Explore the vocabulary of the art and science of cheese! This cheese dictionary is packed with terms to help you understand cheeses and talk to cheesemakers and cheesemongers with confidence. If you know what you’re looking for, click on the letter of the alphabet to jump to that section of the dictionary. Or, just scroll through.
Affinage: The craft of maturing and aging cheeses, from the French word affiné, which translates as finished or refined.
Affineur: The person who cares for cheeses during the aging process.
Alpage: A French term for the alpine fields where animals graze during the summer months, which enhances the flavor and complexity of their milk and the resulting cheese. (See transhumance)
Alpine-style cheese: Any cheese made after the style of traditional cheeses indigenous to the Alps, the European mountain range marking the borders of Switzerland, France, Austria, and Italy.
Ammoniated: A term that describes a cheese that smells or tastes of ammonia as a result of being overripe or mishandled, usually in soft, bloomy or washed-rind cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert, and chèvre.
Annatto: An odorless, tasteless natural vegetable extract derived from achiote seeds and used to color a cheese red, yellow, or orange, such as cheddar, Cheshire and Leicester.
Artisanal cheese: This is defined many ways by many people, from small-batch, to hand-made, to the use of local milk. Culture defines artisanal cheese as cheese made with the make-process being adjusted to the milk as it is, rather than cheese made with milk that has been adjusted to a uniform standard.
Beta-Carotene: Beta-carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids. It naturally occurs in grasses and imparts yellow coloration to the milkfat in cow’s milk. It is also a precursor to the fat-soluble vitamin A.
Beestings: The first milk a cow produces after calving. High in protein, beestings is used in Spain for the production of Armada, a strongly flavored, semi-firm cheese. (See colostrum)
Bloomy rind: The white, edible crust formed by spraying the cheese surface before aging with a harmless, flavor-producing, white Penicillium candidum mold, which allows it to ripen from the outside in and retain a high percentage of moisture, such as in Brie and Camembert.
Bluing: The growth of blue mold on or in cheeses. (see veining)
Brevibacterium linens (B. linens): Harmless bacteria cultivated on the surface of washed-rind cheeses, which create an orange or pinkish hue and a bracing odor. B. linens require moisture, oxygen, and a low-acid environment to flourish.
Brined Cheese: A term used to classify cheeses that are stored in brine, such as feta. (see Pickled Cheese)
Bruised: A term that describes a cheese as off-color, dented, or with other physical irregularities.
bST/Bovine Somatotropin: A naturally occurring protein hormone from the pituitary gland of cattle that affects the amount of milk produced by dairy cows. (not to be confused with the controversial synthetic version, rBGH)
Calcium chloride: A molecule containing 1 calcium and 2 chlorine elements. Calcium chloride powder is often added to milk that has been pasteurized in order to boost the calcium content. This can aid in coagulation.
Caquelon: A stoneware, ceramic, enameled cast-iron, or porcelain cooking vessel used in the preparation of fondue.
Casein: The primary protein in milk.
Cendre: A term indicating that a cheese is sprinkled with dark vegetable ash, commonly on young goats’ milk cheeses.
Cheddar: Cheddar is not protected by origin (although the cheese was first made in the village of Cheddar in Somerset, Southwest England), but generally any cheese that is made by the process of cheddaring can be called a cheddar.
Cheddaring: A process in which curds are let to sit together for a few hours after they coagulate. As the curds drain, they begin to knit together into a solid mass. This mass is sliced into smaller loaves and stacked on top of one another.
Cheese Trier: Resembling an apple corer, a cheese trier is used to extract a small plug sample from the center of a cheese wheel. The sample enables the viewing of different parts of the cheese, allowing cheesemakers, potential purchasers, or judges at a competition to insure the cheese has aged properly and is ready for consumption, without compromising the wheel.
Chunk/Bar: The rectangular shape most common of exact-weight retail cheese cuts. A bar typically weighs 8 or 16 ounces; chunks are smaller cuts of random weights.
Close: A term that describes cheese with a smooth, tight texture, such as cheddar. Cheese with small holes, such as Colby, is characterized as open.
Creamline: The layer of cheese just inside the rind. This tends to be more creamy and runny than the interior paste and can be thick or thin depending on the size, age, and style of the cheese.
Colostrum: The first milk a cow (or any mammal) produces after giving birth. Colostrum contains antibodies to protect the calf after birth, and has both a higher protein content and a lower fat content than traditional milk.
Crock: A glazed clay vessel traditionally used to store cold-pack cheeses; today these cheeses may be packaged in similar containers of different materials.
Curd: After milk has been coagulated as part of the cheesemaking process, curds are the solids.
Daisy: A style of cheese, traditionally a 22-pound wheel of cheddar, coated with wax and cheesecloth.
Disk: A cheese set in this shape, such as Brie or Camembert; the style allows for quick aging of the cheese, from the outer edges to the inner core.
