Cheese is organized into categories by many different characteristics such as the type of milk used, the texture of the cheese and the type of rind it has. One of these categories is "soft-ripened," which refers to many of these characteristics at once. Soft-ripened refers to the type of rind on a specific style of cheese, the texture of the cheese and how the cheese is ripened (or aged). Cheeses in the soft-ripened category are also referred to as bloomy rind cheeses.
Soft-ripened cheeses have a thin, white or cream-colored rind that is soft and edible and sometimes a little fuzzy. The rind is often flavorless, however, if the cheese is overly ripe it can have an unpleasant aroma and flavor that is like ammonia. The texture of a soft-ripened cheese is soft or semi-soft, often creamy and luscious and sometimes even runny. The flavor of soft-ripened cheeses is typically described as buttery, mushroomy, creamy, grassy, and/or garlicky.
A soft-ripened cheese has mold (Penicillium candidum, camemberti or glaucum) added to the milk or sprayed over the wheel of cheese. This mold creates the soft, white rind and also helps the cheese ripen from the outside in. Meaning, the cheese begins to ripen closest to the rind first, and the middle of the wheel of cheese is the last part to ripen. If you've ever cut into a wheel of brie or a triple-creme cheese that is soft and runny around the edges and a lighter color and firmer texture in the middle, you've seen an example of this. Once a wheel of cheese has been cut into, it no longer continues to ripen.
If a cheese is not categorized as soft-ripened, then it is either a fresh cheese, washed rind cheese, or natural rind cheese.
- Fresh Cheese: Fresh cheese does not have a rind and is not aged for any significant period of time.
- Washed Rind Cheese: Cheese that has been submerged in or wiped down with some sort of liquid. The rind is typically red or orange.
- Natural Rind Cheese: The outside of a natural rind cheese hardens naturally from contact with air.