The ACS Cheese and Dairy Product Lexicon and Glossary (ACS Lexicon & Glossary) aims to facilitate conversations across the supply chain of cheese by creating a credible, modern resource that provides a greater understanding of the myriad ways in which cheese is discussed and described.
A “working group” of ACS staff and experts in dairy food science, cheesemaking, and cheesemongering were involved in compiling what will hereafter be referred to as the ACS Lexicon & Glossary. The objective was to codify the terminology used when talking about sensory characteristics and evaluating and selling cheese and fermented dairy products.
The ACS Lexicon & Glossary is a living document. The working group started with a focused selection of vetted technical terminology and will expand this work in the coming years to include a unique flavor and aroma wheel in addition to the terms included in the ACS Lexicon & Glossary. Terms will be added if/when they meet the following criteria:
- The taste, flavor, aroma, texture, or appearance can be expressed in scientific terms, or a consensus has been reached for the use of the term and its descriptor.
- The cause of the defect or attribute can be scientifically explained.
Assessing, grading, judging, evaluating, marketing, and socializing with cheese, and the varying contexts in which these activities happen, require different types of terminology. It is ACS’s hope that, through the development of the ACS Lexicon & Glossary, cheese industry members can communicate more readily and clearly about cheese and dairy products, in order to encourage the production, sale, and consumption of increasingly high-quality artisan and specialty cheeses. It is important to note that words such as “good” or “bad” do not appear in the ACS Lexicon & Glossary, as such terms are subjective. While a cheese may receive a low score in a contest, it may sell very well in the market, because it meets consumer desires or otherwise fits a niche in the marketplace. The reverse can also occur – winning awards does not guarantee market success.
Download The ACS Cheese and Dairy Product Lexicon and Glossary
How to Use this Glossary
Terms in the ACS Lexicon & Glossary are listed in alphabetical order for ease of use. ACS has adopted the following structure to provide additional information about the terms. Please note that the elements within this structure will be applied to the terms as they are relevant.
- Definition: Definition of the term.
- Reference point: Most frequent/common associations with the term.
- Styles where it occurs: Styles of cheese or dairy products where this attribute is most common.
- Attribute/Defect: Whether the characteristic is generally considered an attribute or a defect, and why. If a characteristic is only considered a defect, only the word Defect will appear.
- Possible causes: Identification of possible technical cause(s) for the defect.
- Synonyms: Words that can be used interchangeably with the term.
- Related terms: Words related to the term; these help to provide a deeper understanding of the term. Synonyms and related terms that are defined in this glossary are formatted in ALL CAPS.
Talking About the Sensory Characteristics of a Cheese or Dairy Product
During an evaluation of a cheese or dairy product, the following areas are assessed:
- Rind/Surface: The exterior layer of a cheese. When a cheese is evaluated, the condition, appearance, flavor, and aroma of the rind are assessed. Evaluators and judges might comment on the thickness/thinness, roughness/smoothness, evenness of the rind, and aroma/flavor, including how the flavor of the rind works with the flavor of the paste and the rest of the cheese.
- Body/Paste/Interior of the cheese: The internal character of the cheese. Some styles may not have an obvious change from surface to interior, while others can be dramatically different from surface to core. Evaluators and judges will either remove a plug (using a metal trier) or cut into the cheese, depending on the cheese format. Evaluators and judges will often break the cheese plug to observe several characteristics, then “work,” or manipulate, a smaller portion of the plug of cheese between the thumb and two forefingers to partially evaluate the product prior to tasting.
Sensory characteristics evaluated in cheese and dairy products are grouped into the following categories:
- Appearance/Color/Rind Development
In the ACS Lexicon & Glossary, the following definitions are used when talking about the sensory characteristics of a cheese or dairy product:
- Attribute: A characteristic of the product’s sensory profile, determined by organoleptic evaluation. An attribute is typically considered a positive term, or an asset, depending on context and intensity.
- Defect: A characteristic that detracts from the product’s sensory profile. A characteristic that is an attribute in one product may be a defect in another, if it does not belong in that cheese’s sensory profile at all (e.g., rancidity in colby cheese). Additionally, a characteristic that is typically considered an attribute can be a defect if it:
- does not belong in that cheese’s sensory profile at that age (e.g., sulfur in mild cheddar);
- is lower than expected in that cheese’s sensory profile (e.g., low salt in feta); or
- is excessive in that cheese’s sensory profile (e.g., extreme tyrosine crystals in cheddar).
Basic Tastes: BITTER, SALTY, SOUR (ACID), SWEET, UMAMI
Basic tastes are experienced on the tongue and palate and, in and of themselves, do not produce aromatic compounds. When assessing and evaluating basic tastes, one observes and identifies how they are experienced, in the context of a given dairy product. The impression can take on either positive or negative connotations, depending on the context and style of cheese. Differences in perception (e.g. variances in sensitivity for bitter and heat perception) and preference (e.g. variances in preferences for sweetness and astringency) play a role in overall acceptability of a product. Even where in the mouth or how a characteristic is perceived may vary greatly. The ACS Lexicon & Glossary aims to use language that has been generally applicable across decades of describing and judging dairy products. The language will continue to evolve, and this document will be modified accordingly.
The ACS Judging & Competition
Standards of Identity exist for a number of dairy products and ingredients. The United States Standards of Identity can be accessed online through the FDA Code of Federal Regulations (Cheeses and Milk and Cream Products). The American Cheese Society’s definitions of cheeses, along with information about the ways in which cheeses and dairy products can be categorized, can be found online here. Cheesemakers submit cheese to the ACS Judging & Competition based on the categories defined by the ACS Judging & Competition Committee. The terms, or characteristics, that are listed on ACS Judging & Competition score sheets reflect attributes that are typical or characteristic of that particular category. Definitions for those terms appear in the ACS Lexicon & Glossary.
