It's easy to fall in love with hard cheese. From parmesan to asiago and cotija to extra sharp cheddar cheese, hard cheeses pretty much have it all. Dense, savory, complex flavor. Granular, crystalline texture. Good for grating, but charming on a cheese board as well. When there's a hard cheese on the table, you just know it'll be surrounded by adoring fans all night long.
In Wisconsin, we've fallen hard for hard cheese. Sure, our cheesemakers produce an amazing 600+ varieties, flavors, and styles of cheese, but there's always a soft spot in our hearts for the hard stuff. We don't mind if they play hard to get – we'll happily wait for the hard cheese varieties to age and mature to the best versions of their crusty selves.
Poke around our website to meet some hearty hard cheeses made right here in Wisconsin. Search our index for Wisconsin mac and cheese recipes made with aged white cheddar or parmesan cheeses. Or scroll down to learn more about how cheese is made, why it's hard or soft, and the foods and beverages that will pair best with your hard cheese.
The low moisture content in hard cheese makes it harder to melt but easy to grate or crumbled. Grated parmesan is terrific on pastas, grilled veggies, summer salads, and pizza. A chunk of aged cheddar goes great with the sweetness of a homemade jam or chutney, as well as the tartness of sweet pickles or pickled beets. Asiago is awesome when grated over risottos or broiled fish. It also makes a great dessert with walnuts, dried apricots, and honey. And cotija is a natural for crumbling over enchiladas and tostadas, or in a sopa de albondigas (Mexican meatball soup).
As for beverages, serious cheeses deserve serious drinks. Try pairing your hard cheese with big-bodied wines like a chianti, malbec, syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or riesling, or try a sparkling wine for a nice contrast. If you're pouring pints, try mature beverages with a touch of sweetness – ciders, bocks, Belgian ales, or saison ales will do nicely. And if you're drinking the hard stuff with your hard cheese, grappa, bourbon, sherry, madeira, and single malt scotch will all make your hard cheese, pleased.
A hard cheese is one where much of its moisture is removed from the curd during the cheesemaking process. Hard cheeses tend to be aged for longer periods of time, which allows more complex flavors to develop.
The process for making a hard cheese starts off the same way as any other cheese – milk is coagulated to separate solid curd from liquid whey. To make a hard cheese, cheesemakers employ a variety of methods to extract as much moisture from the curd as possible. The curd may be cut into small pieces, heated, pressed, or salted, all of which draw more moisture from the curd to produce a harder texture. Also, hard cheeses are typically aged for longer periods of time – up to 36 months or more – which further reduces moisture and creates more calcium lactate crystals that provide the crunchy texture that distinguishes hard cheeses.
For centuries, cheese was aged in caves, where consistent temperatures and humidity were ideal for allowing certain cheeses to ripen. Typical cave cheeses include many hard cheeses such as cheddars, parmesan, grana padano, and gruyère.
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Hard cheese isn't just hard in texture – it's also hard to make. It takes considerable expertise and experience to prepare a hard cheese correctly by extracting moisture from the curd and nurturing it as it ages for up to 36 months.
Fortunately, in Wisconsin, we have 1,200 cheesemakers who are licensed experts at making the hard stuff – and they've got the championship cheese awards to prove it. Our cheesemakers have been perfecting their techniques for 180 years, and their hard work has paid off in spades. In addition to the 5,552 cheese award ribbons pinned to our collective chests, we've secured our spot as the nation's number one producer of cheese, providing one-quarter of all the cheese sold in America and nearly half of all the artisan cheese.
So, next time you have a hankering for the hard stuff, just look for something with the Proudly Wisconsin Cheese badge on the label. That's the easiest path to hard cheese heaven.
Craving award-winning aged cheddar, pining for parmesan, or searching for a new cheese to try? The world’s best cheese is just a click away! Explore our directory of Wisconsin cheesemakers and retailers who offer online cheese shopping and get cheese shipped right to your door. What are you waiting for?
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In Wisconsin, we make more flavors, varieties, and styles of cheese than anywhere else in the world. We believe in tradition, producing everything from Italian classics, like parmesan and ricotta, to swiss cheese and cheddar varieties. But every Wisconsin cheesemaker is an innovator as well, which is why we have so many Wisconsin originals, like colby and muenster. Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich, potatoes au gratin, or a charcuterie board, Wisconsin cheese makes every dish and recipe tastier.