Enzyme: A molecule that speeds up chemical reactions.
Eyes: Holes within cheese, such as Swiss, formed by trapped gas as a result of fermentation during the curing process
Farmstead cheese: Cheese in which only milk produced on the farm where the cheese is made is used.
Ferme/Fermier: A French term for farm-produced cheeses.
Filled: A term for cheese whose butterfat has been removed and replaced with vegetable oil. Filled cheese is also referred to as imitation cheese.
Fresh cheese: Cheese that has not been aged for more than a few weeks.
Fromager: French for cheesemaker.
Fondu: The French term for processed cheese; not to be confused with fondue, the Swiss dish made with cheese.
Galactomyces candidum: Formerly (and still often) known as Geotrichum candidum, Galactomyces is 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 the latter, it is used to de-acidify the surface of the cheese, creating a hospitable environment for B. linens.
Gassy: A term for cheese in packaging that becomes bloated, due to an increase in holding temperature or altitude or indicating microbial production of carbon dioxide.
Gem: A style of cheddar weighing approximately three pounds.
Geotrichum candidum: See Galactomyces candidum
Green: A cheese that is not yet fully ripened.
Guillotine: A contraption used to cut clean wedges, especially useful for blue or other soft cheeses.
Hâloir: A drying room where cheeses are left to mature, for a few weeks to 24 months or longer.
Homogenization: The process by which fat globules are made uniform in size and distribution of the milk.
Hoops: Forms used to press curds into shape after salting and before aging.
Hot Performance: How a cheese responds to heat, which depends on its form and hardness, and the temperature and length of cooking time.
Hygrometer: An instrument used to measure temperature of and moisture content (humidity) in the air, essential in an aging cave.
Interior Mold: Mold (most often blue) that grows into the interior of a cheese. This mold can be introduced by piercing the cheese with needles to introduce oxygen, or it can be from an open rind and natural space between the curds.
Kid: Young goat
Lactase: An enzyme that splits lactose molecules into the simple sugars glucose and galactose. People who are lactose intolerant lack this enzyme and can often take pills to supplement it.
Lactic Acid: A product of the breakdown of lactose with low pH.
Lactic Bacteria: Bacteria that break down lactose molecules, leaving behind lactic acid.
Lactose: A sugar molecule present in milk.
La Religieuse: French for nun, the crisp, salty, wafer-like layer of cheese that remains at the bottom of the fondue pot, perhaps from a legend about monks saving these remains for the sisters.
Longhorn: A cylindrical style of cheese, usually Colby or Colby-Jack, that weighs approximately 12 to 13 pounds and measures 13 inches long with a six-inch diameter (A half moon is a split version of a Longhorn-style cheese).
Make: A room in which cheese is made.
Marbled: A term that describes a cheese in which two colors of curd are blended, or where a colored flavoring agent (such as sage or coffee) has been introduced to the cheese showing a colorful, marbled contrast between the curds of the cheese.
Mesophilic: Bacteria that thrive between the temperatures of 68°F and 104°F.
Midget: A style of cheese, usually cheddar, weighing approximately 12 pounds.
Milling: Breaking up the curd after it has rested and ripened before pressing.
Moisture content: The amount of water in a cheese (or anything else for that matter).
Oil-off: The separation of oil from solid when cheese melts.
Pasta filata: Italian for spun paste, a process in which curds are heated and then stretched or kneaded before being molded into a desired shape, creating cheeses (mozzarella, provolone, and scamorza) that are very elastic and stretch when cooked or melted.
Paste: The interior of a cheese beneath the outer rind, which can range in texture from soft and creamy to firm and smooth to hard, dry, and crunchy.
Pasteurization: The process of heating something to a high temperature for a set length of time in order to kill off pathogens.
Pavé: A French term used to describe a shape of cheese that resembles paving stones in country towns.
Pear: The shape of a provolone style that usually weighs between 20 and 40 pounds; ropes are tied around the cheese for hanging during aging.
Pecora: Italian for sheep; thus the family of hard Italian sheep’s milk cheeses, pecorinos.
Persille: French for parsleyed, which refers to delicately veined blue cheeses, such as Roquefort and Stilton, in which the mold resembles sprigs of parsley.
Penicillium candidum (P. candidum): A mold often added to soft-ripened cheeses to promote the growth of a white, bloomy rind.
Penicillium roqueforti (P. roqueforti): The primary blue mold used in the making of blue cheese. Originally found in the cheese caves in Roquefort, France.
pH: A measure of acidity.
Pickled Cheese: A term used to classify cheeses that are stored in brine, such as feta. (see Brined Cheese)
Pricking: The process of piercing a cheese with long needles to introduce the air necessary for certain types of fermentation, usually blue mold growth.
Print: A rectangular cheese that has been cut from a 40-pound block, normally a 10-pound loaf.
