Try to imagine a wonderful tiramisu without rich mascarpone, a baked potato without fresh sour cream, or a breakfast bowl of berries without that extra protein boost of some cottage cheese.
Exactly – it just wouldn’t work.
The range of products that belong to the group of soft fresh cheeses is large and versatile. But they all have some basic characteristics in common.
The most important aspect that differentiates these foods from regular cheese is that they are fresh cheeses that do not require a maturing process to produce. They edible right from the end of production.
Soft fresh varieties have a creamy and smooth texture (except cottage cheese) with a fresh, mild flavor and no rind.
The basic process used to make them is always the same: Milk is soured with the help of lactic acid bacteria, and made to coagulate.
After removing the whey, the product is almost finished. But there are certain differences in the rest of the process for the various products, as you will read below.
The special production process involved in making these cheeses is also the reason for their limited shelf lives. Keep fresh cheeses in the fridge, dispose of them after the expiration date, and consume within a couple of days once opened.
If you like to stock up, it is possible to freeze them for up to three months, but they may not maintain their texture. Place back in the fridge to thaw and stir thoroughly before using.
Those who follow a low FODMAP diet should avoid fresh cheeses. Try any variety of harder, aged cheeses instead to reduce digestive upset.
All of the soft fresh cheese varieties can be used in many different ways:
- Enjoy with some fresh or stewed fruits or nuts.
- Use to make sweet or savory dips and sauces, with fresh or dried herbs or spices.
- Use in cold recipes like desserts, or warm dishes like soups.
- Prepare layered desserts like tiramisu, frosting for cupcakes, or (of course) cheesecake.
- Use as a spread on sweet or savory sandwiches.
Let’s take a look at 6 different kinds of fresh cheeses, to help you decide which one to feature next on your menu next.
Curd Cheese (Quark)
Though popular in Europe, quark or curd cheese isn’t typically available in the United States. It’s similar to fromage blanc in texture.
Traditionally, pasteurized milk is soured with lactic acid bacteria and a mixture of enzymes so that the firm and the liquid parts separate.
The liquid whey strained from the curd, which is the actual basic ingredient of the cheese. Achieving different fat levels is possible at this point, by adding cream or not.
Quark is easily digestible and it provides you with lots of calcium and proteins.
Common fat levels for this product that are available at the store are low-fat curd (less than 10% fat in dry matter) and fresh curd cheese (40% fat), but there are several gradations possible in between. Some companies produce varieties with a lower fat content, or a higher one up to 80%.
There are different flavored varieties available, too.
There is no reason to shy away from a supposedly large quantity of fat. As quark contains approximately 80% water; a variety with even 50% fat in the dry matter contains only 10g of fat in 100g of the actual product making it 10% fat in total.
This grainy kind of fresh cheese is made of pasteurized skimmed milk, plus lactic acid bacteria. It is naturally low-fat and low-carb with a high protein level. Richer varieties made with cream are available, too.
It can be flavored with fresh herbs like chives or spices, and it makes a great fresh spread or dip. Add cucumber, bell peppers other vegetables for a spot of color on your plate.
You can also enjoy it spread on toasted bread on its own, or with some jam or honey on top.
And I’ve made some really moist and fluffy pancakes when I mix some in batter!
It is well suited to make a nice breakfast with some fresh fruit or berries.
When you’re feeling creative, opt to make it from scratch at home! It’s actually super easy to do, and only requires just a few ingredients.
This thick and incredibly rich and creamy product is an essential element of tea time in Great Britain. Served with freshly baked scones and jam, this is a delicious combination. Especially in Devon and Cornwall, you’ll find this traditional and popular specialty.
The question of whether the cream or the jam comes first is a matter of origin, but this can be of some importance depending on where you stay. The order in Devon would be scone-cream-jam, whereas in Cornwall, you should stick to scone-jam-cream.
For its production, nothing else is required besides raw milk. It is heated up and mainly left to itself. The cream comes to the surface and develops small clots. In the end, it has a firm but creamy texture, and a light yellow color.
Whether you’re planning to have a spot of tea or an apple pie fresh from the oven, clotted cream is the perfect fit.
This mild and smooth fresh cheese which has up to 80% fat content melts wonderfully in your mouth. It is ideal for making desserts such as classic tiramisu, but it goes great with all kinds of fruit, too.
Mascarpone isn’t just for sweet treats. Try mixing some into your next pasta sauce, pureed soup, or dip.
The unique quality of mascarpone is that it’s made of cream instead of milk. Fresh cream is heated up to about 90°C (194°F) and coagulated with the help of an acid such as citric acid, then cooled down and drained.
