Cheese Grading Terms

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) outlines a lexicon of over 90 terms used when grading cheese. These are the attributes licensed cheese graders look for when they evaulate cheese.

All terms and definitions taken from Chapter ATCP 81 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code

Broken downmeans the condition of the cheese has changed from a firm, smooth or coarse, curdy or rubbery condition to a waxy condition similar to that of cold butter, or to a mealy or pasty condition.
Coarsemeans a cheese is rough, dry and sandy to the touch.
Corkymeans a cheese texture that is hard, tough and overly firm and is characterized by failure of the cheese to readily break down when rubbed between the thumb and fingers.
Crumblymeans that cheese is loosely knit and tends to fall apart when rubbed between the thumb and fingers.
Curdymeans a cheese is smooth but firm, and when worked between the fingers, is rubbery and not waxy.
Firmmeans the body of the cheese feels solid and is not soft or weak.
Gassymeans that cheese contains gas holes of various sizes which may be scattered or unevenly distributed throughout the cheese.
Mealymeans cheese has a short body texture, does not mold well, and looks and feels like corn meal when rubbed between the thumb and fingers.
Openmeans that irregularly shaped mechanical openings, caused by workmanship and not gas fermentation, are present.
Pastymeans that cheese has a weak body, and that it becomes sticky and smeary when rubbed between the thumb and fingers.
Pinnymeans the presence of numerous and very small gas holes in a cheese.
Reasonably firmmeans the body of the cheese is somewhat less than firm, but not to the extent of materially injuring the keeping quality of the cheese.
Shortmeans that there is no elasticity to the cheese plug removed by means of a grading trier, and that the plug tends toward mealiness when rubbed between the thumb and fingers.
Slittymeans that cheese contains narrow, elongated slits which are generally associated with a cheese that is gassy or yeasty. Slits in cheese having this characteristic may sometimes be referred to as fish eyes.
Smoothmeans the surface of the cheese feels silky, and is not dry, coarse or rough.
Solid, compact and closemeans the texture of the cheese has practically no openings of any kind.
Sweet holesmeans that small spherical gas holes, approximately the size of BB shots, are present. Sweet holes may also be referred to as shot or Swiss holes.
Translucentmeans a cheese has the appearance of being partially transparent.
Waxymeans that a cheese, when worked between the fingers, molds well like wax or cold butter.
Weakmeans a cheese requires little pressure to crush and is soft but not necessarily sticky like a pasty cheese.
Acid-cutmeans a bleached or faded appearance which sometimes varies throughout the cheese but is present most often around mechanical openings.
Bleached surfacemeans that a faded color begins at the surface of the cheese and progresses inward.
Dull or fadedmeans that the color of the cheese lacks lustre or translucency.
Mottledmeans the presence of irregular shaped spots or blotches in which portions of the cheese are light colored and others are darker in color, or an unevenness of color due to mixing or combining the curd from 2 different vats.
Salt spotsmeans the presence of large light-colored spots or areas.
Seamymeans the presence of white thread-like lines that form if the pieces of curd are not properly joined together.
Tiny white specksmeans that specks resembling grains of salt, and generally associated with aged cheese, are scattered throughout the cheese.
Unattractivemeans an abnormal or unappetizing appearance.
Uncoloredmeans the absence of any artificial coloring.
Unnaturalmeans the presence of a deep orange or reddish color.
Wavymeans an unevenness of color which appears as layers or waves in the cheese.
Aftersetmeans that there are small eyes caused by secondary fermentation.
Blindmeans that no eyes are formed.
Cabbagemeans that there are so many eyes in most of the cheese that the eyes crowd each other and leave only a paper-thin layer of cheese between eyes, causing the cheese to have a cabbage appearance and very irregular eyes.
Checksmeans that there are small, short cracks within the body of the cheese.
Collapsedmeans that eyes are improperly formed, so that they appear flattened or buckled rather than round or slightly oval.
Deadmeans that eyes have completely lost their glossy or velvety appearance.
Dullmeans that eyes have lost some of their bright shiny luster.
Frog mouthmeans that eyes are lenticular or spindle-shaped.
Irregularmeans that eyes are not properly formed as round or slightly oval openings, but are not accurately described by other terms under this subsection.
Large eyedmeans that a majority of eyes are more than 13/16 inch in diameter. Large eyed includes all the following: Slight large eyed means that a majority of eyes are more than 13/16 inch but less than one inch in diameter and Definite large eyed means that a majority of eyes are more than one inch in diameter.
Nestymeans that, in localized areas, there are too many small eyes.
One sidedmeans that eyes are reasonably developed on one side of the cheese and underdeveloped on the other.
Oversetmeans that there are too many eyes.
Picksmeans that there are small irregular or ragged openings in the body of the cheese.
Relatively uniform eye sizemeans that the majority of eyes are within the size range specified in s. ATCP 81.70 (3), and that the difference in diameter between the smallest and largest of that majority of eyes is not more than ¼ inch.
Roughmeans that eyes do not have smooth, even walls.
Shellmeans that eyes have wall surfaces that look like rough-shelled nuts.
Small eyedmeans that a majority of eyes are less than 3/8 inch in diameter. Small eyed includes all the following: Slight small eyed means that a majority of eyes are less than 3/8 inch but more than 1/8 inch in diameter and Definite small eyed means that a majority of eyes are less than 1/8 inch in diameter.
Splitsmeans that the body of the cheese contains sizable cracks, usually in parallel layers and usually clean cut.
