Before the foodie revolution brought upon by blog after blog documenting bite after bite of high quality and highly valued food, it would have been a safe bet that when it came to soft cheeses, Americans almost always would’ve picked cream cheese.
Which is to say, an unaged cow’s milk cheese that had once been consumed as fresh as they come, but these days manages to last forever in square-packaged blocks in the grocery store.
But with the rise of the foodies, so came a more mainstream appreciation for the delicate, but more mature, flavors of traditional European soft cheeses. Ones that spread on a cracker or crumble smoothly into a salad.
Sure, they’re nothing new, in fact, many of these cheeses are as old as they come. But if soft cheese is new to your kitchen, now’s as good a time as any to familiarize yourself with them.
Here are a few of the mainstream favorites, along with harder-to-find versions well worth the hunt.
Popular soft cheeses
Feta: Extremely popular thanks to its use in Greek food, this salty, crumbly soft cheese is traditionally made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, though today it is often made with cow’s milk. First made by shepherds in the Greek mountains thousands of years ago, this is one of the “hardest” cheeses in the soft cheese market.
Chévre: Though the blanket French name for goat cheese is “chévre” (which actually means goat), it is young goat cheese that is soft and creamy with a mild taste. It is sold in everything from logs to crumbled chunks. Often, this cheese can be presented covered in herbs or pepper.
Brie: Soft enough to spread on crackers, this French cheese is often what diners think of when they’re told they’ll be having soft cheese. The cow’s milk cheese is encased in an edible rind and is similar to the camembert. Brie isn’t a protected cheese, meaning it doesn’t have to be made in the location for which it’s named. This means the flavor and quality can vary heavily from the region in which is was spawned, the modern-day Seine-et-Marne.
Camembert: A buttery cheese from France, with a soft, edible rind like brie. Also like Brie, it’s a popular counterpart to warm bread and the name’s not protected, meaning there’s a wide spectrum of quality.
More rare soft cheeses
Brillat-Savarin: A cow’s milk cheese similar to brie, this triple-cream cheese has a thin skin of natural rind and is a decadent spread on bread with a fruit jam. This cheese was named after a famous French gourmet and politician, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, though it was first produced more than 100 years after his death — in the 1930s in Normandy. Among Brillat-Savarin’s quotes about food is this apt observation: “The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.”
Boursault: A triple-cream cow’s milk cheese that is mild and rich, with a texture best enjoyed at room temperature, rather than cold. This cheese isn’t named after a region in France, but rather after its inventor, Henry Boursault.
Stracchino: A soft, liquidy cheese, this cow’s milk product comes out of the Lombardy section of Italy. Eaten fresh, it appears in pizzas, risottos and baked on focaccia.
Reblochon: Made by mixing the milks of three difference types of cow — abondance, tarine and montbéliarde — this nutty, creamy cheese is one of the more “stinky” soft cheeses. The cheese was created in the 13th century by working-class in Savoie while rebelling against landowners who wanted all the milk to themselves. Instead, the farmers and herdsmen who did the milking did not totally dry out the cows, but rather left a bit for themselves to milk when the officials weren’t looking. They mixed together the small amounts of milk from all their cows to create enough for this cheese, which was and still is dried in a cellar.
Kochkäse: A sour cheese of German origin, this is the cooked product of quark mixed with milk, baking soda, caraway seeds and salt and then boiled.
Fromage blanc: An extremely soft cheese from France, this cheese is nearly the texture of yogurt of quark.
Soft Cheese Recipes
Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Goat Cheese
1 14-ounce package fusilli (corkscrew) pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small maui onion, chopped
4 cloves peeled garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons sun dried tomato pesto
2/3 cup white wine
1/2 jar sun dried roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces goat cheese
Italian parsley chopped as needed
Prepare pasta per the package directions.
In a heavy large skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Next stir in the tomato paste and pesto. Add the white wine and sun dried tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce reduces by one half, about 4 minutes. In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle over the pasta. Garnish with the parsley and serve.
— Recipe from www.melissas.com.
Ruby Gold Potatoes with Olives, Feta and Mint
1 3/4 pounds ruby gold potatoes cut into quarters
1 bunch mint, chopped
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup black olives, brine-cured (such as kalamata), pitted and chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place potatoes and 3 tablespoons mint in large pot of salted water. Bring water to boil, reduce heat and simmer potatoes until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain potatoes; transfer to large bowl.
Set aside 2 tablespoons each of mint, cheese and olives; add remainder to warm potatoes. Mix in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish potatoes with reserved mint, cheese and olives. Serve warm. Serves six.
— Recipe from www.melissas.com.
Mini Brie and Arugula Sandwiches with Apple Mustard
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (about 1 ounce) packed baby arugula
12 thin slices rye hearth bread, crusts removed, cut into 48 2-inch squares and lightly toasted
1 wheel (350 grams) brie, cut into 24 wedges
Put apple, lemon juice and sugar into a small pot, cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are very soft and liquid is absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes. Purée in a food processor along with mustard and salt; set aside to let cool. Spread mustard on half of the rye squares and arrange a few leaves of arugula on top. Top each with a wedge of brie, a dollop of apple mustard and the remaining rye squares and serve. The apple mustard can be made a few days ahead and stored in the fridge. Makes 24.
— Recipe from www.wholefoodsmarket.com.
Spiced Couscous Tabouleh with Feta
1 3/4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat couscous
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber
1 cup seeded and chopped tomato
1 cup crumbled feta
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 3 large lemons)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
For the tabouleh, bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in salt and couscous, then cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with fork. Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, allspice, cinnamon, salt and ground pepper.
Mix together couscous, parsley, mint, cucumber, tomato, feta and dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serves four.
— Recipe from www.wholefoodsmarket.com.
Goat Cheese and Leek Quiche
1 (9-inch) frozen pie crust (in pie pan), thawed 10 minutes
2 leeks (about 1 pound), trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 cup (2 percent) milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick crust all over with a fork. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until just golden, about 15 minutes. Set crust aside and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add leeks and simmer until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain leeks thoroughly.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, tarragon, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Spread leeks in bottom of crust and dot with goat cheese. Pour egg mixture over the top and bake until puffed in the center and lightly browned, 40 to 50 minutes. Set aside to let cool until warm or serve at room temperature. Serves six.
— Recipe from www.wholefoods.com.