The original Italian ricotta is a super versatile product. It can be made of cow, sheep or buffalo milk.
Because it is made from the whey rather than the curd, this makes it a fluffy and loose cream cheese, the perfect choice for adding to sauces and savory recipes.
It is often used as a filling for many different dishes, like stuffed peppers, cannelloni, quiche or tortellini. Together with spinach or fresh herbs, it makes an unbeatable combination.
The different variations have specific names:
– Ricotta di bufala (buffalo whey)
– Ricotti di pecora/sarda (sheep’s whey)
– Ricotta romana (cow’s whey)
Often, the cheeses have different names depending on whether they are salted or unsalted.
They can even have a completely different consistency, like Ricotta secca or ricotta salata, which is a hard and firm product that’s suitable for grating.
Its fat content can vary between low-fat and light, and full fat and rich (which is perfect for desserts like our Ricotta Pear Stacks). You can decide, depending on your recipe, which type you prefer.
Crème Fraîche and Sour Cream
Crème fraîche originates in France and belongs to the group of sour creams. It is made of cream taken from cow’s milk and has a fat content of at least 30%, generally more than sour cream.
Lactic acid bacteria are responsible for its texture and flavor. It is fresh and lightly sour.
Crème fraîche can be used for a variety of recipes because it won’t clump and separate, even when it’s added to warm or hot dishes. For example, I love topping soup with a dollop of it.
Sour cream is a close relative. Usually, it has a more firm consistency and its fat level can vary.
Besides using to top baked potatoes, sour cream is a traditional spread fused to make Flammkuchen, and Alsatian tart made with bacon and onions.
Its smooth and creamy texture is a nice addition to sauces, and it can be used to enrich exquisite desserts.
In combination with foods that have a strong flavor – like smoked salmon, and spicy or hot meat dishes – its mild taste provides a nice balance.
What’s your favorite variety of soft fresh cheese? And what products do you use for different recipes?
Share your thoughts, comments, and ideas below.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.
25 thoughts on “The 6 Most Common Fresh Cheese Varieties for Every Occasion”
I had no idea sour cream was a kind of cheese. Interesting.
The only time I’ve ever heard of Mascarpone was on a children’s cartoon when one of the characters mentioned using it in a cake. I would have never guessed it was a type of cheese either.
At a first glance, one wouldn’t think that sour cream belongs here, right? The overall category “cheese” combines the most different products, that’s for sure. It’s funny that you have seen Mascarpone on a cartoon. But it is providing a nice idea: using this in a cake will make it smooth and rich, yummy!
This has been very enlightening; it shows how much cheese plays a significant role in our diet. As an African, we were not raised eating cheese or making sumptuous combinations; but moving to the Middle East, I have been exposed to all of its varieties. My friends in Europe and America cannot do without it and I must admit with this article, it is an eye opener to view dairy products in a different way.
I agree with you. Cheese varieites in all forms have become a daily part of the menu for so many people. But I think it is very interesting that this doesn’t apply to all countries. The eating habits around the globe are so different, I always enjoy reading books about various cusines and cultures and learn more about it.
The versatility is huge and allows us to combine them in the most different ways. I’m glad you enjoy the article.
Wow, there was a lot of new information here for me that I hadn’t known before! I like cheese but I’ve been eating less of it since my daughter can no longer eat it due to tummy issues with the casein.
My favorite? Well when it comes to cooking, I like ricotta best. Can’t beat that flavor in Italian dishes and things like stuffed pasta shells or lasagna.
In the past, I never liked cottage cheese very much, but I’ve started eating it now and find that I *do* like it, so I plan to continue. 🙂 I like it with fruit… I’ve been eating “pineapple on the bottom” and it’s wonderful… I guess they got the idea from “fruit on the bottom” yogurt!
Yeah, ricotta works fantastic for things like lasagna or stuffed pasta. And I totally agree with you about the “fruit on the bottom” thing. I like to take some deep spoons and get the whole flavor-mix 🙂 And cottage cheese is a good choice for that!
What a pity that your daughter has some trouble with it. I also have to be on the lookout and don’t eat too much of dairy products in general, otherwise I’ll get some stomach pains. But every now and then I really enjoy it.
This is fascinating; I never knew that sour cream was a cheese. Cottage cheese with fruit is tasty and a great breakfast go-to for me.
I have heard of mascarpone and had it in dessert. Using it in a savory dish, such as a soup sounds interesting. I would love to make a tomato soup and add the mascarpone. I am looking forward to using these products in new recipes.
That is a perfect breakfast, isn’t it? It’s not too heavy, yet filling and refreshing – a nice way to start into the day.
