When I buy some Gouda, can I expect that it only contains the original fermented milk? E.g. cheese usually tastes somewhat salty and sometimes nutty. Is this because of seasoning or because of the properties of the milk that was fermented?

If it is seasoned, how does unseasoned cheese taste?

  • 3
    Many cheeses use salt as a way to help draw out water during the cheese-making process; this should be listed on the ingredients & nutrition label.
    – John Feltz
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 17:36
  • 9
    @hgiesel OK. As for the question of "how would it taste unseasoned", this is the second reason to be unanswerable - the sorts of cheese which can be made with salt cannot be made without salt. And the first is that human language just doesn't have the words to describe taste in detail. The best that can be done is to compare it to something else, but that doesn't really cover it.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 18:25
  • 3
    If it's used as part of the production process, are you still calling it seasoning? I'm pretty sure that if you left the salt out, you would get a totally different product; not just less salty cheese.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 19:32
  • 2
    @JohnFeltz at least in some places, cheese isn't regarded as being made up of ingredients, so the packet would say "100% cheese", not "milk, salt, rennet, culture". No doubt national food standards bodies have a list of what can be regarded as an inherent part of cheese (including in the case of salt, when it's added; salt may be listed separately for cheese packed in brine)
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 9:43
  • 1
    I personally would not consider salt to be a seasoning for salt unless it is added to alter the flavor. Salt is a seasoning when added to change or enhance flavor. It is a chemical agent when used to preserve, brine or cause a reaction as in many cheeses. I think that most labeling rules would tend to only require salt be listed as an ingredient if used to alter the flavor, not if required to make that variety of cheese. It would be listed, as sodium, in the nutritional info. Some makers might label it always, but that would normally be voluntary and not mean it was added optionally.
    – dlb
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 14:36

5 Answers 5


There are dozens if not hundreds of kinds of cheese in the world.

Several kinds of non-shelf-stable cheese do not contain any added salt, just the natural salt content of the milk. Quark is a prominent example, paneer can also be made without salt. Of course paneer will reflect the taste of the acid that was used, for example lemon juice - it is up to you whether you consider it to be a seasoning or not.

Cheeses that have a ripening time need salt for conservation purposes, so they are all salted. If you want to taste a low-salt cheese of this type, try Emmentaler - the traditional ones go as low as 0.5% salt, and I am not even sure if this is added or not, so maybe it doesn't even fall under your definition of "seasoned".

In addition, there are cheeses which also contain seasoning specifically meant to change their taste, for example wild garlic cheese or pepper cheese. These are added to the curds before pressing. Other types of cheese, like some cream cheeses or American cheeses, have seasoning added in an additional processing step. The seasoning in this step is highly varied, and can include not only the traditional herbs but also things like fungi or bacon pieces. And quarks are frequently seasoned with fruit at this step.

So, there is a huge variety, and you can have seasoned or unseasoned cheese as you prefer.

  • There even exist a local variety of soft cheese that is flavoured with Jam and it is soo good. They don't call it the culinary arts for anything. People can be creative, coming up with your own take on cheese is a wonderful experience.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 15:50

The making of cheese greatly reflects the areas where the cheese comes from. The diet of the cows have a profound effect on the cheese as well does certain atmospheric condition.

A cow that has lived at altitude in the Swiss Alps' milk and also by extension its cheese will taste different. I know my local cheese that is made nearly a mile above sea level simply has a texture unlike any foreign made cheese. We have dry and low humidity winters which ages cheese in a really unique way.

As for any additives to cheese, yes they do exist. I myself like to add coriander seeds that I have to soften in a little water to my cheese before I press them.

Coriander is to me the spice that defines South African culinary culture and so for me making a cheese with it appeals to my sense of patriotism, so it is not unheard of.

As for the salty taste, this may simply come from the brining of the cheese. Many kinds of cheese are brined not only for flavour reasons but also to stop the bacteria in the cheese from converting too much lactose into Lactic Acid.

If you do not brine your cheese you run the risk of the bacteria producing too much lactic acid from residual lactose. This if not done may produce too much acid in the cheese for a proper curd ripening.

It will also pull moisture from the surface of the cheese which will help with a proper rind production.

  • 4
    And even in the same area, cheeses can vary by season -- winter would be hay or silage, while summer would be grass fed. In the Netherlands, there's a 'spring cheese' made from the milk just as the cows have been let out after the winter, as they return to grass.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 22:27
  • 3
    "I know my local cheese that is made nearly a mile above sea level simply has a texture unlike any foreign made cheese." I would expect the precise manufacturing process to be at least as significant as the milk. Nobody else is going to use exactly the same process. Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 13:08

No, cheese is not seasoned by default.

Some cheeses do contain salt, or herbs, or spices - but any spices, seasonings, or salts are considered as much a part of the finished cheese as the starter culture or the milk. It would be like asking if you can get pickles that are unseasoned, when it's the vinegar or spices in the brine that makes them pickled, or like questioning the salt or spices in cured meats - the whole process is what makes it what it is, and absent those ingredients and processes, you don't have the specific cheese.

Since you were asking about "unseasoned" cheese as just milk and culture, you might be interested in knowing that there are in fact multiple cheese cultures, specific to a lot of different kinds of cheese - much like wine yeasts, it is one of the major components and the one that decides which cheese is going to be what. Most cheeses also use a different curdling agent, often rennet, or else citric acid - which is different from the yeasts which give the cheeses flavor. Other specific parts of the process define different kinds of cheeses, so that a cheese missing some piece of its process is, in fact, a different cheese - like salting to bring out moisture, adding one fungus for blue cheeses, and a different one for brie cheeses.

