An Advanced Beginner’s Guide to European Cheese: 20 Cheeses to Know

Who doesn’t love cheese? From highly processed American sliced cheese to gourmet imported cheeses made in limited quantity and flavored with truffles for additional allure, it’s statistically improbable you won’t find at least one cheese you enjoy unless you’re dead set against liking it to begin with.

That said, traditional European gourmet cheeses definitely have the upper hand when it comes to flavor quality. And while until recently, getting your hands on certain cheese varieties could be problematic, but these days, you don’t need to storm artisan cheese stores to find great, high-quality cheese. The ubiquitous popularity of the product has ensured that most manufacturers will do their best to make their best cheese as accessible as possible - including making buying cheese online a viable option. All you need to do is learn which cheeses to add to your cart.

Start by exploring the cheese store here at Yummy Bazaar, and maybe you’ll find a new favorite that’ll become a staple of your cheeseboard in no time!

Top 20 European Cheeses: From Those, You Already Love to Those You Might Not Have Heard About:

Let’s make one thing clear: the list below is NOT a ranking. It’s a guide! Some cheeses may be more popular than others, but all cheese is good, as far as the Yummy Bazaar team is concerned. We wanted to compile a list, taking indicators such as flavor profiles, history, and popularity into account, to give the beginners some basic knowledge - and more advanced cheese lovers a few new options to try.

Now let’s get down to Yummy Bazaar’s selection of the top 20 cheese varieties from Europe everyone needs to try at least once (but ideally more!) in their lives:

Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) - Italy

Parmesan is a popular hard Italian cheese variety made in the Emilia-Romagna region, namely in the provinces of Reggio Emilia, Parma, and Moderna (hence the original name Parmigiano Reggiano). Parmigiano Reggiano is a protected designation of origin (that name cannot refer to cheese not produced in this region).  

Parmesan is made from raw, semi-skimmed grass-fed milk and is aged between 12 and 24 months, having to pass a quality check at around 12 months of aging. The only additive permitted during the production process is salt. 

Parmigiano Reggiano, which passes the quality check, is supposed to have a granular crumbly texture and intensely robust flavor that can range from nutty to fruity.

Cheddar - United Kingdom

Cheddar is originally from a village in Somerset, West England, but unlike Parmigiano Reggiano, it’s not a protected origin, so that it can be produced anywhere.

Traditional Cheddar is made with cow’s milk and is supposed to be on the harder side but with a smoother texture than Parmesan’s. The flavor profile is supposed to be rich and robust on the nuttier side. The coloring ranges from dark white to pale yellow. The bright orange color is not natural and results from food coloring.

A rarer variety of extra mature Cheddar that’s aged for more than 15 months has a more crumbly texture and sharper flavor. 

Brie - France

This traditional soft cheese from Meaux is made with raw cow’s milk and has a moist, creamy texture. The cheese is ripened between 4 and 6 weeks until fully covered in the white moldy rind. The essential characteristic of Brie cheese is its flavor profile, which is supposed to be complex and must contain nutty, mushroomy, and fruity notes all at once.

Camembert - France

This cheese is Normandy’s pride. The legend says a farmer named Marie Harel got the recipe for original brie cheese from a priest and then gave it her own twist, which resulted in camembert. Camembert looks and tastes quite similar to brie (white moldy rind, soft and creamy texture, nutty and mushroomy flavors). One significant difference is the butterfat content, around 60% of camembert cheese vs. over 70% of brie. Another is the slightly shorter aging period: camembert is aged for approximately 3-4 weeks.

Gouda - Netherlands

A semi-hard cheese made exclusively from cow’s milk, with a mild and fruity flavor. Depending on how long gouda cheese is aged (it can be anywhere from 1 month to 3 years), it will have a harder texture, deeper yellow color, and more complex flavor going from fruity to nuttier and sweeter.

A noteworthy variety is smoked gouda cheese, traditionally made in a brick oven over hickory embers. It’s supposed to have a hard brown rind and a creamier, sweeter, and nuttier flavor.

Manchego - Spain

Traditionally from the La Mancha region, Manchego is a pressed cheese made from either raw or pasteurized grass-fed sheep milk. Its name is due to the breed of the sheep - Manchega. 

The texture is firm and buttery, with tiny air pockets. The aging period ranges from 2 weeks up to 2 years. Depending on how old the cheese is, the flavor can vary from mild and slightly nutty with caramel and butterscotch undertones to spicy and peppery.

Emmental (Emmentaler) - Switzerland

Emmentaler is a semi-hard cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. Its most distinct feature is large holes called eyes that appear during maturation.

Emmental cheese is supposed to have a smooth and buttery texture, with color from pale to bright yellow and a tangy, nutty flavor. Emmentaler is aged between 4 and 18 months on average, with the taste getting noticeably nuttier and sharper with age. It melts well and is one of the most popular cheeses used for fondues

Edam (Edammer) - Netherlands

It is a semi-hard cheese from North Holland with comparatively lower fat content (this makes it softer than other semi-hard cheeses). Edam cheese is aged between 1 and 10 months on average, and its flavor profile significantly depends on its age. Younger Edammer is very mild and fruity, while older Edammer has a sharper, more savory flavor.