A product’s score sheet in the ACS Judging & Competition is meant to communicate the culmination of each judge’s overall experience with the product. Boxes are checked to indicate the presence or absence of attributes in a product, and judge comments are included on score sheets. In the case of technical judges, the score is based upon half- to full-point deductions from “ideal” for the given style. In the case of aesthetic judges, full points are added for quality traits and characteristics that make the product unique.
When evaluating products entered into the ACS Judging & Competition, Aesthetic and Technical judges likely use one of the following scales when considering each characteristic:
- None; much too little; a little too little; just about right; a little too much; much too much; excessive
- Very low; average; very high
- None; slight; definite; pronounced
These words, however, do not explicitly appear on the ACS score sheets, nor do they appear in this glossary. The ACS Lexicon & Glossary includes the preferred terminology and offers suggestions regarding how to measure and communicate the experiential variables: presence, absence, intensity, and experience of the characteristics herein defined.
Origin of Flavor in Cheese
What animals eat and variability in ingredients, temperature, and humidity play a role in dairy product quality. The way one experiences flavor in cheese is related to the development of volatile and non-volatile compounds. Lipolysis, glycolysis, and proteolysis are the main chemical processes that cause the components of cheese to break down into peptides, esters, acids, ketones, fatty acids, etc. This biochemical cascade is different for every style of cheese, but it is what comprises the unique sensory characteristics of the cheese being evaluated. For more information on the chemistry of cheese, and how it relates to flavor, see the Cheese Science Toolkit.
Origin of Cheese Defects
Defects in cheese and other dairy products can result from many variables that relate to the loss of control (temperature, pH, humidity, bacteria, etc.) between the field and processing plant, within the processing facility, along the distribution chain, at the retail store/restaurant, and with the consumer. Excess lipolytic activity, late gas blowing, microbial contamination, and other chemical reactions lead to appearance, taste, flavor, aroma, body, and texture defects. The aim of the ACS Lexicon & Glossary is not to give exhaustive explanations, but rather to provide context with generally understood possible causes for the defects identified and described. Readers are encouraged to review the books and articles listed in the bibliography to gain a deeper understanding of dairy chemistry and microbiology, which drive many quality characteristics of dairy foods. Links to the books and articles can be found in the ACS Library.
Sales, Marketing, and Monger Talk: Adjectives and Synonyms
Technical terms often do not have the same poetic, romantic, descriptive, and associative weight as some of the synonyms commonly used in the marketing and promotion of cheese and dairy products. Without passing judgement on the use of those terms, ACS recognizes that sometimes industry members all need to speak the same language in order to continue to work with producers to develop, market, and sell great cheese. The language of description, of selling cheese, is an equally important tool to communicate with consumers, in order to expand the audience for artisan and specialty cheese and dairy products. The ACS Lexicon & Glossary will hopefully help to connect the dots through all points of the supply chain and elevate the cheese experience for all involved.
List of Terms in the ACS Lexicon & Glossary
AFTERTASTE (See FINISH)
CHECKS/CHECKED (See CRACKED, SLITS)
CHEMICAL (See MEDICINAL)
CREAMY (See BUTTERY) CROOKED (See UNEVEN)
CRYSTALS (See CALCIUM LACTATE, TYROSINE CRYSTALS)
FREE MOISTURE/FREE WHEY
GRAINY (See MEALY)
LIPASE (See RANCID)
MUSTY (See MOLDY)
OLD CREAM/OLD MILK
PRESENTATION (See APPEARANCE)
RUBBERY (See FIRM)
SOFT (See WEAK)
SYNERESIS (See FREE) MOISTURE/FREE WHEY
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Singh, T. K., M.A. Drake, and K. R. Cadwallader. Flavor of Cheddar Cheese: A Chemical and Sensory Perspective. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 2, no. 4
Hassan, F. A. M., M.A.M. Abd El- Gawad, and A.K. Enab. (2012). Flavour compounds in cheese (review). International Journal of Academic Research. 4. 169-181.
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Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/joss.12239.
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. Dairy Products. Agricultural Marketing Service. Accessed December 22, 2016. Available at: https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/dairy-products.
Wilster, G. H.. Practical Cheesemaking. O.S.U. Book Stores, 440.1974.
Wisconsin Statute. Cheese Grading, Packaging, and Labelling, ATCP 81.01 35.93 §. Accessed January 3, 2018. Available at: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/atcp/055/81.
International Organization for Standardization. ISO 5492:2008(En), Sensory Analysis — Vocabulary. Accessed January 16, 2018. Available at: https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/#iso:std:iso:5492:ed2:v1:en.
American Cheese Society Cheese and Dairy Product Lexicon and Glossary by The American Cheese Society is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Version 1 was published February 1, 2018. This document was compiled and edited by Dr. Stephanie Clark, Craig Gile, Vince Razionale, Bill Rufenacht, and Sarah Spira. Terms and definitions were modified from the Technical and Aesthetic score sheets and glossaries created by the ACS Judging & Competition Committee over the course of the history of the competition, as well as references cited in the Bibliography.
When referencing this publication, please use the following citation:
American Cheese Society, Stephanie Clark, Craig Gile, Vince Razionale, Bill Rufenacht, and Sarah Spira, eds. American Cheese Society Cheese and Dairy Product Lexicon and Glossary. Denver: American Cheese Society. Version 1 Published February 1, 2018.