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Styles of Cheese: Surface-ripened

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

Surface-ripened Cheeses

Although a broad term to represent any cheese that is ripened by surface molds and yeasts, surface-ripened cheeses in this context include those cheeses that have a wrinkly rind, such as many French and American goat cheeses, or whose rinds are thin and barely contain the runny cheese within.

Surface-ripened cheeses tend to fall into two sub-categories: firm, chalky, and maybe a little dry and flaky, or runny. The dry ones are most often goat cheeses, while the runny ones could be any one of the three milks or a combination of milks.

Key aroma characteristics

(Note the aroma differences in the two styles of surface-ripened cheeses):

Firmer-style: The cheese should smell earthy and maybe musty, but it will not smell strong nor should it smell like ammonia.

Creamy-style: The cheese should smell clean with very little aroma. If it smells like ammonia, do not buy it.

Key flavor characteristics:

Buttery
Chalky
Creamy (like fresh cream)
Crème fraîche-like
Earthy
Floral
Grassy
Lemony
Mushroomy
Sugary
Sulfury
Tangy

Common Surface Ripened Cheeses:

France
Banon (goat's milk sometimes mixed with cow's milk)
Brebiou
Cabécou (see also Rocamadour)
Chabichou de Poitou
Crottin de Chavignol
Le Chevrot
Le Gariotin
Le Lingot
Pérail (sheep's milk)
Picodon
Pouligny St. Pierre
St. Felicien
St. Maure
St. Marcellin
Selles-Sur-Cher
Rocamadour (see also Cabécou)
Valençay

Italy
Cravanzina (cow and sheep's milk)
Robiola Bossina (sheep and cow's milk)
Robiola di Roccaverano (goat's and/or mixed milk)
Robiola Tre Latte (sheep, goat, and cow's milk)
Rocchetta (sheep, cow, and goat's milk)
La Tur (sheep, cow, and goat's milk)

Spain
Monte Enebro (goat's milk)

United States
California
Andante Dairy Pianoforte
Redwood Hill Farm California Crottin
Pug's Leap Farm Buche (goat's milk)
Indiana
Capriole Goat Cheese: Wabash Cannonball, Crocodile Tear, Piper's Pyramid
Louisiana
Bittersweet Plantation Dairy: Fleur de Lis, Fleur de Teche
Vermont
Jasper Hill Farm: Constant Bliss
Vermont Butter & Cheese Company Bijou, Bonne Bouche, Coupole (goat's milk; see also soft-ripened cheeses)

What to look for when buying, keeping in mind there are two types of surface-ripened cheeses:

Firmer style The firm style of surface-ripened cheeses, such as many of the goat cheeses that come from France's Loire Valley, have very firm, solid rinds that look as though they have a matrix of curly wires running all over the surface. (This is a good thing). The color of the rind runs the gamut from yellowish to tan to brownish to gray. These cheeses are often tall and cylindrical in shape (or possibly pyramid-shaped), and will last the longest of the cheeses in this category, up to two months depending on when you buy the cheese. The paste (interior) of this style of surface-ripened cheese will be bright white to light ivory. Do not buy it if the cheese is dried out and cracked. It may, however, have a few splotches of blue mold. This is okay.

Creamy style This style of surface-ripened cheese is much more delicate, and the rinds on some will even tear with even the most gentle touch. The surface color of the cheese will range from white to yellowish to pinkish or faint orange, and the texture will be delicate and possibly oozy. This style of surface-ripened cheese will not last as long, maybe about ten days, depending on when the store got the cheese and when you bought it.