Cheese varieties are like ethnicities, there are purebreds, hybrids, young, aged, sweet, and tart. Finding the right flavor and texture for your tastes can be difficult, but well worth it in the end.
Varieties that fall into the category of fresh cheese do not have a rind and are not usually aged. If they are aged, it is only for a very short amount of time.
Some fresh cuts are thickened with rennet and some are thickened simply by culturing, or souring, the milk with some kind of acidity. This acidity is in the form of citric acid, lemon juice, vinegar, or buttermilk.
Either way, many are very similar in taste and texture. Most are sold in tubs or plastic packaging and are found at grocery stores or specialty food shops, rather than just at shops.
When cooking with fresh cheese, you can usually substitute one fresh for another as long as the texture is similar. Feta is tangy and salty, and is typically made with sheep or goat dairy.
It can be creamy or quite dry, but is always firm enough to crumble. Feta is kept in brine, which gives it a salty taste.
Queso Fresco has a crumbly, dry texture, with a mild and slightly salty flavor. Cotija is dry and crumbly and a bit salty.
Fresh mozzarella is stored in water and is sliceable but is a very creamy. A drier form is sold wrapped in plastic; but both have a mild, milky taste.
Oaxaca has a mild flavor and slightly rubbery that is similar to mozzarella. Panela has a mild taste and a texture that softens but does not melt when heated.
The great thing about Panela is that it can be pan-fried or grilled. Halloumi has a mild taste and is rubbery, but softens but does not melt when heated.
Paneer is made of cultured dairy pressed into a sliceable cheese with a crumbly, creamy feel that does not entirely melt. Farmer's is made of cultured dairy that has been drained into a dry and crumbly form that does not entirely melt.
Queso Blanco is made of cultured dairy pressed into a crumbly type with a mild flavor that does not entirely melt. Creme fraiche is made of milk or cream that has been cultured so that the texture thickens.
Fromage blanc has been cultured that is thicker than creme fraiche but not as thick as ricotta. It has a mild, tangy taste and is smooth.
Ricotta is a creamy, spreadable, and has a slightly sweet, milky flavor. The best ricotta has a fluffy, smooth feel and is not grainy.
Traditionally, it is made from rennet and the whey drained from curds, however, this is not the case when you make an easy ricotta recipe at home. Mascarpone is made of a cream that has been thickened and drained and has a slightly sweet flavor.
Quark is a non-fat or low fat dairy with a texture that is smoother and creamier than cottage cheese but not quite as smooth as sour cream. Pot is a low-fat cottage cheese, also called dry-cured.
Fresh goat dairy has a tangy, milky taste, and a spreadable consistency. Whether you are lactose intolerant, vegan, or just trying to cut back on cholesterol, these lactose free substitutes might be right for you.
Keep in mind that many people who are lactose intolerant can still enjoy many types of regular dairy that contain little or no lactose. Soy is sold in vegan and non-vegan varieties.
Vegan varieties do not include casein, a dried milk protein, in the ingredients. The main ingredients in most soy cheeses are soy proteins and soybean oil.
Soy is sold in numerous flavors, such as mozzarella, nacho, cheddar and parmesan. It can be bought grated or in pre-packaged chunks and slices.
Rice dairy is sold in flavors such as cheddar, pepper jack and American. It can be bought grated or in pre-packaged chunks and slices.
Almond cheese is made by replacing animal dairy with almond milk. Typically, however, almond contains the dried milk protein casein.
The main ingredients are crushed almonds and water, canola oil and brown rice flour. Almond often has a feel that is more similar to regular dairy than soy or rice.
It is available in flavors such as jalapeno, cheddar and mozzarella. Yogurt cheese contains dairy but is made with the live yogurt cultures acidophilus and bifidus, which remove the sugars during the making and aging process.
This makes it a possible option for people who are lactose intolerant. The texture and taste of yogurt is the most similar to regular dairy and it also melts fairly well.