Process Cheese: A term generally used to describe cheese that has been processed after its manufacture in order to make it more shelf stable. Powdered cheese, canned cheese, and American cheese are examples of process cheese.
Proteases: Enzymes that break down dairy proteins; lipases are enzymes that break down fat molecules.
Quark: A soft, European cheese similar to cream cheese.
Raw Milk: Milk that has not been pasteurized.
Roule: A log-shaped soft cheese, usually rolled in fresh herbs or aromatics.
rBGH/Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone: A synthetic version of BGH given to dairy cows to increase of milk production.
Rennet: An enzyme used to coagulate milk. Technically, rennet is derived from the membrane lining the stomach of a calf, though the term is now used to describe any enzyme – animal, vegetable, or microbial – used to curdle milk in cheesemaking.
Retronasal: The perception of aroma (and thereby flavor) by inhaling scent molecules through the mouth.
Ripening: A word used to describe both the period of, and changes during the aging of a cheese.
Rind: The exterior of a cheese. This can be inedible (plastic, wax, or cloth covered), natural, mold-covered, or flavored.
Salami: A Provolone style resembling a small to large log, ranging from 13 to 100 pounds.
Saturated fat: A type of fatty acid that is saturated with carbon atoms. This type of fat is more prevalent in animal-derived foods such as meat and dairy.
Smear-ripened: A cheese that is washed with a yeast solution. Also known as washed-rind.
Soapy: A description of taste caused by long-chain fatty acids sometimes present in cheese caused by excessive milkfat breakdown.
Starter: Also called a started culture. A bacterial culture that converts lactose into lactic acid, lowering the pH of the milk at the beginning of the cheesemaking process (see Lactic bacteria).
Surface-ripened: c cheese that ages from the outside in due to microorganisms (mold) introduced to its exterior.
Taste: One of the 5 sensations perceived by the tongue: bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami.
Terroir: A French word that describes characteristics given to a food by the area in which is was grown, including soil, climate, and altitude.
Thermalization: The process of heating milk to less than 160°F for fewer than 15 seconds prior to cheese production–a lower temperature for a shorter period of time than that of pasteurization.
Thermophilic: Bacteria that thrive between the temperatures of 86°F and 122°F.
Tomme: A French term indicating a small round of cheese; smaller tommes are known as tommettes. Also a generic name given to a class of cheese produced mainly in the French Alps from the skim milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and richer cheeses. As a result, tommes are generally low in fat.
Triple-cream or triple-crème: A fresh, soft French cheese containing at least 72 percent fat.
Transhumance: Seasonal guided migration of animals to higher alpine pastures, especially in the French and Swiss Alps, where they graze on open fields of grass; cheese (Gruyère, Beaufort, Appenzeller, Comté) is then produced after each milking. (See alpage)
Truckle: A small barrel-shaped cheese, especially cheddar. (Also: to behave obsequiously: “She despised her husband, who truckled to her.”)
Turophobia: Fear of cheese.
Tyrosemiophilia: The hobby of collecting cheese labels, as mentioned by Thomas Pynchon in his debut novel, V.
Ubriaco: Italian for drunk, and a general term for wine-washed cheeses traditionally made of cow’s milk in northern Italy but increasingly produced elsewhere.
Ultra-Pasteurization: The process of heating milk to higher temperature for a shorter period of time than that of regular pasteurization, which results in a longer shelf life but still requires refrigeration.
Unsaturated fat: A type of fatty acid that is not saturated with carbon atoms, because some of those atoms have bonded with each other. This type of fat is more prevalent in plant-derived foods.
Washed-curd: A cheese that has had some of its whey drained and replaced with hot water. This reduces the amount of lactose available for conversion into lactic acid and results in a sweeter cheese after aging. Gouda is an example of a washed-curd cheese.
Washed-rind: A cheese that is bathed in brine, whey, beer, cider, wine, or brandy during ripening to encourage the growth of B. linens bacteria, which lends a pungent aroma, full, salty flavor, and an reddish-orange rind (such as Limburger).
Waxed: A protective coating of cheesecloth and wax for preservation. Many wax colors denote some attribute of that cheese. For example, with Cheddar: clear = mild, red = medium, and black = aged or sharp.
Wedge: A cut from a wheel of cheese.
Weeping: A term that refers to a release of moisture from the eyes of Swiss-type cheeses, caused by proteins being broken down during ripening. Weeping often indicates that a cheese has achieved peak ripeness and will exhibit full flavor, or that it has been stored at too warm of a temperature.
Welsh rarebit: A dish made with a savory sauce of melted cheese, usually cheddar, served hot over toast, which originated in 18th-century Great Britain.
Whey: The liquid portion of milk after it’s been coagulated.
Whey cheese: A cheese made from coagulated whey proteins, such as traditional ricotta.
Young: Semi-firm, firm, or hard cheeses that have been cured for two weeks to 30 days; such cheeses usually have mild flavors