These aren’t descriptors of the taste of cheese, as those are much more subjective.
The glossary series will contain terms describing the science, care, and preparation of cheese. This will come in handy to describe what you’re looking for next time you visit a cheesemaker or local cheesemonger. Come back each month to discover new terms and wine pairings as we grow our glossary.
Fermier - is a French term for a cheese that is farm made. It can be a bit confusing as often there is a fermier version and a more industrial version of the same cheese. As the word fermier sounds suspiciously like “firm” it’s easy to mistake it as a descriptor for the texture of the cheese rather than its origins. The term fermier is only used when the milk is collected, and the cheese is made on the same property.
Affinage /Affineur – Like in the rest of the food and wine world, there are many cheese words based on French terms. This is a good example of a term used throughout the cheese-making world that has no easy translation. Affinage is the process of ageing, curing, and caring for cheese during its maturation. Affineur is the person who is doing this and is responsible for knowing when the cheese is at its best. In some cases, cheesemakers send their cheese to an Affineur to age, as they don’t have the room or time to deal with the daily care, turning, salting, etc., that each cheese might require.
Alpine – This is a term often used for a summer mountain cheese. When the cows are grazing in the mountains in alpine meadows, the milk's taste is significantly different from that of winter milk when the cows are housed indoors. The flora of each mountainous region is very different, so the nuances of the cheese from these different regions are substantially different. Classic alpine cheeses include Appenzeller, Beaufort, and Gruyere.
GOW suggested alpine wine pairings:
Annatto – This is a natural product that is used to colour cheese the orange we most often associate with cheddar. I can’t attest to processed cheese slices, but if you are buying a good quality cheddar or other cheese that is orange, they are most often coloured with Annatto which is derived from the seeds of the tropical Achiote tree.
AOP/AOC – Appellation d’Origine Protégée / Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée is the European system of certification for certain agricultural products. Known widely in the wine world, it is a system that also applies to many cheeses as well as other regional specialties. For example, a cheese may have an AOP designation and you would see the AOP seal on its label. That is a guarantee that the cheese is made in a traditional way according to the AOP standards for that product.
Just a few examples of what the designation might require:
- Specific breeds of animal the milk must come from (Montbeliarde cows for Comté, Abondance or Tarentaise cows for Abondance).
- How the milk is heated (must be heated in copper vats for Comté, must be over a wood fire for Gruyere l’Etivaz).
- What the animals are fed (cows must be outside grazing on natural grasses for Beaufort d’Été, many cheese designations state that the cows can’t be fed Silage or fermented hay)
- The age of the cheese might be specified in the AOP rules.
- Always, the area the milk is collected from, and the area the cheese is made in, is designated in AOP standards. (for example Roquefort must be made from fresh /not frozen sheep’s milk and aged in specified areas in the Aveyron area).
GOW Suggested Cheddar Wine Pairings:
Cave Aged – is exactly what it sounds like. Some larger wheels especially, are aged in natural caves. The benefit for the cheese is that the natural humidity in the caves allows the cheese to age longer without the cheese cracking and spoiling. Examples include Cave Aged Gruyere, Appenzeller Kaltbach, Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar, Roquefort.
GOW Suggested wine pairings for Roquefort:
Charcuterie – this is a traditional French term for cured meat, usually made from pork. Salami, pâté and prosciutto are all good examples of items that fall under the term charcuterie. In France, it is also the store where you would go to buy these products. Strangely in North America recently, it seems to have become a word synonymous for an appetizer platter or board usually made up of cheese, meats, dips and other assorted veggies and fruit. This is an odd, inappropriate use of the word and makes it very confusing sometimes. Often, I’m asked to help someone choose some items for a charcuterie board and in the end they don’t by any meats at all! Charcuterie is a common and excellent addition to your cheese plate, but just as you wouldn’t call a salami a cheese because you added it to your cheese board, I think we need to stop calling all things charcuterie just because they are on a board with that same salami.
GOW Suggested charcuterie and cheese platter pairings
Crust /Rind – This is a little less set-in stone as there are many words to describe the outer coverings of different cheeses. It’s not to say any of them are wrong or right, but this might help in your descriptions. I use the term crust, for a cheese with a firmer rind. Generally, this would be a firm cheese with a covering that is formed while the cheese ages for a longer period. It wouldn’t necessarily be a part of the cheese I would recommend eating, as it wouldn’t add to the flavour, and would be hard and dry. I would use the word rind for soft to semi firm cheese. This would include a bloomy rinded Brie or a washed rind semi firm cheese like Oka. The difference being, these are part of the cheese and intended to eat. This of course doesn’t mean you have to eat them if you don’t like them, but the intention of the cheese maker is that you would enjoy them as part of the experience of eating that cheese.