Artisanal Cheese 101

Hand-made in small quantities according to long-standing techniques, recipes and traditions, artisanal cheeses come in a wide variety of flavors and forms. Here you'll find some basic guidelines on how to choose and store these specialty cheeses to be sure you enjoy their full flavor potential.

The Four Flavor Categories of Artisanal Cheeses

Depending on their intensity of flavor, artisanal cheeses can basically be divided into four categories: mild, medium, bold and strong.

When composing a cheese plate for entertaining, experts say you should choose at least one cheese from each category and sample them in order, starting with the mild varieties.

Mild Cheeses

Mild-flavored cheeses include soft cheeses like chevres and triple-cream cheeses. Pair them with a light white or sparkling wine or a pilsner beer.

Mild cheeses to try:

  • Humboldt Fog
  • Goat Gouda
  • Cremont
  • Saint Andre

Medium Cheeses

Medium-flavored cheeses include semi-soft cheeses and soft cheeses with bloomy rinds. Try pairing medium cheese with a light red wine, dry rose or a lager beer.

Medium cheese to try:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Manchego
  • Ossau Iraty
  • Fontina

Bold Cheeses

Bold cheeses include semi-firm or washed-rind cheeses with a slightly assertive flavor. Pair bold cheese varieties with medium bodied red wines and ales.

Bold cheeses to try:

  • Aged Cheddar
  • Comte
  • Mahon

Strong Cheeses

Strong-flavored cheeses include classic blues and long-aged goudas and cheddars. Strong cheeses should be paired with dessert or fortified wines like port or a stout.

Strong cheeses to try:

  • Gorgonzola
  • Roquefort
  • Stilton
  • Aged Gouda
  • Aged Cheddar

How To Store Artisanal Cheeses

As a general rule of thumb, you'll want to keep artisanal cheeses in their original packaging until ready to serve. Because they contain living cultures, how you wrap leftovers can affect their flavor and longevity. Here are some best practices:

  • Wrap cheeses with hard rinds in plastic wrap, leaving the rind exposed
  • Wrap blue cheeses in aluminum foil
  • Wrap washed-rind cheeses in wax paper
  • Wrap soft cheeses in wax paper or place them in a sealed container

Once wrapped, store artisanal cheeses in the vegetable or deli bin of your refrigerator with the humidity control (if you have one) turned to medium-high.