Leave chips and jarred salsa where they belong: College. It’s time to upgrade to a serious cheese plate at your next party. Artisanal and farmstead cheeses (where the farmer does everything himself, from milking to making to aging) in the US are at an all-time high. So, too, is cheese made with raw milk, organic milk and even goat and sheep’s milk as the craft cheese movement explodes.
But with more than 2,000 varieties of cheese, figuring out which one to choose can be tricky. “How to classify cheeses is one of the most frequently-asked questions I get,” says Liz Thorpe, one of the nation’s leading cheese experts and author of The Book of Cheese. But unless you’re a cheesemonger, chances are you can’t tell from a glance which ones are soft, stinky or aged. And it doesn’t really matter: Learn these easy-to-navigate groups instead and you’ll have a primer on the basic cheese families, and know what to look for next time you go shopping.