I held a cheese-tasting party at my house with my husband and another couple. I had everyone try out the cheeses without telling them what was what. All of the cheeses were from the company Cheese Brothers.
I cut each of the cheese blocks in half. I then cut the blocks into bite-size cubes. Each cheese group was separated from the other on a board to prevent the cheeses from absorbing neighboring cheese flavors.
I put toothpicks with numbered flags in each cheese group. I had a cheat sheet or key with the names of the cheeses corresponding to the numbered flags. My friends and husband enjoyed taste-testing the cheeses this way. We still think of the cheeses by their made-up numbers.
After we ate all the cheeses, I let them see the cheat sheet, so they could know what they tried. We ranked the cheeses. There were some fan-favorite cheeses and a couple that were more individual favorites. The following cheeses are the ones we sampled.
- Sharp Cheddar
- 8-Year Aged Cheddar
- Bantam: Honey Sriracha Gouda
- Harvest: Dill Havarti
- Old Smoky: Smoked Gouda
- 3 Amigos: Jalapeno, Habanero, & Chipotle Gouda
Some Cheese Terminology
The cheeses in this review are mostly firm or semisoft. The review looks at three Goudas, three cheddars, and a Havarti cheese.
To help you get an idea of what are firm, semisoft, and other types of cheeses, I've included the following terms below. Most cheeses fit into these categories.
- Firm: For firm cheeses, generally the whey is removed before the cheese is cooked. It is easy to slice, yet it stays in shape. Firm cheeses pair well with crackers, apples, strawberries, grapes, and carrots. Popular firm cheeses include cheddar, Parmigiano, and provolone.
- Semisoft: Semisoft cheeses have medium moisture levels. These cheeses come in two varieties: surface-ripened and interior-ripened. For surface-ripened, the aging process starts at the exterior. For interior-ripened, the aging process starts from the center and ends at the exterior. Semisoft cheeses pair well with dark breads like rye. They're also great with nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and savory treats, like samosas. Examples of semisoft cheese include Gouda, Havarti, and fontina.
- Soft: These cheeses have medium moisture levels with interiors that have been pressed or cooked. They have a creamy texture. Soft cheeses pair well with thick wheat crackers, jam, and juicy fruits like pineapples. Examples of soft cheeses include queso fresco, feta, and Brie.
- Fresh: For fresh cheeses, the milk is left out to curdle. The moisture level is high. These cheeses tend to go bad faster than other types. Fresh cheese pairs well with French bread, jam, preserves, cake, and desserts. Some popular fresh cheeses are mascarpone, ricotta, cream cheese, and cottage cheese.
- Blue-Veined: These cheeses have specific cultures in them to promote the growth of blue or green mold. These cheeses are smelly! You want to limit how much you put on a platter unless you want your event smelling like feet. They pair nicely with fruit and honey. I'm a fan of melted Gorgonzola on French bread with apples. Examples of blue-veined cheese include Chiriboga Blue, Roquefort, and Cabrales.
1. Sharp Cheddar
We all agreed this sharp cheddar was unlike anything we've ever had. The cheese block on the outside is a dark yellow or orange. The inside is a much lighter yellow. The cheese has a lasting flavor. It's distinct and slightly smoky.
The smell is noticeable, and it is pleasant. One of my friends noted the cheese is soft, smooth, and satisfying. It's definitely a fancier sharp cheddar than the kind you would buy from the grocery store. This cheese is complex and mature: it defies what it's supposed to be in multiple ways, elevating sharp cheddar to a new level.
This was one of the favorite cheeses among all the guests. Everyone put it in their top three. It might be the best sharp cheddar I've ever had.
A Little History: What Exactly Is Cheddar?
Cheddar is a firm, off-white, yellow, or orange natural cheese. It is sometimes sharp. Cheddar originated in the English village of Cheddar in Somerset. The town has several caves, which have the ideal humidity and temperatures to produce cheddar. It has been produced since at least the 12th century.
In the 19th century, Joseph Harding, a Somerset dairy farmer, came up with the techniques to help standardize Cheddar for a global market.
It's one of the most popular cheeses in the world. It's the most popular cheese in the UK, accounting for 51% of the country's nearly 2 billion annual cheese market. Cheddar is the second most popular cheese in the US after mozzarella.
Facts about cheddar:
- Source of milk: cow
- Pasteurized: sometimes
- Texture: very hard
- Aging time: three months to two years
A cheese unlike anything you've ever tried with a name that's unique to the company. Rhapsody is whitish, and it is crumbly. It is salty and sharp. This was my husband's favorite cheese out of the seven we tried.
Our friend described it as: "Mild, just right, firm to the touch." This cheese was his second favorite after the 8-Year Aged Cheddar.
I and the other woman at the event wrote that the cheese is "very sharp." It has a compelling blend of flavors making it sweet, salty, and nutty. I suppose the best way to describe it would be to call it an alternate dimension Parmesan.
3. 8-Year Aged Cheddar
I don't know if cheese is like wine in that with age it gets better but that is definitely the case with this cheese. It was another favorite among the four of us. My friend took home the rest of the cheese block.
The flavor progresses as it sits in your mouth. It is also one of the crumbly cheeses on this list. It is salty and sharp.
One person wrote: "Nutty, salty, tangy, wonderful, sharp." One person also wrote that the cheese is bitter. I would say this cheese is the most similar to the Rhapsody one. Both crumble and have similar coloring.
