In recent decades, the world of cheeses has opened up to consumers; grocery stores are carrying a wider variety of gourmet cheeses from all over the world. Gone are the days of orange, processed cheese melting onto a burger, these days, cooks are adding crumbled goat cheese, fresh mozzarella or pungent blue cheese. Most of the cheeses available come from either cow, goat or sheep's milk.
Cow's Milk Cheese
The majority of cheeses are produced using cow's milk, which is known for its creamy and mild flavor. Since cows produce more milk than sheep and goats, cow's milk cheeses are typically more affordable. Cheddar, provolone and gouda are all cow's milk cheeses, and familiar to most consumers. Cow's milk is also used for asiago, brie, grana padano and taleggio. Cow's milk cheeses range from soft to hard.
Goat's Milk Cheese
Most goat cheeses are produced in France, though domestic production has picked up since the 1990s. Goat cheese, or chèvre, has a tangy flavor and unique aroma, which differs slightly depending on how long it's aged. The fat content is similar to cow's milk cheeses, though the taste differs due to the fatty acids and what the goats are fed on. Like cow's milk cheeses, goat cheeses range from soft to hard. Most grocery stores sell chèvre in a log shape, sometimes rolled in fresh herbs or spices. Slice rounds of the goat cheese, roll them in unseasoned bread crumbs and pan fry in olive oil. Place the rounds on a bed of greens for a warm goat cheese salad.
Sheep's Milk Cheese
Sheep's milk cheeses are almost always semi-soft and are known for their smooth texture and slightly oily property. Sheep's milk is highly nutritious, containing more vitamin A, B, E and calcium than cow's milk. Sheep's milk cheeses include feta, halloumi, manchego and pecorino Romano. Feta cheese is a semi-soft, crumbly cheese which is known for its tart, salty flavor and is often found in Greek cuisine.
Knowing how to assemble a cheese board is an invaluable tool when it comes to home entertaining. There are no hard and fast rules, though sticking to three varieties will allow your guests to try different types of cheeses while not overwhelming their palates. Offering a soft cheese, hard cheese and blue cheese is one way to approach a cheese platter, but even better would be to offer a cow's milk, goat's milk and sheep's milk cheese. On a wooden cutting board, arrange a log of goat cheese, wheel of brie and wedge of pecorino Romano. Let the cheeses come to room temperature so the taste and aromas will be at their peak. Place water crackers and grapes on the board, along with knives so your guests can help themselves.