May 26, 2020
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A lesson in cheese, Maine shops offer a variety of options that don’t stink

Learning about cheese, like learning about wine, can be a daunting endeavor. There are so many different kinds, so many different terms, and there’s that aura of pretension that often surrounds this dairy product. Why is one brie different from another? What does “bloomy rind” mean? And where can you buy good cheese, anyway?

It doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it’s really pretty simple. There are a handful of words you can learn to have a good understanding of the basics of cheese that will take you beyond mere cheddar or provolone, processed or pre-sliced. Here are some helpful tips to wrap your head around different kinds of cheese, as well as some pointers on how to serve and store them.

Glossary of terms

Fresh cheese: Cheese that is made fresh and barely aged; usually soft and fairly mild, such as mozzarella, goat’s milk chevre, cream cheese, ricotta cheese or paneer, used in Indian food.

Medium soft cheese: Cheese with a texture somewhere in between hard and soft, that melts easily, making this variety ideal for fondues or toasted sandwiches. Examples include Swiss cheeses such as Gruyere, Emmental, Jarlsberg and Gouda.

Semi-hard to hard cheeses: Cheeses that are slightly crumbly, stronger in flavor and have been aged for a longer period of time, such as cheddars, aged versions of Gouda, or Monterey Jack, as well as extremely hard cheese aged for months or years, such as Parmesan and pecorino.

Soft-ripened: Smooth, often runny or gooey cheese, with a pronounced rind, such as Brie or Camembert. Also known as “bloomy rind.”

Washed rind: Cheeses that are washed or cured in a solution made of saltwater, wine, beer, herbs, spices or other combinations. These impart a very strong, “stinky” flavor and aroma, such as Limburger or Taleggio, though bloomy cheeses can also have washed rinds.

Blue: Cheese that has been exposed to bacteria to encourage the growth of blue mold, which imparts a pungent flavor. This includes Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, or mass-produced blue cheeses.

Brined: Salty cheeses preserved in brine, such as feta or halloumi. Often Greek or Middle Eastern.

Rennet: An enzyme, usually animal-derived, that’s added to milk to spur the coagulation that occurs in the milk fats and protein. An acid or bacteria is usually added to the milk prior to the rennet to begin the coagulation process.

A selection of places to buy cheese in Maine

Eat More Cheese, 94 Main St., Belfast

This store recently expanded into a new, larger location, and offers even more cheese, as well as charcuterie, gourmet chocolates, bread, wine and beer.

Market Basket, 223 Commercial St., Rockport

A longstanding gourmet shop with a selection of imported cheeses and other gourmet goodies.

Bangor Wine & Cheese Co., 86 Hammond St. Bangor

Cheese, plus a large selection of wine and other gourmet food items, such as olives, oils and vinegars from Fiore.

State Street Wine Cellar, 195 State St., Bangor

A small but carefully curated selection of cheese, as well as smoked seafood.

Uncorked Wine & Cheese, 145 Civic Center Drive, Augusta

A good selection of cheese, and they’ll help you with wine and beer pairings, too.

The Cheese Iron, 200 U.S. Route 1, Scarborough

A dizzying array of cheeses — over 200 to choose from — with an in-house cheese cave for allowing cheeses to age properly. Sandwiches and catering are available.

K. Horton Specialty Foods, Portland Public Market, 28 Monument Square, Portland

A wide variety of international and domestic cheeses, located inside Portland’s downtown gourmet food minimall.

Rosemont Market; three locations in Portland plus one in Yarmouth

This Portland-area market offers lots of organic goodies, as well as a selection of cheese and meats.

Maine cheesemakers include Appleton Creamery (Appleton, goat cheeses), Balfour Farm (Pittsfield, cow cheeses), Seal Cove Farm (Lamoine, mostly goat), Lakin’s Gorges (Rockport, cow’s milk, many aged varieties), State of Maine Cheese Co. (Rockport, lots of cheddar and jack cheeses), Kennebec Cheesery (Sidney, many varieties of cow and goat), and many others. The Maine Cheese Guild has a full listing of creameries.

Serving and storing cheese

Most cheese is best served at room temperature, especially soft-ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, to bring out the texture and flavor.

Crackers and bread are usually great for serving cheese, but other condiments and toppings are also a treat for your tastebuds and include preserves, jellies, chutneys, mustard, honey, caramelized onions, olives, candied nuts, fruits or roasted red peppers.

The best way to store cheese is to wrap it loosely in parchment or wax paper, secure it with tape, and then place it in a loose plastic bag. Do not wrap it in plastic wrap — it’ll dry the cheese out. Keep it in a crisper drawer in your fridge, as far away from the freezer as possible.

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