What this is: A look at the cheeses that love to get hot under the collar.
Who it's for: Ideal for those who love fondue, Raclette and mountain cheeses.
This type includes traditional Alpine cheeses, with which the curds are cooked before being pressed into shape. The extra step of cooking the curd makes them perfect for melting in fondue, with flavors ranging from nutty to caramelized onion.
The smooth&melty Cheese Type
There are many cheese lovers who cannot be seduced by the butteriness of a triple cream bloomy&brainy style cheese and instead long for the complexity, comfort and savoriness of this well-loved category. (Of course, there are many people, us included, who can be seduced by all cheeses, but we aren’t talking about that right now.) If you or someone you know has gone weak in the knees for a Comté, or have gotten religious over a mount of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, then they’ve got it bad for the smooth&melty cheese type.
If you look at the cheese subway map you will see that this cheese takes one of the longest routes to the final stop, and the step that sets it apart from others (including its close cousin friendly&flexible is that the curd is cooked before being pressed. This one little special step is the thing that makes it so easy to love these cheeses. It’s what can make one taste like hot buttered potato and another like brothy caramelized onions. The cooking stage fundamentally changes the future of this cheese and how it will change and intensify as it ages.
These cheeses, while not at all in the creamy&funky category, sometimes are washed throughout their affinage (i.e. their aging process), creating a similar savory funk but in a cheese that remains firm. But even more than funk, the washing of smooth&melty cheeses creates a deep complexity that makes you come back for more.
Cheeses in this category include:
- Parmigiano Reggiano
The rind on these cheeses are usually technically edible, but can be harder and therefore less enjoyable to eat. Save those Parm rinds though, and pop them in your next minestrone or vegetable soup and they’ll add a lovely light, cheesy creaminess to the pot while simmering.
A quick note on the Protected Designation of Origin (or PDO):
We would like to direct your attention to some of the most well-known cheeses in this category, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Comté, Gruyère, and Emmental (or technically Emmentaler Switzerland). These four cheeses (among many others) have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), which means that there is strict regulation about what qualifies to be that type of cheese. So, not just any cheesemaker can follow the Comté recipe and call it Comté (non!). Protecting a cheese can mean limiting everything from what type and breed of animal, where the animals can graze, where it’s made, to how and where it’s aged. While it is more restrictive for cheesemakers, what PDO does mean is that the cheeses with PDO ensure that you are always getting the real thing. This is why the cheese you can get in the US in the green shaker is called Parmesan, not Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s not the real thing.
So while it might seem like all the cheese marketing money has been spent on protecting Parmigianno Reggiano, Comté, Gruyère, and Emmentaler, the reason these are protected is actually because of two reasons. 1) They are masterpieces that are worthy of adoration. 2) The people who make their livelihood around these cheeses took the time to protect them. We, for one, are happy that there has been such dedication to these masterpieces.
Like most cheese categories, you will discover cheese from all four milk types here. In general, you can use this guide to help you find a milk type you like (or ask your favorite monger for a taste!)
- Sheep's milk is Saltier
- Cow's milk is Creamier
- Goat's milk is Tangier
- Buffalo milk is Fattier/Creamier
The cheeses in this category range from grassy to nutty and supple to hard. When you try different cheese in this category, see if you can taste what the cows were eating. Can you taste herbs, onions, or hay? Sometimes it’s easier to pick these things out when you are tasting two cheeses together.
Favorite Flavor Profiles
The smooth&melty category pairs very well with all of the flavor profiles—Sweet, Sour, Spicy, Salty, Nutty, and Umami. You really can’t go wrong with pairings here. Your real job here is to find your favorite food pairings and your favorite cheeses and see which you like best together.
Favorite Wine Profiles
We suggest the following types of wine:
- Sparkling (Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Lambrusco)
- Rich White (Chardonnay, White Burgundy, Sémillon, Viognier)
- Rosé (Grenache, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah)
- Light Red (Pinot Noir, Gamay)
- Medium Red (Merlot, Malbec, Chianti, Nebbiolo)
- Bold Red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Bordeaux, Tempranillo)
- Dessert (Port, Sauternes, Ice Wine, Sherry)
We suggest these wine types but once you start mixing in other cheeses or pairings, you can really try anything. Start with your favorite wine and see what you think. We do love an especially buttery Rich White or a peppery red with very few tannins.
How to Shop for smooth&melty Cheese
If you love this category like we do, instead of getting ½ lb of one kind, try getting ¼ lb of two different cheeses, so that you can try different styles. If you’re lucky enough to have a cheese store, tell the monger that you want two very different kinds of smooth&melty cheeses. There is a wide range and the monger will be able to give you two totally different experiences!
On a Cheese Plate
We love smooth&melty cheeses for their versatility on a cheese plate. They are the easiest to cut into any shape and they taste good with everything. We actually recommend you plan the whole rest of your cheese board first knowing that your smooth&melty cheese will come through for you, wherever it’s needed!
Taste the world. Every big cheese making country makes great smooth&melty cheeses. Make it a goal to taste them from at least 10 countries. Make sure to take notes and see what you liked most and least, if you liked it with a certain wine and if you had it with any pairings that were particularly good.
Click the icons to download a pdf of this lesson and our two handy guides: How Cheese is Made and Cheese and Pairing Types.