210 Cheese Terms to Know to Increase Your Cheese IQ – Marcella The Cheesemonger International Guilde des Fromagers
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210 Cheese Terms to Know to Increase Your Cheese IQ

my-books-169x300My thanks to many who contributed information that assisted me in creating this document**

Links to additional documents to also increase your cheese IQ: Study Tips; 281 Cheeses You Should Know; 165 More Cheees You Should KnowRaw Milk Cheeses; Vegetarian-Suitable Cheeses; EU Protected Cheeses; ACS BOK Domain Bullet Points; Eight Basic Families of Cheese; Lactose and Cheese

AOC – Appellation d’origine controlee – French certification based on the concept of terroir

AWA – Animal Welfare Approved

A point – French for peak ripeness.

Abomasum – The lining of the 4th stomach of a ruminant animal.

Acid cut – Beached, faded or dull looking paste. May be considered a defect caused by excessive acid development or uneven moisture distribution.

Acid Set – Using bacteria in milk to coagulate the milk without the use of rennet. These cheeses have a softer curd because of the higher acidity causes calcium to drain from the whey.

Acidification – The initial step in souring milk. During acidification, lactose is converted into lactic acid.

Acidity – The amount of acid in cheese, measured by pH. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity in cheese.

Aerobic – Requiring or using oxygen, especially for growth.

Affinage – Ripening of cheese.

Affineur – Person who ages cheese and determines when it’s at its peak ripeness and ready for selling to consumer.

Alpage – French for Alpine fields where animals graze during summer months.

Alpine – Style of cheese that originated in the Alps; the curd is heated to ensure the cheese melts better. Emmentaler, Gruyere, Comte and Appenzeller are all examples of Alpine cheeses. Also known as “Swiss-style” cheeses.

Amino Acids – Acids that occur in living organisms that form proteins.

Anaerobic – any organism that does not require oxygen for growth.

Annatto – Flavorless, natural dye made from the seed of the achiote. Used to color cheese a bright orange, particularly cheddars and Mimolette.

Aspergilis – Toxic black mold

Bacillus – Bacteria that can cause foodborne illness and food spoilage.

Bacteriophages (aka Phage) – A virus that infests and replicates within bacteria.

Benzoyl peroxide – A bleaching agent

Beta Carotene – Pigment found in fruits and vegetables. In raw milk cheese, the beta carotene in grass contributes to the brighter yellow color of the paste.

Bill of Lading – Document that is a receipt from shipping company regarding number of packages with weight and contract for the transportation to a destination sited on the document.

Biofilm – A slimy skin that forms on cheese that has come in contact with water and causes microorganisms secrete a protective coating.

Blind Cheese – A Swiss-style cheese with no holes.

Bloomy Rind – White, fluffy rind made of Penicillium candidum, camemberti or geotrichum candidum.

Brevibacterium linens (B. linens) – Bacteria on the surface of washed rinds that create the exceptional stink. B. linens require low-acid environment, moisture and oxygen to flourish.

Brie – Style of cheese originating in France with high moisture content and a bloomy rind.

Brine – Solution to wash cheese. Generally salt and water, but sometimes additional items might be added. Advances flavor and impedes mold growth.

Brushing – The application of liquid with a brush to surface of cheese rind to moisten and develop flavors. (Mimolette is brushed to remove mites.)

Butterfat – The natural fat found in milk.

Butyric Acid – A fatty acid in animal fats that causes rancidity.

CFR   – Code of Federal Regulations.

CGMP – Current Good Manufacturing Practices.

Calcium lactate crystals – Small crunchy crystals created when lactic acid reacts with calcium carbonate or calcium hydroxide. Commonly found in aged cheddars.

Calcium phosphate – The principal form of calcium found in cow milk.

Camembert – Style of cheese originating in France with high moisture content and a bloomy rind.

Campylobacter/Campylobacter jejuni – Common bacteria found in animal feces and transmitted via animal teats.

Carbohydrates – Energy source found in living organisms.

Casein – The proteins found in milk.

Cheddar – Any cheese made using the method of “Cheddaring”. Originating in England.