4. Bantam: Honey Sriracha Gouda
A bantam is a chicken or other fowl of a small breed, the male of which is noted for its aggression. Hence bantam cheese is spicy.
I would consider Bantam hotter and more crumbly than the Three Amigos cheese, the other spicy cheese on the list. The spice sits in your mouth, and it gets you in the back of the throat. One of my friends wrote the spice sits on your tongue. The cheese crumbles in your mouth when you bite into it; I wrote on my notepad that it has a funky texture.
My husband disagreed with me and thinks the Three Amigos cheese is spicier. He is more sensitive to spice. He prefers the more mellow and mild cheeses. He was more a fan of the texture and structure of the Rhapsody and 8-Year Aged Cheddar.
I'd try Bantam on burgers and pizza. I think it has the right kick for meat dishes.
A Little History: What Exactly Is Gouda?
Gouda is a sweet, creamy, yellow cow's milk cheese. It originated in the Netherlands. The name is given to similar cheeses produced in the traditional Dutch manner.
The first mention of Gouda cheese dates back to 1184. It is one of the oldest cheeses on record that's still made today. The cheese was traditionally unpasteurized. Women were in charge of making cheese in the Netherlands. The skills for cheese making were passed down to the daughters.
The cheese takes on a more butterscotch flavor if aged over two years. After cultured milk is curdled, some whey is drained and water is added.
Facts about Gouda:
- Source of milk: cows
- Pasteurized: sometimes
- Texture: semi-hard to hard
- Aging time: one month to three years
5. Harvest: Dill Havarti
People called this cheese smooth, subtle, mild, bitter, and bland. The dill is noticeable. It has an array of ingredients/herbs that make it tangy. The cheese is soft and smooth. It is aromatic and would complement a fish dish. I would order it for a rustic wedding.
To me, the cheese tastes like a pressurized cube of nature. It's slightly earthy, and if you're not paying attention, you might miss the flavor. You can see the herbs in the cheese. If butter, herbs, and cheese rolled down a hill to make one unified substance, I think it would be this cheese.
The subtlety of the cheese definitely fits the traditional criteria for a Havarti. It had the most subtle flavor of the cheeses on this list.
A Little History: What Exactly Is Havarti?
Havarti is a semi-soft Danish cheese. It was previously called Danish Tilsiter. Danish production of it began in 1921.
The cheese was named Havarti, after Havartigården near the more popular town of Holte. The Danish cheese pioneer Hanne Nielsen worked in Havartigården in the 19th century. Some scholars believe she invented Havarti, but others argue the cheese we know today isn't based on her technique.
Havarti is made like most cheeses, by introducing rennet to milk. This causes it to curdle. The curds are pressed into molds which are drained, and then the cheese is aged. Havarti was traditionally a smear-rind cheese. Havarti is a washed-curd cheese, which is why it has a subtle flavor.
Facts about Havarti:
- Source of milk: cow
- Texture: semi-soft
- Aging time: three months
6. Old Smoky: Smoked Gouda
Smooth, smoky, not bitter, and not stinky. It has a subtle taste. It is more firm than the Bantam Gouda.
This was one of my personal favorites. To me, it tastes like the perfect cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich. It's rich, smooth, and has a hint of caramel. It has a nice lingering taste that's warm and nostalgic. Perfect for bar foods from pretzels to nachos.
My husband wrote that it's understated but pleasant. It was his #4 pick. It was maybe #1 or #2 for me. I think I prefer cheeses with a smoked flavor.
7. 3 Amigos: Jalapeno, Habanero, & Chipotle Gouda
This cheese threw everyone for a loop! The more you eat it, the more the heat builds in your mouth. For me, the spice was delayed. I liked this one better than the other spicy cheese, Bantam: Honey Sriracha Gouda. However, people were divided between the two spicy cheeses.
One friend wrote: "It smells like Cheese Whiz, melts in your mouth, and provides some heat."
My husband wrote that it was too spicy for him. I didn't think it was that spicy. My husband does have a Midwestern set of taste buds. He likes bell peppers, but jalapenos are too strong for his liking.
I felt like the spice was a step up from a regular slice of pepper jack.
Cheese History References
- Archwamety, Rena (December 2017). "Cheese of the Month - December 2017". Cheese Market News. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
- Barthélemy, Roland; Sperat-Czar, Arnaud (2003). Guide du fromage: Choisir, reconnaître, goûter 1200 fromages du monde. p. 89. ISBN 978-2-01-236867-5.
- Catherine W. Donnelly (2016). The Oxford Companion to Cheese. Oxford University Press. p. 346. ISBN 978-0-19-933088-1.
- Gouda: Making the Cheese". New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
- Høeg Lammers, Anders (4 May 2020). "Klassiske danske oste stammer fra udlandet". Kristeligt Dagblad. Retrieved 2 August 2021.
- Karametsi, K. (13 August 2014). "Identification of bitter peptides in aged cheddar cheese". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 62 (32): 8034–41.
- Ridgway, Judy (2002). The Cheese Companion: The Connoisseur's Guide (2nd ed.). Apple. p. 103. ISBN 1840923393.
- Tunick, Michael H. (23 February 2014). "The biggest cheese? Cheddar". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 24 February 2014.