Say Cheese: Your Guide to the Most Popular Cheeses in America

OK, we’re just going to come out and say it: We think Michelle Obama’s food plate is wrong. Why? Because cheese doesn’t have its own category (yes, yes, we know, dairy is there, but we’re talking straight cheese here). With so many different styles, flavors, and uses, we think it should be. What other food can be used as an enhancer in just about any dish while still being delicious on its own? Not only can place a piece of cheese on a cracker, you can grate it, bake it, melt it, or mix it into everything from nachos to cake. Then, if you wanted, you could also just take a hunk of it and stuff it in your gob. No judgments here.

Basically, cheese is the perfect food, and with that in mind, we wanted to find out what cheeses were the most popular here in America. We knew, most likely, that American cheese — those processed yellow squares that have adorned so many burgers in our lives — probably wouldn’t be at the top of the list.

To find out what cheeses were the most popular (at least in terms of production) in the U.S., we went straight to the source (the udder?) — Cheese Market News and their production charts for 2018. Their statistics track the production of cheese in the United States, in addition to milk, butter, and other dairy products.

While we wouldn’t say the statistics bleu our minds, it was a gouda list to dig into. Did you really think we wouldn’t make cheese puns?

And now, the most popular cheeses in America:

Mozzarella

mozzarella cheese
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Origin: Southern Italy

Type of milk: Buffalo (traditionally), but can be made with cow, sheep, or goat.

Key facts: A staple the world over, mozzarella has a history dating back to at least the 1500s, though some historians claim it was being served as early as the late 1200s. The European Union recognized mozzarella with a Traditional Specialities Guaranteed certification in 1998, and while no specific type of milk is needed, the cheese made from the milk of the Italian water buffalo is the standard for excellence.

Cheddar

Origin: Village of Cheddar, Somerset, England

Type of milk: Cow

Key facts: The majority of cheddar in the U.S. is produced in Wisconsin. It can come in seven different styles (mild, medium, sharp, extra-sharp, New York-style, white, and Vermont). For most cheddar cheeses, a food coloring named annatto is added, giving the cheese its orange color. White and Vermont cheddars are the exception to this.

Other American Cheeses (Colby and Monterey Jack)

colby jack cheese
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Origin: Colby, Wisconsin and Monterey, California (respectively)

Type of milk: Cow

Key facts: Colby and Monterey Jack are only differentiated by one thing: the addition of annatto in Colby to make it orange. Otherwise, both American-born products are soft, moist, and mild thanks to a washed-curd process, where the whey is replaced with water during the cooking process.

Cream Cheese and Neufchâtel

cream cheese bagel
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Origin: Various

Type of milk: Cow

Key facts: Cream cheese is a product that has been around in Europe since the 1500s and in the U.S. since the mid-1700s. To be cream cheese in the U.S., it needs to be at least 33% milk fat and have a moisture content of no more than 55% (the pH also needs to be between 4.4 and 4.9). Neufchâtel is a soft, mold-ripened French cheese that was the precursor to cream cheese. In 1872, a man named William Lawrence bought a Neufchâtel factory in New York, added cream and thus, cream cheese was born.

Provolone

philly cheesesteak provolone cheese
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Origin: Casilli, Italy

Type of milk: Cow

Key facts: Provolone is a stretched-curd cheese and is primarily produced in three shapes: pear, sausage, and cone. Each piece weighs, on average, 11 pounds. A semi-soft cheese, provolone is aged for at least four months and can be smoked after aging. While there are protected designations for certain types of provolone in Italy, other countries also make provolone-like cheese.

Parmesan

parmesan cheese

Origin: Bibbiano, Reggio Emilia, Italy

Type of milk: Cow (unpasteurized)

Key facts: The name Parmesan is used to denote the generic version of this cheese that is made outside of the specified area in Italy, with the true cheese being named Parmigiano-Reggiano. After being cooked, Parmesan cheeses are brined for around three weeks, then aged for a year. At the year mark, the cheeses are inspected and marked depending on their quality.

Hispanic Cheeses

pork tacos queso fresco
Hungry Dudes/Flickr

Origin: Various

Type of milk: Cow, but some can also use goat

Key facts: A blanket term for a variety of cheeses, Hispanic cheeses fall into two main categories: fresh cheeses and melting cheeses. On the one hand, a cheese such as queso fresco is a fresh, crumbly white cheese that does not melt when cooked. Their counterpart, melting cheeses, do just that, and are ideal for (and most likely seen in) Mexican restaurants in the U.S.

Swiss Cheese

swiss cheese

Origin: Emmental, Switzerland

Type of milk: Cow

Key facts: While the term Swiss cheese is a generic term, as there are many different types of Swiss cheese, the one we think of most often resembles Emmentaler is a medium-hard cheese that has the signature holes (or “eyes”) that literally every media reference ever used to denote Swiss cheese. Three types of bacteria are used to make Emmentaler, one of which consumes lactic acid produced by the other two. This process releases carbon dioxide, which forms bubbles, which go on to form the holes in the cheese. If a cheese, such as Jarlsberg, doesn’t have holes, it’s known as “blind.”

Ricotta

ricotta cheese zucchini
Paoletta S./Wikimedia

Origin: Italy

Type of milk: Sheep, but cow, goat, and water buffalo are also used

Key facts: Ricotta, in short, can be seen as a happy byproduct of the cheese-making process. Having been produced for millennia, ricotta (which means “re-cooked”) is produced when the leftover whey proteins are heated to a higher temperature than the original cheese is cooked at and mixed with an acid to help coagulate the remaining proteins. While delicious when fresh, ricotta can also be aged, baked, or smoked.

Brick and Muenster

Muenster Cheese
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Origin: Wisconsin

Type of milk: Cow

Key facts: Both Wisconsin products (shocking, we know), brick cheese gets its name from the shape the cheese is pressed into. It is made in the style of white cheddar and comes in a variety of flavors, depending on how long it is aged. Muenster is an American imitation of an Alsatian cheese named Munster, which was introduced to the country by German immigrants. It can range in flavor from soft to sharp.

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