You should really go ahead and try it with tomato soup, that will be worth it. Mascarpone is going to add some creamy and rich nuance. I’m happy that you’ve found some inspiration here!
I’m going to say, that my favorite soft variety is actually sour cream. I just love adding it to soups and adding a dollop on many Mexican dishes…okay maybe more than a dollop, but I sure do love it. I make a simple pasta dish with a roux, some chicken broth, some roasted garlic, sour cream and parmesan cheese that my kids love. The always say it reminds them of mac ‘n cheese, but with spaghetti noodles.
I also love adding sour cream to hot and spicy dishes, it is a great way to get some balance! And the dish you talk about sounds delicious! Parmesan is one of my favorites, too. So I can definitely see that this combination makes your children happy 🙂
I love cheese so when I read this I was thinking I was going to read about those varieties I have tried! Nope! I’ve only had two of these out of them all. I had no idea sour cream was related to cheese. I always considered it closest to yogurt. That may be silly but you usually can substitute one with the other. Made sense to me. Very informative!
Hey, it’s nice to hear that you could discover some new varieties you haven’t heard about before 🙂 When it comes to the consistency, I think sour cream and yogurt seem like they belong to the same “group” of food, I agree. And one can often replace them, you’re right about that. Both have a lightly sour, but mild and creamy flavor. Works great with lots of recipes!
Wow the only type I’ve tried before is the cottage and sour cream. I guess all the ones that I have been eating are pure processed cheese.
Yum. All of this just looks so rich and delicious. You made me want to go into the kitchen and start baking. Of course, I don’t have most of those items on hand, so I’d probably need to run to the store first. I do have some cottage cheese though, since I generally have it on hand (I can make quite a few tasty things from that).
I would definitely like to try some of these options. They can be used for taste as well as for presentation. I enjoy pretty food.
It’s good to always have some things in store, right?And cottage cheese is a good one, versatile to work with. I agree with you about presentation of food, I think this is an important thing. And these types work well for this purpose. Enjoy!
I had no clue that people ate blueberries with cottage cheese – something new to try this weekend! I grew up in a Vietnamese family and about 99.7% of my relatives were lactose intolerant, so I haven’t really had much exposure to cheese until the last five or so years. My favorite way to use cheese is to put creme fraiche on my crepes or cream cheese in fried wontons. I definitely need to try some of the things on this list, so thanks for posting this!
Nice to hear, did you try the blueberries with cottage cheese yet? I can see that crème fraîche on crêpes works perfectly. I think, with some fruit or honey added, it is a wonderful meal. And the fresh cheese provides some refreshing taste to everything.
Thank you for this great article Nina-Kristin. I totally love cheese. It is one of my many weaknesses, so I’m always on the lookout for a type of cheese I’ve never tasted before. My problem lies in that sometimes I buy a new different type of cheese and don’t know what to match it with. Thanks for giving me ideas on what to accompany cheeses and for introducing me to Mascarpone cheese and Curd cheese which I’ve never tried.
I know what you mean. Sometimes, we want to try new products or varieites and end up with no idea how to use them. So right now, you will have an idea for Mascarpone! I can recommend it, it is so creamy and rich (not a variety for each day 😉 ) but definitely one to enjoy every now and then as an addition to many recipes.
My boyfriend is Italian so when I’m cooking his favourite pasta recipes I end up using ricotta quite frequently. I love mixing it with chopped spinach, grated mozzarella, and a little parmesan, and then using it to stuff pasta shells. It’s really yummy with marinara sauce and some roasted asparagus or zucchini on the side 🙂
Wonderful! I could have those stuffed pasta shells right away! 😉 I really love this shape, because you can get so creative with them. And ricotta is definitely a perfect choice here. Thanks for your tasty inspiration!
I am a cheese lover, but this post just puts it on another level. The variety of cheeses and ways to use them is actually endless. Thank you for posting
I’ve never heard of quark before this article. I can’t say that it looks appetizing, but I would definitely try it out. Based on the picture it seems to be more of main component like cottage cheese than a topping like sour cream. Is this correct? I live in a place with lots of farmer markets and I bet I could track down some quark with due diligence.
Right, it is often used as a main ingredient, like fruit quark for dessert. But one can also mix it with herbs and add to baked potatoes. It is also part of a special kind of dough that is famous in Germany, too: it’s made of quark and oil and suitable for savory or sweet cakes. There are low-/ and high-fat varieties. The latter sorts are really creamy! I hope you can find some on the markets nearby and have a try yourself 🙂
Thank you I love them all!! I have fresh milk and cream from the farm, kefir is getting old looking to expand my horizons by making a fresh cheese.