And why you'll always want to have them on your cheese board.
blocks of semi-soft cheese
Credit: Bryan Gardner

While you may consider yourself an expert when it comes to all things cheddar, how much do you really about the other types of cheese? Yes, you know you enjoy eating them, but if you were asked to compose a cheese board or identify an assortment before you, would you be able to? As part of our cheese primer series, we've asked Elizabeth Chubbuck, SVP of sales and marketing at Murray's Cheese, to give us the lowdown on different cheese types. Here, we're discussing semi-soft cheese, a category that includes young gouda, Havarti, taleggio, fontina, Munster, camembert, brie, wash rind, bloomy rind, and ash ripened cheeses. Here's what you need to know.

What Is Semi-Soft Cheese?

Semi-soft cheese is a big category that encompasses a few different styles of cheese. Within this category are soft aged cheeses (any soft cheese with a rind on the outside), like wash rind and bloomy rind varieties. How long they are aged depends on the size of the wheel, but these tend to be younger cheeses that have been aged for a few months or less, which is how they retain their soft yet springy texture.

What Are Some Defining Traits of Semi-Soft Cheese?

"None of these cheeses have much in common stylistically," says Chubbuck. "It's all just about how much moisture is present." Soft aged cheeses tend to have a buttery texture akin to custard or cheesecake. Bloomy rind cheeses are typically either pure white with a velvety texture to the rind or ivory with a brain-like appearance (think of camembert), or can be small-format ash-ripened cheeses with a soft, blue-gray rind. Their flavors are evocative of mushrooms, sweet corn, or hay.

Wash rind cheeses have orange to orange-pink, shiny, tacky rinds on the outside (Munster is a great example). They are typically pungent with "funky barnyard smells," says Chubbuck. These are what Chubbuck calls "the funkmasters." The other cheeses in the semi-soft category, meanwhile-like Havarti and fontina-tend to be the most crowd-friendly. "They're the most akin to the mild, block cheddar that most of us grew up on," says Chubbuck. "Not necessarily flavor-wise, but texturally they're very approachable….The semi-soft are the ones people feel comfortable with." They do tend to have a milder flavor that makes them a good starting place for someone just beginning their cheese odyssey.

How to Incorporate Semi-Soft Cheese Into a Cheese Plate

Many cheese plate stars can be found in the semi-soft category. "When I'm making a cheese board, I typically start with a bloomy rind cheese," says Chubbuck. Whether she includes a wash rind cheese depends on how adventurous and tolerant of pungent smells the crowd is. Meanwhile, she'd save the other semi-soft cheeses for last until she gets the other heavy hitters on the plate and knows what gaps she needs to fill.


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