Buying different types of cheese is one way to experience different flavors and textures. But there’s another way to have two different cheese-eating experiences, and that has to do with the age of the cheese.
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You can buy the exact same kind of cheese when it’s fairly young and when it’s older. This is especially true of soft cheeses, which change more than hard cheeses during the period of time when they’re available for sale.
To illustrate this, I swung by my local specialty store, American Provisions in Boston, and picked up two pieces of Organic Champlain Triple from the Middlebury, Vermont-based Champlain Valley Creamery:
The sample on the right was made about three weeks after the sample on the left. Although this cheese is always fairly lush and rich, you can tell that the younger version is significantly firmer and denser than the ultra-creamy, almost melting texture of the older cheese.
They taste different, too. As the cheese ages, the milky, buttery flavor evolves into something stronger and a little sharper. These little rounds have a 4-week shelf life, so it’s possible that you can encounter each version of it at a shop near you. It’s all delicious, but you may find that you prefer one to the other.
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Other cheeses with bloomy rinds (think: Brie and camembert) and many soft goat cheeses (think: Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog and Vermont Creamery Bijou) age similarly. Because most of these cheeses ripen from the outside in, you’ll observe this most around the exterior. The rind will soften a little or a lot. The cheese closest to the rind becomes gooey or even runny. Depending on the style, the innermost part of the cheese could also become quite soft or retain a dense, pleasantly chalky or crumbly texture.
Any good cheesemonger will be able to tell you if a given wedge or wheel of cheese is fairly young or if it’s aged a bit in the shop. A fun experiment is to buy the same cheese twice and see which version you enjoy more.