Lactic Coagulation: where the natural buildup of lactic acid is enough to set the curd without the addition of any rennet.
- 2. Rennet-Assisted Coagulation: where just a drop or two of rennet is added to set the curd.
- 3. Fully-Renneted Coagulation: a larger amount of rennet and a shorter time frame needed to set the curd
- 4. Direct Acidification: involves using an acid like vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid to curdle the milk
- 5. Evaporative method: boiling the whey to evaporate everything but the remaining solids.
Each of these methods may produce numerous varieties and styles of cheeses.
Different Types of Rinds:
Yet another way to look at cheese varieties is to view them from the vantage point of the rind (or lack thereof).
- 1. Bag cheeses (have no rind and no form — as in chèvre or fromage blanc).
- 2. Rind-less cheeses (have no rind but may have a form — as in feta or a waxed wheel of pressed cheese).
- 3. Bloomy Rind (forms a white bloomy rind from the addition of a white mold powder).
- 4. Blue Rind (forms a blue rind, and veins if pierced, from the addition of a blue mold powder).
- 5. Washed Rind (forms a sticky orange or red rind from the addition of a bacteria).
- 6. Natural Rind (forms a gray or brown rind from the naturally occurring molds that develop).
So, I would say that while there are many popular cheeses that we all know and love, there is really no way to answer the question, “How many different types of cheese are there in the world?” There are thousands to be sure. And the most amazing part is that the vast majority of these cheeses start with just four ingredients: milk, culture, rennet, and salt. Sometimes we add one or two more ingredients, and we might utilize different cheese aging equipment, but it’s by varying the amounts of the ingredients, along with the time, temperature, and techniques, that we get so many different types of cheeses in the world!
Featured photo by Al Milligan.
Originally published in the July/August 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.