Cheddaring – Method where slabs of curds are stacked in blocks to expel more whey.

Cheese – A food consisting of the coagulated, typically compressed and usually ripened curd of milk separated from the whey.

Cheese Mites – Arthropods used on surfaces of cheese to contribute to flavor and texture. Mimolette depends on mites to create its craggy rind and flavor along the inside of the rind.

Cheese Yield – The amount of cheese that comes from the amount of milk used.

Cheesecloth – Cloth gauze used n cheesemaking.

Chymosin – The active enzyme in rennet. It is produced by newborn ruminant animals in the lining of the fourth stomach (Abomasum) to curdle the milk they digest, allowing a longer residence in the bowels and for better absorption.

Closed curd – Small, often milled or ground curds, packed together to create a more dense cheese with a creamy texture, in blue cheeses. This results in even veining.

Clostridium – Bacteria in raw milk that ferments lactate and can cause “Late-Blowing” defect in high pH cheeses.

Coagulation – The separation of the curds from the whey in cheesemaking.

Cold Chain – The temperature-controlled storage and distribution of cheese from manufacturer to consumer.

Coliforms – Fecal bacteria used to measure sanitary quality of food and water.

Colloid – A substance microscopically dispersed throughout another substance.

Colostrum – The milk produced in the first week after the birth of a calf, kid or lamb. Not considered good for cheesemaking as it has the wrong levels of fats and minerals needed in cheesemaking. (But the right levels for the baby.)

Corky/curdy – Stiff, overly dry cheese for its age. May be considered a defect caused by too rapid acid development or too much calcium lost in the whey.

Creamline – That line of creaminess between the rind and the paste of bloomies, washed and semi-soft cheeses.

Cultures – A “cocktail” of enzymes, microorganisms, bacterial or mold spores and other natural elements that become the profile recipes to develop flavor in cheese during the make and aging.

Curd – Coagulated milk protein.

DO – Denominacio de origen – Spain’s designation to protect specialty foods.

DOC – Denominacao de origem controlada – Portugal’s designation to protect specialty foods.

DOP – Denominazione di origine protetta – Italy’s designation to protect specialty foods.

Daisy – Traditionally a 22 pound of cheddar coated with wax and cheesecloth.

Dead eye – Dull appearance, rough texture; also called “shell eye”.

Desiccation – Drying during the aging of cheese.

Diacetyl – The compound that creates the buttery flavor in cheese products such as cottage cheese.

Dipping – Transferring curds gently from the whey into forms.

Dry – Crumbly. May be considered a defect cause by too much rennet, curds cut too small or stirred too long; pH too low or humidity too low.

Drying – Dehydration of cheese surface to help form the rind.

Dysgeusia – Unable to taste basic sensations.

E.Coli – Escherichia coli – A bacteria that naturally lives in the intestines of mammals that can cause illness and in extreme cases, can be fatal.

EFA – Essential fatty acids.

Enzymes – Protein or protein-like compounds that act as catalysts in the breakdown of many substances.

Esters – Fatty acid compounds responsible for flavor in cheese.

Exoenzymes – Digestive enzyme that breaks down nutrients that are then consumed by bacteria to grow.

FDA – Food and Drug Administration; controls and oversees importation, selling and making of cheese in the USA.

FIFO – First In; First Out; proper rotation of product

Fat in Dry Matter (FDM) – ratio of percentage of fat in the cheese to the total solids.

Ferme/Fermier – French term for “farm produced”

Fleurine – A natural crack or fissure that ventilates cheese-aging caves.

Food Alliance – Food Alliance works at the juncture of science, business and values to define and promote sustainability in agriculture and the food industry, and to ensure safe and fair working conditions, humane treatment of animals, and careful stewardship of ecosystems.

Fresh Cheeses – Style of cheeses that generally are not aged and made with pasteurized milk with high moisture content such as cottage cheese, mascarpone, crème fraiche, and yogurt.

Friable – Crumbles easily.

Full Fat – Dairy product/Cheese with FDM between 45 and 60%.

GMO – Genetically Modified Organism.

GMP – Good Manufacturing Practices.

GRP – Good Retail Practices.

