Become a cheese whiz

Hard cheesesParmagiano Reggiano. Emmenthaler Swiss. Aged sharp cheddar. All of these delicious treats are hard cheeses, yet they all taste very different from one another. Why is that? Serious Eats has the answers in an article that explains the mysteries of hard cheese flavors.

Different processing methods combined with unique aging procedures and times are the keys to each cheese's flavor. There are different ways to make hard cheese. The processes involved includew "cutting a large mass of curd into smaller ones, which causes liquid whey to leak out; heating the curd, which makes the cheese contract and expel its whey; pressing the curd into wheels or blocks; or salting the curd with salt crystals or a brine, which uses osmotic pressure to draw moisture out of the cheese."

An interesting note provided by the article is that many supermarket blocks labeled as cheddar cheese are not actually "cheddared." The name of the cheese derives from the process of making it, called cheddaring, which is a "labor intensive process that involves milling large blocks of curd, forming the ground curd into slabs, and carefully stacking and unstacking the slabs to press out whey." Traditional English cheddar (and a few select American cheddars) is made in large wheels, not blocks, and has a firmer, drier, and more crumbly texture than the mass market varieties.

Vastly different from the cheddaring process is the technique used to make "Swiss-style" cheeses like Emmenthaler and Gruyere. While cheddar cheese relies on salting and milling for much of its flavor and texture, salt was rare and expensive in the mountainous regions that Swiss cheeses call home. Cheesemakers there used heat and pressure to make cheese instead.

The article contains more information, including what sets Parmagiano Reggiano apart from the cheeses discussed above, and the best way to store all of them. Which hard cheese is your favorite?

Photo courtesy Serious Eats


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