- Each variety of cheese has its own unique flavour.
- When prepared correctly, raclette can make for a show-stopping warm appetizer.
- Some chefs have said Parmigiano-Reggiano is as delicious on a cheese plate as it is in a cooked dish.
Whether you’re an ardent lover of cheese or someone who’s still trying figure out which flavours you enjoy, buying cheese can be intimidating. And when choosing between so many different textures, regions of origin, and flavour profiles, it can be tough to decide which cheeses are best for satisfying your snacking and cooking needs.
So INSIDER asked US-based chefs and cheesemongers what they think are the best cheeses to include on a cheese board and to use while cooking. Here are the cheeses they recommended.
One chef said the sharp and funky Beemster Gouda is great for cheese boards.
Hailing from Holland and the Netherlands, Beemster Gouda has a sharpness that contrasts with its rich undertones.
Chef Bradley Kilgore of Kilgore Culinary Group in Miami, Florida said Beemster is a great choice for cheese boards. He said he likes to pair this cheese with a tangy condiment, like a yuzu marmalade, because “the citrus pairs with the umami coming from the aged cheese and the sweetness is cut by the salinity.”
A versatile blue goat cheese, Humboldt Fog is a favourite of some chefs thanks to its acidity and fudge-like texture.
Another cheese-board staple that becomes more flavorful as it ages, Humboldt Fog can be found at cheese shops and many grocery stores around the US.
Chef Kevin Templeton of barleymash and The Smoking Gun in San Diego, California told INSIDER that he thinks this blue goat cheese is “amazing on everything.” He said the cheese can be enjoyed either hot or cold and it’s great for melting on burgers or mushrooms.
“[It has a wonderful texture on the outer skin and the inside is creamy,” he added. “[The] little layer of vegetable ash to gives it even more complexity.”
Some chefs said they like to combine Époisses, a famously-pungent French cheese, with bread.
Époisses is a French cow’s-milk cheese with a loose, almost-liquid texture that makes it “super-dippable,” according to Chef Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute at the Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio. Simpson said he suggests pairing this cheese with fresh bread and charcuterie.
Another fan of the cheese, Fernando Cruz, executive chef of 1 Hotel South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida, said that Époisses has a unique sweet, salty, and spicy flavour.
“[It’s] an excellent cheese for people who enjoy complex flavours,” he added. “But the main reason I love this cheese is because I can spoon it out and spread it over a crisp piece of bread.”
One chef said Prairie Breeze’s cheddar is “super approachable” for anyone looking to try a new cheese.
Cara Condon, a cheesemonger for Goose Island Beer Co., said her favourite cheese-board pick is a cheddar from Milton, Iowa known as Prairie Breeze.
“This cheese will never cease to impress everyone, from babies and timid eaters to the nerdiest chef-y folks. An awesome American block-style cheddar from Milton, Iowa, it has these bright, pineapple notes that always takes people by surprise,” she told INSIDER. “To me, it tastes exactly like a piña colada. It’s super approachable and is a great entry point for anyone who is looking to try a new cheese but is still overwhelmed.”
According to some chefs, classic cheddar is great for cooking, snacking, and melting.
There’s a reason so many macaroni and cheese recipes rely so heavily on cheddar – this semi-hard cow’s milk cheese grates and melts quite easily. Plus, it is known for retaining its sharp flavours even when heat is applied to it.
Ashlee Aubin, executive chef of Fisk & Co. in Chicago, Illinois, said he loves to use aged sharp cheddar in his restaurant kitchen, especially when making dips.
“I could tell you about all the fancy cheeses that I enjoy, but the cheese I eat the most is cheddar. It’s a workhorse. Melted on a burger or by itself as a snack, it’s the best,” added Executive Chef Daniel Sharp of The Meatball Shop in New York City.
Chef Brooke Smith of The Esquire Tavern in San Antonio, Texas also said she favours cheddar, noting that she typically seeks out the Cabot Clothbound version of this cheese. “Cabot Cheddar is nice and sharp – this selection adds depth to dishes such as grits and pimento cheese.”
One chef said halloumi has a great salty taste and it’s great for grilling.
Halloumi, a semi-soft cheese made of goat’s milk and sheep’s milk, is originally from the island of Cyprus. It’s known for being a great cheese for grilling.
Brian Malarkey, “Top Chef” alum and executive chef of Herb & Wood in San Diego, California, said he enjoys cooking with halloumi because it has a high melting point, which makes is what makes it so great for grilling.
“It’s got a great salty and briny taste, so it’s ideal to toss with most things because it really absorbs the flavour,” he told INSIDER. “Halloumi also makes an excellent side to any piece of grilled meat.”
Some chefs said scamorza is a smoky alternative to mozzarella.
Many people know of mozzarella, the Italian cheese dynamo famous for its starring roles in popular dishes like pizza and lasagna. But if you’re looking for a smokier Italian cheese that’s similar to mozzarella in terms of texture and ability to melt, scamorza could be worth trying.
“A smoked cheese always adds another flavour dimension. Scamorza is a cheese that you can buy smoked and it’s like a firm mozzarella. [You can] top flatbreads with it to add the smoked element to home pizzas that is normally only possible with wood-fired pizza ovens,” Chef Tanner Agar of Rye in McKinney, Texas told INSIDER.
One chefs said that, when prepared correctly, raclette can make for a show-stopping appetizer.
In recent years, raclette, a creamy cheese made of cow’s milk, has found new popularity because of its unique serving presentation. Diners or chefs typically scrape the warmed cheese onto pieces of bread or push it onto a plate of pasta.
Chef Bernhard Mairinger of Bier Biesl Restaurant in Los Angeles, California said raclette is excellent as long as it’s “the real stuff.”
“The half-wheel is fixed into a stand that has a broiler on top – quick heat to make the cheese melt and caramelize a bit. [It’s] served with good bread and some pickled vegetables, simple and amazing,” he told INSIDER. “It’s a great cheese to play with.”
Some chefs said Parmigiano-Reggiano is as delicious on a cheese plate as it is in a cooked dish.
Perhaps one of the most famous cheeses to come from Italy, the hard, cow’s-milk variety Parmigiano-Reggiano is known for being a flavorful addition to cheese boards and pasta dishes.
“The fact that it is just so versatile makes it special. Rich and flavorful but delicate enough not to overpower a salad, [it can still] finish a pasta and give it that rich finish that everyone enjoys,” said Peter Vauthy, executive chef of Red, the Steakhouse in Miami Beach, Florida.
One chef said pecorino can be great for snacking.
“For me, it’s really the [quintessential] cheese of the Italians,” he told INSIDER. “I always have a piece of Pecorino Toscano or [Pecorino] Sardo with some sliced pears as my afternoon snack.” He said the cheese is widespread in Italy and each area in the country offers their own uniquely flavored versions of Pecorino.
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