Streublemeans that there are too many small eyes just under the surface of the cheese.
Undersetmeans that there are too few eyes in the cheese.
Unevenmeans eyes are reasonably developed in some areas and underdeveloped in others.
Bandage evenly placedmeans that a cheese is uniformly wrapped in cheesecloth with approximately one inch overlapping of the edges.
Burst or torn bandagemeans a severance or other snag or break in the cheese cloth wrap used in the manufacture of certain cheese styles, usually occurring at the side seam.
Checked rind or curd openingsmeans the presence of numerous small cracks or breaks in the rind, sometimes following the outline of curd particles.
Cracks in the rindmeans the presence of openings or breaks in the cheese rind.
Defective coatingmeans any of the following conditions in the wax or paraffin coating: 1. Brittle coating of paraffin that breaks and peels off in the form of scales or flakes. 2. Flat or raised blisters or bubbles under the surface of the paraffin. 3. Checked paraffin, including cracks, breaks or hairline checks in the paraffin coating on the cheese.
Firm, sound rindmeans that the external surface of the cheese is firm and thick consistent with the size of the cheese; is not easily dented or damaged; is dry, smooth and closely knit to protect the interior quality from external defects; and is externally free from checks, cracks, breaks or soft spots.
High edgemeans the cheese has, on its follower side, a rim or ridge which is raised in varying degrees or, in extreme cases, bent over.
Huffedmeans that a cheese is swollen because of gas fermentation and has become rounded oval in shape rather than flat.
Irregular bandagingmeans an overlapping, wrinkled and loose fitting bandage caused when the cheesecloth wrap is improperly placed in the cheese hoop, resulting in too much bandage on one end and an insufficient amount on the opposite end.
Lopsidedmeans the cheese style is asymmetrical or higher on one side than on the other side.
Mold under bandage and paraffinmeans that spots or areas of mold have formed under the paraffin, or that mold has penetrated from the surface to the interior and continued to develop.
Mold under wrapper or coveringmeans that spots or areas of mold have formed under the wrapper or on the cheese.
Rindmeans a hard coating caused by desiccation of the surface of the cheese.
Rind rotmeans the presence of soft spots on the rind which have become discolored and have decayed or decomposed.
Rough surfacemeans the exterior of the cheese lacks smoothness.
Smooth, bright surfacemeans a clean, glossy exterior cheese surface.
Smooth surfacemeans a cheese surface which is not rough or uneven.
Soft spotsmeans areas on the exterior of the cheese which are soft to the touch and are also usually faded and moist.
Soiled surfacemeans a cheese surface containing milkstone, rust spots or other discoloration.
Sour rindmeans a fermented rind condition which is usually confined to the faces of the cheese.
Surface moldmeans mold occurring on the paraffin or exterior surface of the cheese.
Wax or paraffinmeans a uniform coating of wax or paraffin that adheres firmly to the surface of the cheese, which may either be thin or thick, but which has no indication of cracking, breaking or loosening.
Weak rindmeans that the exterior of a cheese is thin and possesses little or no resistance to pressure.
Wet rindmeans that moisture adheres to the surface of the rind. It may or may not soften the rind or cause discoloration.
Wrapper or coveringmeans a plastic film or foil wrap which completely covers and seals the surface of a cheese, and which adheres sufficiently to prevent or protect against the growth of mold.
Acidmeans the cheese is sharp and puckery to the taste or has a taste which is characteristic of lactic acid.
Barnymeans a flavor trait characteristic of the odor of a milking barn, stable or cow yard.
Bittermeans a distasteful flavor characteristic of quinine which is most frequently found in aged cheese varieties.
Feedmeans the presence of one or more feed flavors such as alfalfa, sweet clover, silage or similar feed, carried through from the milk used in the manufacture of the cheese into the finished product.
Flatmeans an insipid flavor or one which is practically devoid of any characteristic cheese flavor for the applicable variety.
Fruitymeans a sweet, fruit-like flavor resembling apples which generally increases in intensity as a cheese ages.
Lacking in flavor developmentmeans the cheese contains no undesirable flavor and very little, if any, characteristic cheese flavor development.
Lipase or rancidmeans a bitter or disagreeable taste or odor suggestive of butyric acid and derived from decomposed milk fat.
Maltymeans the presence of a distinctive harsh flavor suggestive of malt.
Metallicmeans a flavor trait suggestive of metal that imparts to the mouth a puckery sensation.
Old milkmeans a cheese flavor indicating a lack of freshness in the milk used in manufacturing the cheese.
Onionmeans the flavor which is characteristic of the taste and aroma suggested by its name and is present when cows producing milk used in the manufacture of cheese have eaten onions, garlic or leeks.
Sourmeans a pungent acidic flavor resembling vinegar.
Sulfidemeans the presence of an objectionable flavor of hydrogen sulfide and is similar to the flavor of water having a high sulfur content.
Utensilmeans a flavor suggestive of improper or inadequate washing and sterilization of milking machines, utensils or dairy plant equipment.
Weedymeans a taste characteristic due to the use of milk possessing an essence of common weeds, which is generally present when cows eat weedy hay or graze on weed-infested pastures.
Whey-taintedmeans a slight acidic flavor and odor characteristic of fermented whey caused by too slowly or incompletely expelling the whey from the curd.
Yeastymeans a flavor indicating the presence of yeast fermentation in the manufacture of the cheese.
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Cover photo credit: Iowa State University

Grading Terms

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