I have been trying to improve my skills in the kitchen by watching some professional chefs on television, I have a serious problem though, many of the recipes they describe contain different kinds of cheese, I can get cheddar easily but after several disasters I have discovered that I can not replace some of the hard to get cheese discussed in some recipes with cheddar, to my surprise there are even different varieties of cheddar.

Could someone point me to a comprehensive easy to follow cheese guide for beginners? I would prefer a PDF document I can freely download and print. the guide should contain the different types of cheese, their characteristics and what they are best used for I will then use this to try and make substitutions.

4 Answers 4


I'm not sure that's the right way to go about this. There are tons and tons of types of cheeses. I'm not sure you'll find a good list of all substitutes because it will be too big to put together.

Instead, I think you need to learn about the types of cheese so that you can make an informed decision. Is a cheese blue, sharp, creamy, hard, soft? How does it melt? What part of the world is it from? Those questions will allow you to find a cheese that is similar enough to make a good substitution.

For instance, if a recipe called for Pecorino a hard Italian cheese, Parmesan (another hard Italian cheese) would make a much better substitute than goat cheese or cheddar.

So see what cheeses are available at your local store. Write down the whole list (and preferably buy some of each). Get home and do a little bit of research on each one. Where is it from? How do people describe it? Take some notes on all of this. Then, when you see a new cheese in a recipe, look it up and see how it's described. Then find a cheese from a similar area with similar characteristics, and you should be good to go.

Edit: While I stand by my approach as a great way to go about this, I did find a good resource. Cook's Thesaurus has a great list of cheeses, including substitutes, broken down by type of cheese, type of milk, hardness, etc.

  • Thanks, I just somehow knew you would edit your answer and provide a link, I waited, The guide I asked about will help with what you suggested. I would not expect every type of cheese to be included just enough for me to get an understanding of the more popular types, Please forgive me I am an engineer by profession so I was just thinking that the data sheet approach would help somewhat.
    – Simmerdown
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 20:02
  • Aye, the answer is find the cheese requested, they all vary tremendously, substitution is not generally advisable.
    – Orbling
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 20:04
  • 9
    @Orbling, I disagree completely. Substitution is always an option. You just need to realize what the important characteristics of the original ingredient are so that you can find those aspects in another ingredient. Cheese is no exception! Although, a variety of cheese is never a bad thing. As a wise man once said, "you can never have too much cheese because it rules."
    – yossarian
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 20:25
  • @yossarian I am a vegan, believe me I know about the limits of substitution. Some things are chemically just too difficult to reproduce to a level where the article could be considered a substituted-variant as opposed to something totally different.
    – Orbling
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 20:28
  • 2
    @orbling, yes, if you impose restrictions like "no cheese" it is hard to substitute for cheese. However, within the realm of actually eating dairy, there are plenty of options. Who takes cheese recommendations from a vegan anyway?!? ;o)
    – yossarian
    Commented Dec 4, 2010 at 16:48

Umm. next time you're at the store go to the cheese counter and talk to the person behind the counter. Way easier than using a guide, and chances are you'll get free samples which is always a good thing.

  • 1
    +1 for the samples, but good luck with the advice (depending on the store).
    – user194
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 19:09
  • Mmm... Wegman's cheese section...
    – Marti
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 0:35
  • 4
    Please be mindful of the fact that not every one lives in the United States or Europe, There are no such things as cheese counters where I live, If I ask at a supermarket where I live for Mozzarella I will likely get a blank stare. Here we are on our own.
    – Simmerdown
    Commented Dec 5, 2010 at 15:15

Get yourself a copy of the Cheese Primer:

alt text

It was written by Steven Jenkins, the cheese buyer over at Fairway, a grocery store in New York that has an absolutely insane cheese department. It has chapters on each of the different categories of cheese along with detailed listings of the most commonly available kinds in each category. There are also sections on storing cheese, cutting cheese, and if I remember correctly, even a diatribe against the "parmesan" "cheese" that comes in a green cylinder.

  • Thanks, Very nice answer, I certainly will buy this, In the meantime I will be scouring the web for something in addition to the link provided by yossarian.
    – Simmerdown
    Commented Dec 5, 2010 at 15:24

The secret is to taste. With cheese, with wine, with beer, with barbeque sauce, you've got to taste it. I wander through the store, and I get excited when I see something I haven't had before. That's how you learn foods. Get out there and try different things. Work your way through your local cheese counter, buying every kind of cheese they have. Never let the old woman with the plateful of samples pass by unmolested. Eat some raw. Melt some over toast. Mix some with your eggs. Look online, and find recipes that feature that cheese. Make fondue out of it, and raid your fridge, and dip some of everything you find into the fondue, and taste, and ponder.

In a short time, you'll get a good working knowledge of cheese. In a longer time, you'll get a sense, a feel for cheese. After that, if you've a passion for it, you'll start seeking rarities, and you'll find yourself standing there with a quarter wheel in your hand, sniffing it, and building a whole meal around it in your head.

There is really no way to know without tasting it.

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