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From Ricotta to Mozzarella, Here's Everything You Need to Know About Fresh Cheeses

These delicate fromages are creamy and comforting.

bowls and plate of assorted soft cheese
Photography by: Bryan Gardner

While most of us can agree that we love cheese, very few people know all that much about it. As part of our cheese primer series, we've turned to Elizabeth Chubbuck, SVP of sales and marketing at Murray's Cheese, to discuss all things fromage—from the different types to the tools you need to serve them. By getting to know the most common cheese categories, you'll be well-equipped to shop your favorite cheese store and to enjoy and serve a bold, delicious selection at your next dinner party or family gathering. Today we're taking to Chubbuck about fresh cheese, the category that includes fan favorites like ricotta, mozzarella, fresh chevre, and cottage cheese. Consider this your beginner's guide.

 

Related: A Summery Salad with Cottage Cheese

 

What Is Fresh Cheese?

The differences between types of cheese come down to how much moisture they retain and how long they've been aged. Fresh cheeses have no rind, have not been aged at all (ahem, they're fresh) and contain the most moisture of any cheese. Ready to geek out? "Fresh cheese is simply made with heat and acid, allowing the lactose and milk to turn to lactic acid and to manipulate the proteins in the milk a little bit so that they begin to form a net of proteins which traps a lot of water but creates a loose but solid structure," explains Chubbuck. The more moisture in the cheese, the more creamy and spreadable it will be.

 

What Are the Defining Traits of Fresh Cheese?

Fresh cheeses tend to be mild in flavor and white in color. Chubbuck says, "The color of fresh cheeses should be almost identical to the color of the milk that it's from." Most will be pure white, but fresh cheese made with grass fed cows milk, for example, may have a very pale yellow tint. The exception of course would be something like smoked mozzarella, which has gone through an additional step to flavor it that also impacts the color. Chubbuck notes that you can use this knowledge to easily tell when your fresh cheese is no longer good to consume. Although it's usually fine to cut off mold on firmer cheeses and carry on, if you see any signs of discoloration on your fresh cheese, it's time to toss it. "When I see any kind of color on a fresh cheese or fresh dairy products, I don't eat it at all," says Chubbuck.

 

How to Incorporate Fresh Cheese Into a Cheese Plate

"Fresh cheeses are optional when it comes to cheese boards," says Chubbuck. "I think of fresh cheeses personally in my own kitchen and my own eating as more of ingredients than I do for a cheese board." There are, however, some exceptions. Chubbuck might include a fresh cheese on a cheese plate for the purposes of comparison, particularly if she's teaching a class. She also says that "fresh ricotta with honey and flaky sea salt is an outstanding, simple, approachable, decadent way to start a cheese board. And there's nothing wrong with that."

 

Though most people may not consider the seasonality of cheese, Chubbuck notes that she's much more inclined to include something like a fresh goat cheese—with its clean, bright flavor—on her board in the springtime than at other times of the year. "I love fresh cheeses during that time of year because even though most of them are available year round, they are still evocative of new life. Young baby goats, young baby calves being born, they make you think of fresh cut grass and fresh milk—they're really lovely."