What defines these favorite fromages, and should they be featured on a cheese board?

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blocks and slices of semi-hard cheese
Credit: Bryan Gardner

It's hard to find someone who will admit to not loving cheese, but how much do you really know about your favorite types? As part of our cheese primer series, we asked Elizabeth Chubbuck, SVP of sales and marketing at Murray's Cheese, to give us the lowdown on all the different varieties. We've covered fresh cheeses and semi-soft cheeses, which brings us to semi-hard cheeses, such as cheddar, emmenthaler, Monterey jack, aged manchego, gruyere, comté. Here, Chubbuck explains all you need to know.

What is Semi-Hard Cheese?

As cheese ages, it looses moisture and hardens. So, as Chubbuck points out, semi-hard cheeses are essentially semi-soft cheeses that have been aged longer-except that it's not quite that simple. "You can't just take any cheese and age it longer to get it to be harder," she says. "I mean, you can, but it's not always going to taste good." Besides a longer aging process, semi-hard cheeses also often have follow a different recipe than their younger counterparts. "You could have a very soft, young block cheddar, which is a different recipe than a cloth-bound cheddar, which I would categorize as a semi-hard cheese."

What Are Some Defining Traits of Semi-Hard Cheese?

Chubbuck says that you can tell a semi-hard cheese by it's density; they are "going to be very dense and firm, but will still have some springiness," she says. This is in contrast to a spreadable fresh cheese, a gooey semi-soft cheese, or a hard cheese with no spring whatsoever. Though she's also the first to admit that "the difference between soft and hard cheeses are pretty clear, but that semi-hard category-nobody can agree on it…semi-hard cheeses are a much broader category." While flavors vary, they do tend to be on the less funky side of the spectrum, which makes them a particularly accessible category of cheese.

How to Incorporate Semi-Hard Cheese Into a Cheese Plate

When Chubbuck is curating a cheese plate she says that at a bare minimum she's likely to include a hard cheese, a soft cheese, and a crowd pleaser-and "the crowd pleaser would likely be a semi-hard cheese." While you may not build your cheese plate around a semi-hard cheese it can play an important role in your board as an accessible entry point. Semi-hard cheeses are flavorful yet approachable with a pleasant texture. Once you've decided on the heavy hitters, select a semi-hard cheese to round things out.

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