Which cheese to choose, how to identify the different types, how to serve them and what to serve them with - so many decisions! Thinking of cheese as a definite course helps to seriously focus the attention - and sampling plenty along the way before you make decisions is a definite bonus.
There are seven different types of cheese and the best way to identify them is through their rind.
Fresh cheese is lightest and brightest of all the cheeses. It's too young to have developed a rind, has high moisture content and is mild in flavour. Think fresh goats' cheese, mozzarella, feta and cream cheese.
Aged fresh cheese develops a thin rind that wrinkles and shrinks as the cheese ages and sometimes has a blue/grey mould. The flavour can change from nutty to very strong and stinky. Classic examples include French cheeses such as St Tola, Banon and Monte Enebro.
Soft white cheese has a white crusty rind and soft interior, with a sweeter flavour that is mild and buttery. With time they can develop a robust aroma with a savoury tang, think camembert and brie.
Semi-soft cheese may have either barely formed rinds or leathery rinds with grey moulds. The barely formed rinds are generally mild and sweet while the interior of those with thick rinds is more elastic and has an earthy or flowery taste. Classic examples of these are Port Salut and reblochon or raclette
The rinds of hard cheese vary from hard and leathery to thick and smooth. Typically aged between two months and two years, the flavour can be sweet and nutty or intensely savoury like raw onions. Cheddar and Parmesan are good examples.
Blue cheese rinds are gritty, rough and sometimes sticky with grey/blue moulds. There are soft white, brie-types, which are mild and creamy in flavour to really pungent cheeses with sticky and mould rinds. Think gorgonzola and Roquefort.
Flavour added cheese rarely have a formed rind. These are hard cheeses with ingredients added to the curd, like nuts, fruits, spices and herbs and also include smoked cheeses, such as white stilton with apricots and smoked cheddar.
Nw you know how to identify the variety of cheeses, the best way to decide which is best is go for a taster. Wherever there's a cheese counter there is an opportunity to sample a little of a cheese you don't know. Then simply choose your favourites.
It's best to have a couple of decent sized pieces of interesting cheeses that complement each other and the rest of the meal rather than having lots of little pieces that fight to be noticed.
To go with? Sweet wines like port and muscat are a great match with salty blue cheeses, go for mild flavoured interesting crackers, something like charcoal biscuits or the classic oatcakes and then a smattering of nuts and a bunch of grapes. Perfection on a platter.
Should there be any leftovers, try one of our cheese recipes - there's bound to be one you like.