Geotrichum candidum – A yeast-like mold used secondarily in the maturation of bloomy and washed rind cheeses. In the former, it grows prior to the development of a bloomy rind and prevents the p. candidum from overtaking a cheese and leading to bitterness. In washed rind cheeses, it is used to de-acidify the surface of the cheese, creating a hospitable environment for bacteria and yeast.

Glaeslet cracks – Parallel cracks in Swiss-style cheese with no eyes.

Glycolysis – Conversion from sugar into acids.

Gouda – Style of cheese that curds are generally washed to eliminate lactic acid which results in a sweeter cheese. Originated in Holland.

Grana – From the Italian word for grain, a class of hard, aged cheese with a granular texture and used for grating.  Most common examples include Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano.

Guillotine – A contraption used to cut clean wedges, particularly useful for blue and other soft cheese.

HACCP – Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points; system to identify and manage critical points that can compromise food safety all along the supply chain.

Harp – A tool with cutting wires used to cut curds in cheesemaking.

Heat-Acid Precipitated Product – A type of coagulation where the acid is added to milk that has been raised to a high temperature.  This process results in a higher yield and lower acidity in the end product because the whey proteins are denatured, allowing coagulation, and so can be recovered in the cheese. The recovered whey proteins have a high capacity to bind water, allowing a high-moisture, firm cheese.

High Fat – FDM in dairy products/cheese is above 60%.

High Temperature Short Time (HTST) – Pasteurization of milk heated to 161°F and held there for 15 to 30 seconds.

Homogenization – Homogenization or homogenization is any of several processes used to make a chemical mixture the same throughout. The fat in milk normally separates from the water and collects at the top. Homogenization breaks the fat into smaller sizes so it no longer separates, allowing the sale of non-separating milk at any fat specification.

Hoops – Molds used to hold curds to allow additional drainage of whey.

Hydrolysis – The addition of water.

Inoculation – Adding starter cultures to milk.

Knitting – the transformation of curds into cheese mass.

Kosher – foods that conform to the regulations of Jewish dietary law.

Lactase – An enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar, lactose.

Lactic Acid – The product of lactic bacteria breaking down lactose, making it easier for humans to digest. When the bacteria release the acid into milk, the acid aids coagulation.

Lactic Set – Bacteria, either inherent in the milk or from starter cultures, converts the milk lactose to lactic acid, causing coagulation without the use of rennet. These cheeses develop a softer curd because the high acidity causes calcium to drain with the whey. Common acid set cheeses include cream cheese and cottage cheese.  Also known as ACID SET.

Lactose –   The sugar found in milk.

Ladling – Transferring the cut curd directly into molds by the use of a ladle or pan.  Some mold-ripened cheeses, like Stilton and Camembert, are hand-ladled in this way.

Lipases – Enzymes that triggers the breakdown of fats and lipoproteins and converting them into free fatty-acids and glycerol.

Lipolysis – The breakdown the butterfat and other lipids in milk to release free fatty-acids which contributes to flavor and texture.

Listeria Monocytogenes – This bacterium is one of the most virulent food-borne pathogens.

Maillard Reaction – Caramelization; a form of nonenzymatic browning. It results from a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring heat.

Marc de Bourgogne – The wash used during the making of Epoisses. It is a French spirit made from pressing the leftover materials from the wine-making process (skins, pulp, seeds, etc.)

Mastitis – The inflammation of udder tissue in cows caused by a mammary gland infection.

Mealy – Grainy feel on palate. May be caused by formation of tyrosine and/or calcium lactate in the paste.

Mesophile –  An organism that grows best in moderate temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, typically between 20 and 45 °C (68 and 113 °F).

Mesophilic – The ability to grow best in moderate temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, typically between 20 and 45 °C (68 and 113 °F).

Micelle – Casein proteins bound together to make larger form.

Microbial Rennet – Rennet created in a lab by growing mold. Generally considered “Vegetarian suitable”.

Microflora – Bacteria and yeast needed in the ripening, flavor and rind development of cheese.

Milk fat Content – The amount of milk that is butterfat.

