Domain Five: Cheese Assessment and Evaluation

Cheese professionals should have the knowledge and ability to determine the product’s condition and quality (fresh, unsafe, deteriorating, under-matured etc.). This includes evaluation of the flavor and body and texture of the cheese as well as the appearance of the cheese.

Cheese is in a sense alive and is the product of a microbial fermentation process. The flavor and texture of cheese changes as it ages. A cheese may be acceptable from a sensory standpoint when it is young but may deteriorate during aging and become unacceptable, for example a washed rind cheese that ages too long and becomes extremely pungent and soft. Or, a cheese may be unacceptable when young but become more acceptable desirable with age. Some cheeses require age to be acceptable, such as Parmesan, Romano, aged cheddar, and aged provolone. Other cheeses are typically best when very young, such as string cheese, cottage cheese, Queso Fresco and others. A knowledgeable cheese grader needs to know the acceptable characteristics of the cheese they are evaluating, as well as, be able to confidently predict the characteristics and the acceptability of the cheese as it ages another 1-6 months or longer.

For the purpose of this domain, cheese has been categorized primarily not by moisture, but by specific characteristics of the cheese variety, i.e. blue molded, white molded wash rinded, etc.  Please cross reference Domain Four,Cheese Types and Categories)
for a further discussion.

This domain is intended to educate the participant in the basics of how to sensory evaluate cheese as well as to predict how the cheese will age in future weeks and months.

The evaluation and assessment of cheese is used by many cheese professionals, in many different circumstances, including

  • Evaluation of cheese by producer prior to shipping
  • Evaluation of cheese by retailer/distributor for inclusion in product line
  • Evaluation of cheese upon receiving at distributor, retailer or restaurant
  • Evaluation of cheese on cheese cart prior to service, in service, and after service
  • Evaluation of cheese condition in cheese cases
  • Evaluation of cheese for judging in competitions

I. General principles of cheese sensory evaluation

A. Importance of sensory evaluation

B. General cheese evaluation terminology

  1. Body & Texture Characteristics
    1. Short, Long, Curdy, Pasty, Open, Slitty, Smooth, Gassy, Firm, Crumbly, etc.
  2. Color Characteristics
    1. Acid-cut, Mottled Seamy, Unnatural, Wavy, etc.
  3. Eye Formation
    1. Blind, Irregular, Overset, One sided, Nesty, Underset, Uneven, etc.
  4. Flavor Characteristics
    1. Acid, barnyardy, bitter, feed, flat, rancid, malty, metallic, sour, whey taint, yeasty, unclean, etc.

C. Importance of the 5 senses

  1. Taste (Tongue regions; sweet, sour, salty, bitter)
  2. Odor (Smell-clean, grassy, barnyardy, ammoniated)
  3. Texture (by hand and mouth – soft, hard, brittle, flaky, pliable)
  4. Appearance (Visual – color, exterior condition, wrinkled, sweaty, mold development)
  5. Sound (thumping the cheese)

D. Best practices for cheese sensory evaluation

  1. Environment where cheese is evaluated
    1. Well lit, preferably with some natural lighting, well ventilated, temperature controlled, isolated from plant traffic, noises and odors, etc.
  2. Product handling
  3. Grader personnel issues
  4. Required tools
    1. Triers, knives; Repackaging equipment- bags, vacuum sealer, wax, wax papers, tape; Sample bags, Sharpie felt pens; Natamycin spray for mold control, etc.

II. Visual

A. Bloomy rinds

  1. Looking for consistency in white fluffy rind
  2. No dark areas
  3. No excessive (visible) moisture
  4. No broken rind – no pooling of liquid cheese
  5. Uniform shape – not compromised from shipment or storage

B. Natural rinds

  1. No cracks or fissures
  2. No excessive (visible) moisture
  3. No rogue molds – mold different color than dominate mold (green on white, red on grey)
  4. Free of mites

C. Washed rinds

  1. No excessive (visible) moisture
  2. No rogue molds – mold different color than dominate mold (green on white, red on grey)
  3. No dark areas
  4. No broken rind – no pooling of liquid cheese
  5. Uniform shape – not compromised from shipment or storage

D. Fresh un-aged cheese

  1. Check “best by” date
  2. No broken seals or containers
  3. No mold
  4. Uniform shape – not compromised from shipment or storage

E. Waxed or other

  1. Consistent wax or cryovac seal
  2. No cracks or fissures
  3. Free of mites
  4. Uniform shape – not compromised from shipment or storage

F. Shipment and packaging

  1. Uniform in shape – not damaged by shipment or storage
  2. Shipping boxes should be clean, dry, and mold free
  3. Cheese should be easily removed from the packaging – not stuck with moisture and mold
  4. Check “best by” or manufacturing date to confirm proper shelf life

