When it comes to cheese, everyone's got opinions. Some go crazy over cheddar that's been aged for years in a Vermont cave, while others' favorite type is “extra.” But one person who's certainly in it for quality over quantity is Steve Jones, cheesemonger at Portland's Cheese Bar. To learn what cheeses the pros think don't get enough sniffs and which truly stink, we asked him to give us a few cheeses that he thinks are overrated and underrated. Read on and you may never think about Parmesan the same way again.
Overrated: Triple creme
"They're like Camembert or Brie, but with added cream to increase the butter fat. I'll sit down and eat a bunch of butter, it's delicious, but you shouldn't need that type of richness to make a great cheese. In my mind that's kind of cheating, it's a pet peeve of mine."
"A really good one just takes you to the next level. It's stinky and cabbage-y and amazing with sour beers and ciders. It's just an amazingly luxurious cheese and it's overlooked quite often. When I get off the plane in France, it's the first thing I grab."
Overrated: Smoked Gouda
"People always ask if I have any smoked Gouda. If I never heard those words again, I'd be so happy. There are a few good ones, but I don't know why people love them so much. I could say that about any smoked cheese, though. The vast majority of people are eating them because they like the smoky flavor, not the cheese. It almost hides the flavor of the cheese, and it's an easy way to mask cheese that's poorly made."
"This doesn't get the love that it deserves as a table cheese. It's more often a cooking cheese, but it really belongs on a cheese board. With the right beverage, it can really sing. They call it the king of cheese for a reason; it's an amazing cheese that's been made the same way for hundreds of years."
Overrated: American-made Parmesan
"It's nothing at all like Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's almost an insult. There's a lot of different American producers that shouldn't even be able to call it that, because there's origin control. Just calling it Parmesan is a sneaky way to get around that and make people believe they're getting something similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano, but they're not."
"Any self-respecting cheesemonger is going to say this. It's a classic French cheese that's as important as cheddar or Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's a mountain cheese that's very similar to Gruyere. It's the most popular cheese in France. They usually buy cheese by region, but everyone throughout France buys this. You've probably eaten this without knowing it."
Overrated: Pepper Jack
"I love both peppers and cheese, but I don't need peppers in my cheese. I don't mean to be snobby, that's the last thing most cheesemongers want to come off as. We all start somewhere. Pepper Jack is like a gateway drug. A good cheesemonger will take you from pepper Jack to something more cheese-based."
"A really great version of a classic is super exciting to me. Sometimes it's hard to convince the customer at the counter that they should try this manchego instead of some crazy goat cheese from Idaho. My favorite is called 1605 manchego -- that's the year that Don Quixote was written. It's a natural-rind organic cheese. When I found it, I realized that this was the manchego I'd been looking for for 20 years."