Milling – The mechanical process through which larger masses of curd are reduced to smaller pieces of curd, done to increase surface area and aid whey expulsion.

Mise en Place – Literally “Putting in place”; in practice – setting up ingredients to be used in food preparation.

Mold – A growth of minute fungi on vegetable or animal matter, commonly as a fuzzy covering.  Mold can be inoculated into the cheese to promote bacteria growth. Ambient mold can also grow on the cheese naturally, either in the ripening room or any other non-sterile environment.

Morge – A concoction made of whey, brine or wine and some cheese scraps. It is known to contain at least 480 types of bacteria. Used to wash cheeses like Beaufort.

Mottled – Irregular, asymmetrical dark and light spots in the paste of cheese. Possible causes: combining curds of different color, batches or moisture content; uneven acid development; unwanted microbial growth.

Mucor – A fuzzy white mold that can grow on the surface of bloomy rind cheeses, and causes a bitter flavor.

Mycelia – The vegetative part of a fungus grown on the bloomy rind of some cheeses, such as Camembert.

Natamycin – Antifungal agent used in cottage cheese, yogurt and sour cream.

NOP – National Organic Program

NSLAB – Nonstarter lactic acid bacteria growing in cheese results in defects such as unwanted flavors, gas formation, or surface film.

Non-Pathogenic – Incapable of causing disease.

Open Curd – During cheesemaking, curds are cut to a large size, resulting in more space between them as the cheese ages.  This results in a crumbly texture.  Jasper Hill Farms’ Bayley Hazen Blue is an example.

Organic – Generally grown without use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Organoleptic – Properties of food experienced by the senses, particularly in relation to freshness.

OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Oxidation – Defects in cheese including bleaching of the paste in cheese stored under light, especially when packaged in transparent plastic, or drying of the paste when exposed to air.

PDO – Protected Designation of Origin. EU system to protect production of certain food stuffs.

PGI – Protected Geographical Indication. EU system to protect production of certain food stuffs.

Pasta Filata – Style of cheese that is cooked and stretched giving it a stringy texture such as mozzarella.

Pasteurization – The heat treatment of milk and food products to potentially kill harmful microorganisms.

Pasteurized Milk – Milk that has been heated to a determined temperature and held there for a specified amount of time in order to kill harmful pathogens that might be present in the milk.

Pasty – paste is wet to touch; overly tacky or sticky. May be considered a defect caused by low or no salt on the curd; unusual acid development.

Pathogen – Any harmful microorganism in milk that causes disease.

Patting – Tamping down mold growth to maintain even ripening.

Penicillium camemberti

Penicillium candidum – A variant of the mold P. camemberti, which is a typical, white bloomy mold that becomes grayish after several days. The P. candidum variant remains white and is the trademark of a bloomy rind cheese. This surface mold, given the proper salt and moisture, will develop a rind that breaks down amino acid chains from the outside in, creating an increasingly soft, buttery texture with time.

Penicillium Glaucum – The lesser known strain of blue mold used in some, typically milder, blue cheeses, such as Gorgonzola. See Penicillium roquefortii.

Penicillium Roquefortii – The blue-green mold typical of blue cheeses, responsible for the breakdown of fats and the resulting piquant flavors. In addition, this mold de-acidifies the cheese curds, which softens the texture over time.

pH – Acidity level in foods. pH is measured from 0 to 14 with 7 being totally neutral; the lower the pH, the higher the acid level.  14 = no acid; 0 = total acid.

Phenolic – Cow-like.

Phenois – Metabolizing of amino acids during aging which creates certain flavor profiles including smoky and barnyard.

Pinking – Development of light to dark pink color on surface of the cheese. May be considered a defect caused by oxidation of annatto.

Pressing – One of the steps in cheesemaking that is uses pressure to achieve desired moisture content and texture.

Pressed Cheese   – Any cheese that is pressed after coagulation, cutting, and cooking (if applicable), draining of whey, and shaping of curds. Semisoft, firm, and hard cheeses are all pressed to achieve a smooth, uniform paste, while most bloomy and blue cheeses are not pressed at all, hence their lighter, moister texture.

