HOME > Chowhound > Cheese >


Cheese 101

recommendations for websites; ie: producer / cheesemonger / reatiler, for an intro into cheeses. I like all kinds; don't know anything about and want to develop a 'cheese palate'

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. While the subject is a few years old, The Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins will give you a crash course in products, history and milks,

      1. re: thegforceny

        Been ordering some from Murrays; 'Special's' mainiy, stopped by the Greenwich Vilage location on Saturday, couldn't even get in the door!
        I'll visit the other sites, looking to get an education while exploring and enjoying cheeses
        Thanks to both!

      2. There are a ton of cheese websites and blogs. Many of them are interesting, but reading them probably isn't the best or most methodical way for a beginner to learn about cheese. If you're just starting on your "cheese journey," I recommend the following:

        1. Get a good book. The Cheese Primer has already been mentioned. Published 16 years ago, it is showing its age a little, but the fact that it has been in print continuously for so long speaks to its quality and usefulness. Still, it might no longer be my first choice. Other books to consider:

        Cheese Essentials (Laura Werlin)
        The Cheese Plate (Max McCalman)
        The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cheeses of the World (Steve Ehlers and Jeanette Hurt)

        2. Take a course. Most of the better cheese shops offer short courses (about 2 hours), starting with Cheese 101 and moving on to more specific topics. you could plan a trip to one of the big cities near you to coincide with an evening on which a course is offered. A few places, like Murrays and Artisanal in New York and The Cheese School of San Francisco offer multi-day courses during which you would be exposed to all of the basics and taste a lot of different cheeses. These are intended primarily for cheesemongers or people who are thinking about becoming one, but are also open to others.

        3. Use every opportunity to talk to cheesemongers (e.g., when you visit a shop), although the Christmas season obviously isn't the best time to get their undivided attention.

        4. Stick around here and follow the threads on this brand new Cheese Board. Don't hesitate to ask questions!

        4 Replies
        1. re: cheesemaestro

          Nice list! For me, #3 is the only way to learn. You must taste cheese to understand.

          Visiting your local cheesemongers not only cuts to the chase, if you plan to buy cheese with some regularity establishing a buying source is key.

          Most shopkeeps I've met want to impart their knowlege and turn newcomers onto great cheese and great value. But, tasting the cheese is very important beyond the pages of well researched books or blogs.

          The whole point of learning about cheese is tasting it. Even with years spent talking to cheese producers and cheese lovers, I learn something new every time.

          1. re: HillJ

            And I should include visiting cheese makers, farm producers and cheese tours.

            1. re: HillJ

              Everything you say is true. Don't discount classes, though. Almost all of them include tasting several cheeses. They are a great way to improve your knowledge and your palate at the same time.

              1. re: cheesemaestro

                Absolutely. Thank you for adding it.

        2. www.carrvalleycheese.com is my favorite from Wisconsin. But then I cheat and go to the creamery near Barraboo each year for the discounted ends and misfires. Goat, lamb, and cow.

          1 Reply
          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

            Thanks to all for the advice
            I plan on this being a long and enjoyable discovery!

          2. One of my favorite books is Mastering Cheese by Max McCalman. He's written a few books, but this one is my favorite- you can get basic information, and more indepth guidance. It's a good guide to understand the hows and whys of types, milks and appreciation.

            And, you can use these suggestions to go to your local shop (I hope you have one) and recreate some of the plates and pairings, because this will help guide you to developing your palate.

            It's a wonderful journey that never ends! Enjoy it.

            9 Replies
            1. re: cheesemonger

              Thanks for the advice.
              Unfortunately, we do not have a cheesemonger/decent cheese shop at the beach; closest is a good Italian-style deli.
              Planning on a weekend day trip to Phila post-holidays; cheese is on the list.

              1. re: ocpitmaster


                If you wind up near this PA cheese shop, you won't be disappointed!

                1. re: HillJ

                  I stopped in last month and really enjoyed it. The sausages and meats are even better. However, being in Pittsburgh, the OP may find that a bit far to go.

                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                    You can also mail order cheeses and meats through their website or by calling them..

                    1. re: cheesemaestro

                      Thanks for mentioning that option, I've done the shipping thing dozens of times with wonderful results. Penn Mac ships beautifully.

                    2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      Good to hear about your experience at PennMac Co. I didn't want to assume how far ocpit. would travel. The prices and variety are worth the day trip.