A gouda cheese, for example, needs to have the curds washed (removing lactic acid for a sweeter cheese), and soaked in a brine solution which gives its rind a characteristic taste, and is further divided based on aging. It also depends on being a cow's milk cheese, a yellow cheese, rather mild and sweet, and based on the traditional Dutch methods of production. Cheddar is also a yellow cow's milk cheese, named for the cheddaring process (laying curds crosswise for texture), and depends on being sharper and acidic in flavor. It is also a much more common process, so cheddar is produced all over in a wide variety of cheeses, unlike gouda which is more limited in what counts as one. A mozzerella and paneer are both made with acid, but mozzarella uses citric acid and also has rennet and is stretched for texture, and it is moister so it will melt, while paneer is made with lemon juice and pressed dry and dense to hold up to handling and to stay firm. Which is "seasoned", and which "unseasoned", when they are both so different? I don't know. And paneer and feta are made with very similar processes, until the cheese is brined... except the milk is very different, which is how you get a soft fatty feta (goat and sheep milk) and a firm chewy paneer (cow milk) even before the salty brine is added.

I suppose I should mention that there are cheeses which have flavors added - like garlic cheddar, or pepperjack, or anatto seed to make yellow cheddar, yellow, or any number of herbs and spices. Again, I think this still isn't the same thing as "default seasoned or unseasoned", because it is about creating a different product. A cheddar with garlic doesn't taste the same as a garlic cheddar to me, a plain cheddar isn't the same is a "garlic cheddar without garlic". You can disagree, or you can prefer or avoid cheeses with added flavors, but that's my take on it.

And now, getting back to your original point. If you buy a gouda, what you should be getting is a chunk of gouda cheese, not a "gouda flavored chunk of generic cheese". If you get a smoked gouda, on the other hand, then the cheese is being advertised as changed from the original, with smoke flavor added to the basic gouda cheese (and other changes coming from the process of smoking, etc). Specifically, the flavors in gouda are created through the interaction of the milk, the process, the cultures, and the aging. If you're interested in knowing what is in a cheese, ingredient lists or nutrition labels will help. If you can see the cheese, you can look for flecks of herbs, or whole spices, or other textural signals that might show other ingredients in the cheese. Most such cheeses will advertise these additions, though, as they are different products with different appeal. Any cheese with an unmodified label should be considered "unseasoned" or regular cheese for its kind - this might not help much when it comes to cheeses where the addition is considered default (like annato in yellow cheddar, or penicillium mold in blue cheese), but it should help you weed out the dill havarti from the garlic havarti from the plain one - and you'll just have to take your chances with the pepper jack vs montery jack, or yellow vs white cheddar.

So, when I'm saying there's no unseasoned cheese, what I'm saying is there's no generic basic cheese which gets flavored or processed into all the other cheeses - it isn't a base material to be seasoned into something else. If there's a flavor to "unseasoned cheese", it is plain milk - or not even that, because the flavors also come from what kind of milk, and what kind of animals (cow vs sheep vs goat is a really big difference), and seasons and years and conditions these milk bearing animals lived in. The flavors also come from the starter cultures, and processing, and developing the flavors (as by aging, brining, smoking, washing the curds, or the rinds, in all sorts of substances, adding herbs and spices).

  • I don't understand. You start by saying "cheese is not seasoned by default" but then end with "I'm saying there's no unseasoned cheese". Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 13:12
  • @DavidRicherby - Hmm, if you look back to the original question, it is literally, is the cheese flavored to make it taste like it does, and how does its taste change if it is not flavored. I understood the phrase "seasoned by default" to mean do we assume by default the cheese had seasonings added - that is, the question is was plain cheese seasoned or does it itself taste like that. My answer is it is not seasoned to make it taste like it does, it just tastes like that - there's no unseasoned cheese substance to make that assumption about.
    – Megha
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 14:05

The "Centre National Interprofessionnel de l’Economie Laitière" (French Inter-professional National Center of Dairy Products Economy) reported 1200 kinds of cheeses produced in France.

Most of them only use salt as seasoning. They are usually composed of 0,3% to 4% of salt in weight, but is is also used for crust forming or conservation properties (imagine keeping a saltless Roquefort in you fridge, that would be a mad food rampage after only a few hours). Fresh or white cheese (I don't know the word in english, the white and creamy one) are composed of a neglectable quantity of salt, but usually do have some however. They need less salt because their fermentation process is different.

Saltless cheese does exist however since the trend of the "no salt regime". Salt is replaced by other conservatives, but the taste differs a little of course.


It depends on the cheese type/recipe. A cheese like halloumi is quite bland, and is often deep-fried to give it some taste and texture. Then there is ricotta which is also fairly mild (and does not keep long enough to get beneficial fermentation going), and is often combined with sweet ingredients into a desert because of this. Cottage cheese was also mentioned in another answer.

  1. Older, harder cheeses often have a stronger, even sharp, taste due to ripening/aging/prolonged fermentation. Age is often the biggest differentiator in otherwise "standard" (plain) cheeses.
  2. Secondary flavors may develop (over time) in some cheeses due to addition to other particular fungi or bacterial strains as part of the recipe, e.g. blue cheese, camembert, brie, etc.
  3. Salt may be added to some cheeses due to the recipe and also alter the taste. Salt influences the fermentation process through e.g. moisture content and bacteria species.
  4. Other ingredients (e.g. herbs, spices, nuts, fruit, etc. etc.) may (or may not) be added to some standard cheeses with the intent to alter the taste. Over the past weekend I've eaten some goudas and other cheeses with cumin, basil pesto, dried tomato pesto, chillies, etc. etc. added.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.