Probiotics – Beneficial microorganisms found in milk

Propionibacterium shermanii – A bacteria found in milk and dairy products that breaks down lipids into free fatty acids and ferments lactate, resulting in the CO2 that creates the eyes and sweet, nutty flavors in Swiss-style cheeses.

Protease      Any enzyme that conducts PROTEOLYSIS.  In cheesemaking, enzymes in rennet that cause coagulation.

Proteolysis – The breakdown of proteins into amino acids; such as tyrosine, tryptophan, lycine, valine and taurine.

Pseudoaerobic – Requiring or using some oxygen (air).

Pseudomonas – Bacteria that can grow at low temperatures around or below 35F.  Causes bitter taste.

Psychrotrophic – Bacteria that can live in cold environments; usually present post-pasteurization and due to inadequate sanitation practices.

Raw Milk cheese – Any cheese made from milk that is not pasteurized. Cheese made from milk that prior to setting, has not been heated above the temperature of the milk at milking time or the body temperature of the animal at the time of milking.

Recoctus – Italian for “recooked”; referring to ricotta cheese which is made when the whey is re-cooked in a secondary process.

Rennet – A group of enzymes that causes the coagulation of milk.   Rennet can be animal, vegetable based or created in a laboratory from molds.

Rennet Set – Coagulating milk by using rennet.

Rotational Grazing – Moving animals from one pasture to another in order to allow other pastures to “rest” and re-grow,

Retronasal – The passage between the nose and mouth at the back of the mouth, which is where most of the taste of cheese originates.

Ruminants – From the Latin word meaning to chew again.  A mammal that digests plant matter by softening it in the first compartment of the stomach, then regurgitating the food and rechewing it to further break it down.  Includes cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, yaks, deer, camels, llamas, and antelopes.

SSOP – Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures.

Salmonella – Enterobacteria found in raw or undercooked food and closely related to Escherichiagenus, it causes infections characterized by diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.

Salting – Adding salt to the curd which helps draw off more moisture and arrests the growth of bacteria and retards acidity development. Salting signifies the end of draining whey and the beginning of affinage.

Sanitizer – A cleaning product that reduces disease-causing organisms to safe levels by reversing the microbe cell wall charge from negative to positive, resulting in death of the microbe.

Saponified – Soapy.

Scalding – Heat treatment of the curd. The primary function of scalding is to shrink the curd and expel moisture.

Seamy – Appearance of an outline around individual particles. May be considered a defect caused by too high temperature, over-stirring the curds or lack of salt dissolution.

Sechage – French for drying.

Shell – Rind of cheese

Short – Lack of elasticity. May be considered a defect caused by too rapid acid development; excessive acid development or excessive calcium loss.

Silage – A mixture of plants and grasses fermented in a silo.  The fermentation process is chemically equivalent to the pickling of sauerkraut.  It can cause tainted or off flavors in milk and cheeses.  This stresses the importance of knowing what the milk-producing animal has been fed.  

Slip Skin – The rind detaches from the cheese, usually a bloomy rind, due to high humidity during ripening or storage conditions.

Slitty – “Slitty” means that cheese contains narrow, elongated slits which are generally associated with a cheese that is “gassy” or “yeasty”. Slits in cheese having this characteristic may sometimes be referred to as “fish eyes”.

Solids – The fats and proteins in milk.

Somatic Cell – White cells in milk used to determine how clean milk is.

Somatic Cell Count   – Primarily the number of while cells per ml of milk. The higher the count, the more likely the animal is to developing mastitis. Legal count must be below 750,000 per ml 50% of healthy cows in US are under 100K; 80% are below 200K. Above 300K is cause for concern

Staphylococcus aureus – A bacterium found in the human respiratory tract and on the skin, it is a causal agent of MASTITIS in dairy cows.  It can be transferred to food during handling.

Starter Culture – A preparation of bacteria that, when added to milk, consumes lactose and produces lactic acid. The resulting acidification is one of the preserving techniques used in cheese making.

Supply Chain – System of organizations used in moving product from supplier to consumer.

Surface-Ripened – Style of cheeses ripened by surface molds or yeast. Includes bloomy rinds and washed rind cheeses.

