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Styles of Cheese: Hard

Fresh Cheeses Soft-ripened Cheeses Semi-hard Cheeses Washed Rind Cheeses
Semi-soft Cheeses Surface-ripened Cheeses Hard (Aged) Cheeses Blue Cheeses

Hard (Aged) Cheeses

As you can probably guess, hard cheeses are often often used for grating, but they’re equally at home on a cheese board as well. Usually, hard cheeses are saltier than their softer counterparts. That said, the longer certain cheeses are aged, the more they develop a sweet or caramel-like note. This is especially true of gouda. In contrast to caramel, Parmigiano-Reggiano has an unmistakable pineapple-like aroma, especially when a wheel is fresh-cut.

Another key characteristic of hard cheeses is that they are crumbly. Also, they might be pungent because of an enzyme that is sometimes added during the cheesemaking process or because that enzyme develops naturally over time.

Key Flavor and Aroma Characteristics

Butterscotch
Caramel
Grainy
Gritty
Nutty
Pungent
Salty

Common Hard Cheeses:

Asiago (some)
Cotija
Enchilado (chili- or paprika-coated Mexican cheese)
Dry Jack
Parmesan/Parmigiano-Reggiano
Pecorino Romano
Ricotta Salata
SarVecchio
Many specialty sheep, cow, and goat cheeses

What to look for when buying hard cheeses:

Buying a hard cheese can be a bit tricky. While you want it hard, you don't want it dried out. How can you tell the difference? Sometimes, you can't. But generally speaking, a hard cheese should look pretty solid with a minimum amount of cracking and feel very, very firm to the touch. It really shouldn't have any visible mold (though there are a few exceptions), and it should be well wrapped to prevent it from drying out. Because a hard cheese has already lost most of its moisture, exposure to air will only dry it out quicker.