III. Odor Evaluation

(specific to cheese types)


IV. Texture Evaluation

(specific to cheese types)


V. Sound Evaluation

(specific to cheese types)


VI. Taste Evaluation

(specific to cheese types)


VII. Origin of cheese defects

A. Evaluation of flavor defects in milk that transfer to cheese

  1. Sour
  2. Rancid
  3. Malty
  4. Feed
  5. Barnyardy/Unclean
  6. Heated/Scorched
  7. Sanitizer
    1. Chlorine or other sanitizers can and sometimes do get into the cheese milk and cause significant off flavors in the cheese.
    2. Sometimes sanitizers are used in water rinses or brines in too high of concentrations and can cause cheese flavor defects.

B. Common flavor defects/causes due to cheese making process

  1. Improper moisture content
    1. Body/texture defects
    2. Flavor defects
  2. Improper acid development
    1. Too much acid (acid cheese)
      1. Flavor defects
      2. Body/Texture defect
    2. Too little acid (sweet cheese)
      1. Flavor defects
      2. Body defects
      3. Food safety implications

C. Microbiological contamination (of raw milk, of cheese post-pasteurization)

  1. Gas formers
  2. Pathogens
  3. Indicator organisms
  4. Yeast
  5. Mold

D. Other factors affecting cheese quality

  1. Rates of acid development
  2. Calcium
  3. Proteolysis
  4. Temperature of cheese storage
  5. Time of cheese storage
  6. Original milk composition (protein, fat, lactose, added milk solids)

E.  Other specific cheese defects

  1. Bitterness
  2. Fruity
  3. Stale
  4. Rancid
  5. Oxidized
  6. Calcium lactate crystals
  7. Tyrosine crystals
  8. Soapy
  9. Unbalanced
  10. Unclean

F. Evaluation of specific cheese varieties

  1. Swiss cheeses (Swiss, Baby Swiss, Sweet Swiss/Jarlsberg/Maasdamer)
    1. CFR standards (United States Code of Federal Regulations Standards of identity are legal definitions of food products)
    2. Eye development
    3. Flavor development
    4. Defects
  2. Dutch cheeses (Gouda, Dry Gouda, Edam)
    1. CFR standards
    2. Eye development
    3. Milk standardization
    4. Flavor development
    5. Defects
  3. Hard Italian cheeses (Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, Grana)
    1. CFR standards
    2. Milk source
    3. Lipase source
    4. Flavor, texture, color development
    5. Defects
  4. Cheddar style cheeses (Cheddar, Colby)
    1. CFR standards
    2. Flavor, texture development
    3. Aging effects on flavor
    4. Defects
  5. Pasta filata cheeses (Fresh Mozzarella, LMPS, WM Mozzarella, Provolone, Pizza Cheeses)
    1. CFR standards
    2. Machinability and performance issues
    3. Defects
  6. Surface ripened cheeses (Limburger, Taleggio, Liederkranz, Brick, Muenster, Comte’, Gruyere, Alp Cheeses, Bergkase, Port du Salut, Appenzeller, Beaufort)
    1. CFR standards
    2. Ripening process
    3. Typical flavor properties
    4. Typical textural properties
    5. Defects
  7. White molded cheeses (Brie, Camembert)
    1. Ripening process
    2. Mold development (stabilized, traditional)
    3. Flavor and texture development
    4. Defects
  8. Blue veined cheese (Blue, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Danablue, and Stilton)
    1. CFR standards
    2. Blue mold development
    3. Flavor development
    4. Defects
  9. Semi-soft cheeses (Monterey Jack, Muenster, Fontina, Farmer’s Cheese, Havarti)
    1. CFR standards
    2. Flavor and texture development
    3. Defects
  10. Feta cheese
    1. Acid development and brining process
    2. Flavor and texture development
    3. Defects
  11. Sheep milk cheeses (Roquefort, Manchego, Pecorino Romano, Feta, Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s cheeses)
    1. Flavor and texture development
    2. Defects
  12. Goat milk cheeses (Chevre, Feta, Halloumi, Kasseri, Kefalotyri, Mizithra)
    1. Flavor and texture development
    2. Defects
  13. Hispanic Cheeses (Queso Fresco, Queso Blanco, Rancher, Quesadilla, Cotija, Oazaca)
    1. Flavor
    2. Melt characteristics (Q. Fresco, Blanco, Ranchero, Quesadilla)
    3. Texture and rancidity (Cotija)
    4. By stretch and stringiness (Oaxaca)
  14. Fresh, Soft Cheeses (Cottage, Cream & Neufchatel Cheese, Ricotta)
    1. Flavor
    2. Texture/mouth feel, i.e. smooth; grainy, in the case of cottage, firm, soft, even curd, etc.