Classifying the huge number of styles produced can be confusing as there are different ways to approach it and some cheeses fit more than one category. However this guide will help you to understand and appreciate the many choices available.
Types of milk
Yak, camel, reindeer - it's possible to make cheese from any type of milk. However in most countries the range is limited to cow, ewe, goat and (increasingly) water buffalo milk cheeses.
Some cheeses, such as Cyprus's Halloumi, are produced with a mixture of two or three of these milks - in earlier times the poor cheese maker would use whatever was available! Now geography, tradition and experience largely dictate what type of milk is made into which type of cheese.
The flavour and texture of the final product will vary depending on the choice of milk and for how long the resulting cheese is aged. Cheddar-style cheeses, for example, are usually made with cow's milk but goat's milk varieties are also available. Greek Feta is made from ewe's milk, or a blend of ewe's and goat's milk.
Pure ewe's milk Feta will taste richer and smoother than the types made with a bit of goat's milk, which gives a slightly gamier flavour. Mozzarella made with buffalo milk has a tangy, high aftertaste noticeably different from the pure milky flavour of cow's milk mozzarella, yet both varieties are very mild. Buffalo mozzarella also has a softer, less rubbery texture than that made from cow's milk.
The key thing to remember is that the type of milk affects the taste of the cheese only to a point. Also important are the way in which the cheese is made, what is or is not added to it during the process, how it is matured, and the length of time it is matured. This is what we'll be discussing next...
Don't think that because you do not like - say - the strong, salty taste of Roquefort that you will not like any other ewe's milk cheese, or any other blue cheese for that matter. It's a bit like saying you don't like cottage cheese because you don't like Cheddar. Not that anyone would blame you for hating cottage cheese...
Goat's milk: Capricorn, Pant-Ysgawn, Chavroux, Selles sur Cher, Dorstone
Ewe's milk: Feta, Manchego, Pecorino Romano, Etorki, Wigmore
Buffalo milk: Mozarella di Bufala, Brindley, Buffalo Blue
Mixed: Halloumi, Banon, Picón, Iberico
Did you know?
The white crumbly cow's milk cheese Wensleydale started life in the 12th century as a ewe's milk blue cheese
Buffalo milk contains almost double the calcium of cow's milk, as well as more protein.