Centuries ago, when there were no refrigerators, people used to adopt different techniques to preserve their food, dairy items, and fruits. The primary reason behind the invention of cheese was also the preservation. To preserve the milk for months, the people of that time cooked it with salt, acids, and a special enzyme, found in the stomach of young animals; rennet.
This enzyme acts as a coagulant which changes the smooth runny texture of milk into somewhat chunkier and crumbier. The final product of this preservation process was curd which is separated from the whey and then further heated to about 55°C, pressed, and left outside to mature until it gets harder, developing a strong aroma and flavour with dry and crumbly texture – forming your hard cheese.
So yes, the hard cheese we eat today is still manufactured using the same technique and ingredients. However, according to the US food standard authority, the best hard cheese is the one having no less than 50% milk content and no less than 38% water content. Therefore, to meet these legal standards, manufacturers have to make a few changes in the manufacturing process. Still, almost all the hard cheese products can be served and cut at room temperature easily.
Types of Hard Cheese
Based on the raw ingredients, the time it takes to mature, flavour, and the manufacturing process, hard cheese is divided into several types – so many types that it would take a whole day to recall them so let’s have a look at some of those most popular and loved ones!
This type of hard cheese belongs to Italy and got its first name; Parmigiano Reggiano after the name of the provinces (Parma and Reggio Emilia) where it is manufactured. To make this cheese, fresh milk is obtained from the cows grazing on fresh grass and hay. This milk is then passed through a series of steps and a long ageing time (About 12 months long), as a result of which, hard and gritty cheese is obtained.
One thing that’s worth mentioning here is that parmesan cheese is more granular from the inside than outside. The reason is the formation of crystals within the cheese block. So, as time goes by, these crystals become even and even harder, making the texture more gritty.
From the outside, this hard cheese looks a bit more golden brown and oily, however, on cutting it into pieces, you’d see the colour inside is lighter than outside; more golden. However, the good thing is, you won’t feel any change in the flavour on eating either the outer or inner cheese chunks.
It tastes a bit tangy and nutty and that’s why it’s mostly used to garnish over pasta as grated cheese and in risottos and soups to impart a crunchy flavour. Besides pairing it with cooked stuff, people also consume Parmesan cheese by pairing it with champagne, sparkling wine, walnuts, zesty pairs, and sometimes, all alone as a snack.
This type of hard cheese also comes from Italy and is considered a strong alternative to the previous type; Parmesan cheese. Most of the time, chefs use Pecorino for grating purposes (to grate casseroles, pasta, and bread) because it tastes too sharp, salty, and tangy to be used all alone.
You must be surprised to know that this cheese has been made by the Romans for more than two thousand years and that’s why it’s also sometimes referred to as the oldest hard cheese. However, unlike parmesan, Pecorino has four subtypes, which differ from one another based on their aging time and flavour.
For example, when pecorino is left to age for the most minimum time, we get Fresco. Due to low maturing time, no crystals are formed in the curd and the resulting texture we get is soft and creamy with mild creamy flavours. On the other hand, when the same type of cheese is left to mature for the maximum time possible, we get Stagionato; a cheese with a hard, granular texture and buttery, nutty taste.
Similarly, the classic form of pecorino cheese gives off a strong aroma with highly sharp, spicy, and somewhat smoky flavours. The most interesting aspect of this type of hard cheese is that it is made of the milk obtained from the sheep and that’s another reason why it costs a bit higher than other hard cheese types.
This type of hard cheese is one of the most famous ones in the world due to its amazing texture and heavenly unique flavour. First thing first, this hard cheese is from the Netherlands where the fresh milk of cows, sheep, and even goats are processed to make its semi-soft form first. This semi-soft cheese is then left to mature for about three years to transform its smooth cream texture into a hard, crumbly, and springy one.
In both forms, the Gouda cheese tastes the same; sweet, nutty, and creamy. However, the aged forms possess more intense flavours than younger ones. That’s why it’s largely used as a snack to eat with fruits, crackers, bread, mustard, beer, wine, and any other thing. Also, this hard cheese melts down too quickly, on being exposed to a little higher temperature, and that’s why chefs use it while cooking soups, pasta, sandwiches, etc. to enhance their overall flavours.
This type of hard cheese is from Italy and the strangest thing about asiago is its weird colours. In its younger form, this hard cheese possesses a clear, white shade with a mild flavour. Whereas, the aged form of asiago possesses a sharper taste with a black external coating. Yes, you read it right. From the outside, the superior asiago cheese looks black and rusty while from the inside, it possesses the same buttery colour as that of younger cheese.
Besides this, you’d also notice small dots or eyes inside the cheese. Like pecorino, asiago is also divided into subtypes. Among these subtypes, asiago pesto tastes a bit sweet, like that of cheddar cheese and that’s why it is often confused with American cheddar. On the other hand, Asiago d’Alene is the sharpest and hardest form, used largely to grate over food.
And the last form, asiago Grasso monte is the mild version, having a mild, tangy taste. Uses of asiago hard cheese are infinite as they can be paired with a lot of foodstuff including pasta, pears, fresh figs, crusty bread, salami, red wine, and red grape juice.