I like long, romantic walks to the cheese counter.
Cheese is easily one of my favorite food categories. As a kid, I had a penchant for Brie. Nowadays, I gravitate towards goat cheese and Gouda. But in all honesty, I’m down for any wheel, any day. I’ve really never met a cheese that I didn’t like. There’s just something about having a little slice while making dinner or as an indulgent late-night snack. If you’re looking to expand your cheese repertoire or impress your next guests, look no further. This crash course highlights cheeses worth having in your fridge, in your picnic basket, or on your next cheese board.
Young Goat Gouda
One of my newer favorites, this white, semi-firm cheese is not the distinctly goaty chevre that most people associate goat’s milk with. Young goat Gouda hints at notes of butterscotch and caramel flavors with a mild tanginess, and pairs great with a buttery Chardonnay. My personal favorite is Cablanca goat gouda.
This firm gouda is usually aged at least a year, if not longer, and possesses nutty yet sweet qualities. I always have this type of cheese on hand for a cheese board or a late-night snack, and love pairing it with a Merlot, Petite Sirah, or even a little whiskey. I like Isabella Two Sisters Aged Gouda.
Double or Triple Cream
This soft cheese with a thick rind, which most regard as Brie, is easily spreadable and meltable. It has a higher butterfat content than any of the other cheeses, which is why it’s so creamy and dense. Pair with champagne/sparkling wine or Chardonnay. Cowgirl Creamery’s “Mt. Tam” Triple Cream is my personal favorite.
Goat cheese is one of those that I love in any form. It’s tangy, nutty, and a little barnyard-esque, but in the best way possible. While the plain goat cheese logs are divine, I prefer the ones with herbs for my cheese platter; I think they add a little more interest. Pair with a Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. Cypress Grove’s “Herbs de Humboldt,” Laura Chenel’s “Herb Chabis,” Mary Keehn’s “Humboldt Fog,” and literally all of Pennyroyal Farms’ goat cheeses are my personal favorites.
This is a newer cheese discovery of mine and one that I quite enjoy from time to time. It’s most easily recognized by an orange rind and an often strong smell. Don’t be scared away by the aroma! This semi-soft, French cheese actually has a relatively mild flavor with savory yet slightly sweet notes. I like pairing it with Pinot Noir.
Blue cheese is admittedly a type I eat less of than the others, but I do enjoy it. If I happen to include it on my cheese board, I urge guests to eat it last because of its pungent flavor. More often, I prefer blue cheese on my burger and tend to go for the creamier varieties rather than the crumbly ones. St. Agur is my go-to, as it is easily one of the most approachable blues you’ll find out there.
When most think of cheddar cheese, they probably think of those orange-colored slices in grilled cheese. I think of Murray’s Irish Cheddar, which is wrapped in green wax and has complex flavors that are buttery, grassy, and even a little fruity. For obvious reasons, pair it with a little Irish whiskey or stout.
Every once in a while, I’ll include a wine-soaked cheese on my cheese board. With these types of cheeses, the rind absorbs a violet hue while the center remains purely white. It’s a milder cheese than you might think and has a delicate, grapey aroma and flavor that make it unique. This cheese easily pairs with Merlot and Pinot Noir. I like Mitica Drunken Goat and Bellavitano Merlot cheese.
If you’re making pasta, this is the type you’ll want to sprinkle on top. It’s a nice alternative to Parmesan, having that easily shreddable quality and bold flavor from the sheep’s milk. I’ll sometimes even mix Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano when making one of my favorite pasta dishes – cacio e pepe. Needless to say, the combination is heavenly. I’d pair with a Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc.
If you’re into mozzarella, you might think about trying burrata. It’s a soft, fresh cheese made from mozzarella and cream. Burrata translates to a milky, buttery cheese that’s rich without being overly indulgent. I love it on avocado toast with an extra sprinkle of sea salt or in a caprese salad alongside a Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. You can get burrata at a lot of speciality Italian markets, but I usually get mine at Whole Foods; the brand Angelo and Franco makes a good one.
- If possible, get your cheeses from a speciality shop or trusted company. Quality is very important and you can easily taste the difference. Thankfully, Los Angeles has a number of specialty marketplaces or cheese shops (like Joan’s on Third, The Cheese Store of Silverlake, and Larchmont Village Wine, Spirits & Cheese), as well as a Murray’s counter at many Ralph’s grocery store locations.
- Don’t be shy about asking your cheesemonger for samples!
- Familiarize yourself with the cheese “camps” to help narrow your search. The most common are goat, sheep, and cow (the largest).
- Look for the $5 basket of wedges. Cheese counters, particularly Murray’s, often group their smallest wedges together for those looking to get a taste of a particular cheese without dropping a ton of money. These make for the ideal, late-night snack!
- Always check the expiration date, for obvious reasons. You usually don’t have to worry if you’re purchasing at a cut-to-order or cut-to-wrap shop.
- Don’t forget about accoutrements, especially if you’re arranging a cheese board or picnic basket. Crackers or a baguette, grapes, dried apricots, Marcona almonds, a little honeycomb, or some spicy-sweet Peppadew peppers (find these near the olive bar) go a long way!
- IMPORTANT: Allow your cheeses to come to room temperature before serving; this allows the butterfat in the cheese to settle so you’ll get the full spectrum of flavors and textures.