Sustainability – how to keep biological systems diverse and productive.

Syneresis – Expulsion of whey.

TSG – Traditional Specialties Guaranteed – EU system of protection of production of certain food stuffs.

Terroir – All the components of environment, geography, water and feed and their effect on milk and cheese.

Thermization or thermalization – Heating milk to 135-145f and holding there for 15 to 30 seconds. Kills 95% of the bad stuff without killing some of the good microflora. Milk that is heated in this manner is still considered raw per the FDA definition of pasteurization.

Thermophile – An organism — a type of extremophile — that thrives at relatively high temperatures, between 45 and 122 °C (113 and 252 °F). Many thermophiles are archaea.

Thermophilic eubacteria are suggested to have been among the earliest bacteria. Unlike other types of bacteria, thermophiles can survive at much hotter temperatures, where as other bacteria would be damaged and sometimes killed if exposed to the same temperatures.

Tomme – A French term indicating a round of cheese, most often made from a single herd, from cow’s milk, and with a natural rind. Tommes are often identified by their region of origin as in Tomme de Savoie. Small tommes are known as tommettes.

Trans Fat – Unsaturated fats that are not common in nature but generally created artificially.

Transhumance – This term describes the annual movement of dairy livestock from the valleys to Alpine pastures

Tyrosine – Amino acid cluster that form in cheese as it ages; particularly in Cheddars, Goudas and Grana-style cheeses.

Umami – Savory taste; one of the five basic tastes.

Vat pasteurization – A method of heating milk to retain natural enzymes and beneficial bacteria inherent in milk.  Milk is heated to 145˚ F for 30 minutes and then quickly cooled.  More expensive than other pasteurization processes, but intended to preserve flavor and health properties.

Vibrio – A bacteria that can cause foodborne infection.

Washed Rind – A style of cheeses that are washed in brines to kill bad bacteria/mold and encourage the growth of B. linens. B. linens creates the pungent aroma and orange color of the rind.

Washing the Cured – Replacing a measure (often a third) of whey from the vat with water. Washing helps to control acidity growth by reducing the amount of lactose and bacteria. Cheeses like Gouda are often washed curd cheeses.

Water Activity – Water in food which is not bound to food molecules can support the growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds (fungi). The term water activity (aw) refers to this unbound water. The water activity of a food is not the same thing as its moisture content. Although moist foods are likely to have greater water activity than are dry foods, this is not always so; in fact a variety of foods may have exactly the same moisture content and yet have quite different water activities.

Wavy – Portions of paste appearing lighter in color in waves. May be considered a defect caused by inadequate dilution of coagulant, agitation or vibration during the setting of the milk.

West County Farmhouse Cheddar – EU protected cheddar that can only be made in the English counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

Whey – The liquid held within the curd. Whey contains water, lactose, and a variety of proteins that are not captured in the initial coagulation. Whey cheeses, like ricotta, form a curd primarily under the influence of heat. Whey is also used as feed.

Yeast – Single-celled microorganism fungi that can ferment carbohydrates into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Some species are opportunistic pathogens that can cause infection in a compromised immune system.

Zoonosis – An infectious disease transmitted from animals to humans and vice versus.


** My thanks to DCIcheese.com; murrayscheese.com; dpispecialtyfoods.com; cheesesociety.org; gfifoods.com; Whole Foods; Kroger; UC Davis; Wikipedia.org; Shannon Tallman; Bill Stephenson; Amanda Parker; Michael Landis.

Interviews with All Cheese Professionals: Cheesemakers and Cheese Professionals

Interviews will continue throughout 2015… sometimes, they will be “stand-alone” and sometimes they will be presented as round-table discussions with several Cheese Professionals answering the same question. Those participating includeCheesemakers, ACS CCPs™, Cheesemongers and Cheese Professionals and Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.

List of all Interviews from 2013: Cheesemakers, Cheesemongers.

List of 2015 Cheese Professionals.

List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.

Please “Like” MarcellaTheCheesemonger Page on FaceBook.

Taking the 2015 Exam? Please see my page on Tips for Studying for the Exam. Want support? Come join our 2015 Cheese Study Group.

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