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

mozzarella cheese
Westend61/Getty Images

In this day and age, it can be argued that the most American food might just be cheese. No matter how you slice it, the creamy, stretchy, gooey dairy good is a staple that American cuisine can’t live without.

From hamburgers to breakfast tacos, Americans are loading up on the finest of cow creations. With plenty of varieties of cheese to choose from, including our own signature slice, the market has never been more exciting for the cheese lover. From Italy to Ireland and everywhere in between, there’s a cheese for every cracker, mac and cheese, or charcuterie you can dream of.

To help narrow down the selection, we checked in with Cheese Market News to churn up a list of the most popular cheeses Americans are putting on their plates.

Most Popular Cheeses:

Mozzarella

mozzarella cheese
Westend61/Getty Images

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 Speciality 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 comes in seven different styles: Mild, medium, sharp, extra-sharp, New York, 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 exceptions.

Other American Cheeses (Colby and Monterey Jack)

colby jack cheese
Yelena Rodriguez Mena/EyeEm/Getty Images

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 an annatto in Colby to make it orange. Otherwise, both American-born products are soft, moist, and mild, all thanks to a washed-curd process in which the whey is replaced by water during the cooking process.

Cream Cheese and Neufchâtel

cream cheese bagel
Melinda Siklosi/Getty Images

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% milkfat 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
dirkr/Getty Images

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 made anywhere outside the specified area in Italy where the true cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, is made. 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, fresh cheeses, like queso fresco, tend to be crumbly white cheeses that do not melt when cooked. Their melting counterparts do just as their name implies and are ideal for (and most likely seen in) most 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 and is a medium-hard cheese that has the signature holes (or “eyes”) that literally every media reference ever uses 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. Swiss cheeses without holes, such as Jarlsberg, are known as “blind” cheeses.

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 “recooked”) 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
James And James/Getty Images

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.

Editors' Recommendations