                2. re: cheesemonger

                  Mastering Cheese is a magnificent book, perhaps the best book on cheese written in the last 20 years, and their have been a lot of them. Still, I'm hesitant to recommend it as a first book on cheese, as it is more detailed than most and could be overwhelming to someone just starting on their cheese journey. That's why I recommended Max's first book, The Cheese Plate instead. Laura Werlin's book, Cheese Essentials, would also be a good introduction for people who want to taste first and learn about the background issues (breeds of animals, technical considerations, etc.) later. Laura's approach is to emphasize practical matters: the different types of cheese (bloomy rind, semi-soft, firm, etc.) and worthwhile representatives of each type; how to determine if a cheese is in good condition; how to buy and store cheese; etc. In the end, I think it depends on the individual as to how much information he/she wants to be hit with and how quickly, but one really can't go wrong with any of these books.

                  1. re: cheesemaestro

                    I agree they are all good resources- I recommended Mastering Cheese because I am a whys/hows/processes kind of person. I feel that information first, and then the tasting makes a much stronger impact, at least for me.

                    Some people get more from tasting (even blind) first and learning the details later, I tend to go the other way.

                    1. re: cheesemonger

                      I am like you in this regard, but you're right that we aren't all the same. I tend to wax enthusiastic when I talk about cheese and launch into all kinds of details. Sometimes the person I'm with listens eagerly, and sometimes I see their eyes glaze over!

                3. French Cheese by Patrick Rance is THE definitive book on French cheese. Used copies are available on Amazon.

                  He talks about all of the French region's cheeses, how they are made and their history. Its a wonderful book for anyone really interested in cheeses. He does go into far too much detail when he visits individual producers, but one can skip a lot of that.

                  I'm really looking forward to this topic and will contribute when I can. As I live in France there's not much I can say about current American cheeses, but maybe I can contribute concerning French cheeses.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Yank

                    Eyewitness book on French Cheese is an excellent guide to use when purchasing, small with great pictures, tends to be quite helpful.

                    1. re: Yank

                      Rance's book is a jewel. I might be tempted to say it is the best book on cheese ever written. (I said elsewhere in this thread that Max McCalman's Mastering Cheese is the best book written in the last 20 years, but Rance's book was published earlier, in 1989.) As with any book of this age, there is some outdated information, including cheesemakers that no longer produce cheese, or have died, and cheeses that no longer exist, including a few that Rance wasn't sure were still being made when he wrote the book. Rance himself died in 1999.

                      However, the book is a unique and invaluable resource for the history of cheesemaking in each region of France. It is also remarkable for Rance's clear understanding, a quarter of a century ago, of the forces in France that were threatening its cheeses: the closure of farmstead dairies; the expansion of factory-made cheeses, with an inevitable loss in quality, the increasing substitution of pasteurized milk for raw milk, also with a loss of flavor and quality; the failure to take steps to preserve the uniqueness of each cheese. (For example, Rance lamented the adoption of the same Penicillium Roqueforti mold cultures for numerous French blue cheeses, claiming that these cheeses now taste more similar to one another than before.) The detailed discussion in the appendix of the effectiveness of pasteurization in controlling Listeria in cheese is a topic that is still hotly debated today.

                      The French Cheese Book has been out of print for years. Copies on the market can be quite expensive, especially of the hardcover edition. Besides Amazon, check eBay, where I bought my copy. There are a few British sellers who don't price gouge and also have reasonable shipping charges to the US.

                      All in all, a book to cherish, but not a first book for the novice. Deluca's recommendation of the Eyewitness book is a good guide for purchasing French cheeses, and there are also useful descriptions to help customers in more general guides on cheese, such as Murray's Cheese Handbook and Juliet Harbutt's The World Cheese Book.

                    2. Believe it or not, there is an app for that! It is called "Fromage" and it is an excellent reference guide. You can search for different cheeses, look them up by region, milk type or texture. You can make notes on the cheeses you've tasted, where you found it and the price. Nice little app to start your own cheese tasting adventure. Hope ya'll find it helpful.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: DDSLADE6819

                        I'm an app newbie -- how do you find an app?

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler


                          iTunes is usually the 1st place I look but if you have an Android, this app is not avail (yet).


                          with screenshots

                          1. re: HillJ

                            Thanks. My BIL works for Google, so we're all Android, but I'll check back and see if it becomes available.

                        2. re: DDSLADE6819

                          An excellent online resource (not requiring an app) is Culture Magazine's Cheese Library.


                          The list of cheeses is extensive and the descriptive information provided for each cheese is detailed. This resource is most useful when you have the name of a cheese and want to find out more about it, rather than when you want to identify cheeses that fit certain criteria.

                        3. for a great foundation on cheese composition, milk science - Harold McGee has a good dairy section in his book On Food and Cooking. As a former cheesemonger, if you have a local cheese shop - go in often, set a budget (easy too spend to much on cheese) and tell the monger, and go in during non peak times for the most tastes!

                          1. I am beginning my exploration of cheeses.
                            I have pursed 2 books.