Mozzarella - Italy

This soft or semi-soft cheese is traditionally made with raw cow’s or buffalo’s milk, though pasteurized milk can be used these days. There are varieties made with sheep and goat milk, and there’s even a low-moisture mozzarella (frequently used for pizzas). 

Mozzarella is white in color, soft and creamy in texture, and has a mild, somewhat bland, milky flavor.

Stracciatella (di Bufala) - Italy

Soft, curd-like cheese that is usually made with buffalo milk (though there are cow milk varieties, too). It has a very creamy, spreadable texture and a mild, somewhat sweet flavor.

Burrata - Italy

Stracciatella cheese topped off with extra cream, encased in a solid but thin outer shell of mozzarella. A popular topping for salads and pizzas these days.

Feta - Greece

Feta is a traditional Greek cheese made with pasteurized or unpasteurized sheep milk (or a mixture of sheep and goat milk). Feta’s texture and flavor vary. It can be very soft and smooth or somewhat crumbly, with a more mild and bland to sharper savory flavor. It’s usually kept in brine to preserve acidity.

Roquefort - France

The most famous French blue cheese, Roquefort, is a semi-hard cheese made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk. It’s sometimes called the “cheese of kings.”

Roquefort has a moist rind and crumbly texture, with a very complex and robust flavor, with creamy and savory notes.

Gorgonzola - Italy

The most famous Italian blue cheese, Gorgonzola, is made with cow’s milk. There are two varieties: 

  • Gorgonzola Dolce, a soft variety with a creamy texture and mild, buttery flavor;
  • Gorgonzola Piccante, a hard variety with a crumbly texture and rich, intense flavor.

Cabrales - Spain

The most famous Spanish blue cheese, Cabrales, can be made with either cow, goat, or sheep milk, but the milk must be raw and unpasteurized. The cheese is aged for around four months.

Cabrales must contain at least 45% fat, which determines its creamy but firm texture. 

Like other blue cheeses, Cabrales has an intense aroma and sharp flavor, with slightly acidic notes.

Halloumi - Cyprus

Breaking up our parade of blue cheeses is Halloumi, semi-soft cheese from Cyprus made with fresh, full-fat sheep or goat milk (and sometimes the mix of two). Cow milk isn’t a traditional ingredient, but it is occasionally added to a blend. 

Halloumi has a mild, herby flavor (due to mint leaves added to curd layers during production) and a high melting point, making it a favorite for frying and grilling.

Scamorza - Italy

Scamorza is a stringy cow milk cheese from Southern Italy. The cheese is often pear-shaped because the production process includes tying a rope around it to hang it up for drying. Scamorza has a milky flavor, somewhat similar but more robust than mozzarella.

Smoked Scarmoza is a popular variety with a harder texture and sharper flavor.

Gruyere - Switzerland

This traditional hard Swiss cheese is made from raw cow’s milk. The texture, color, and flavor all depend on how long Gruyere is aged. When young, it’s pale in color, has a smoother texture, and creamy, nutty flavor. When aged for five months or more, its color darkens to deep yellow, the texture becomes grainy, often with tiny cracks (though, unlike Emmentaler, Gruyere doesn’t develop holes), and the flavor becomes more complex, with savory and earthy notes.

Limburger - Germany

This semi-soft German cheese is perhaps best known for its intense aroma. However, the pungent aroma isn’t indicative of its flavor: Limburger is on the milder side, with noticeable mushroomy and earthy undertones. 

The texture of the cheese depends on how long it’s been ripened. Contrary to most cheese, the less ripe it is, the firmer and crumblier its texture. With age, it becomes smoother and creamier.

Moliterno - Italy

Moliterno is a hard Italian cheese made with sheep’s milk. It’s traditional to rub olive oil on the cheese surface during the curing process so that the cheese produces a hard rind. The rind is supposed to prevent the loss of moisture. Moliterno cheese has a sharp, nutty flavor.

These days, it’s not uncommon to inject Moliterno cheese with additional flavors during the aging process (after around two months). Popular flavors include black truffle paste and red wine. 

Brown Cheese - Norway

Brown cheese, also called Brunost, is a famous Norwegian cheese made from either cow or goat milk whey. So technically, since it’s made from a secondary milk product, it’s not a cheese at all, but that boat has long sailed. These days it’s considered a cheese variety, and it’s not about to change.

The dark caramel color that earned the cheese its name is not an accident. The whey is boiled down to caramelized sugar and then cooled to crystalize the sugar. The longer the whey boiling process, the darker the final product.

Brunost has a dense, fudgy texture and a sweet flavor, with strong caramel notes. It’s traditionally enjoyed as a dessert item, either with fruit or as a pastry topping.

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