Cheese Flavor Wheel by Cheese Science Toolkit (still a work in progress)

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Aroma associated with fresh-cut grass. Reminiscent of a pasture or green field. Often times just called by the general term "green".

  • Cheese from grass-fed cows
  • Secondary lipid oxidation products

Grassy aroma is usually attributed to aldehyde compounds such as geraniol or hexanal. These compounds usually come about through the secondary oxidation of lipids.

Hexanal - an aldehyde


Aroma associated with fresh herbs. Encompassing general herbs and spices.

  • Cheese with added herbs (duh)
  • Some secondary lipid oxidation products
  • Reblochon in some cases

Herbal aromas and flavors come from a large number of compounds and their combinations. Structurally aromatic compounds, esters, acids, aldehydes, and combinations thereof makeup a vast amount of the resultant aromas in herbs.


Aroma associated with a "green apple" aroma. Often elicits a puckering sensation in the mouth.

  • Fresh cheeses
  • Fresh ricotta
  • Fresh feta
  • Kefalotyri

This compound is often generated by microbial activity, such as the lactic acid bacteria cultures used in cheesemaking. Examples include:

  • S. thermophilus
  • L. case
  • S. diacetylactis
In many cases, the ratio between acetaldehyde and diacetyl is of interest in determining the final flavor of the cheese. More information here.


Fruity Ester

Aroma concerning fruity aromas and flavors in cheese. Similar to pineapple, strawberry, and other fruits. Sometimes described as generic "fruity breakfast cereal"-type aroma.

  • Many aged italian cheeses
  • Many fresh cheeses as well
  • Sarvecchio
  • Parmasan
  • Fresh chevre

Fruity aroma, much like many of the other complex aroma types in cheese, come from a variety of compounds. In many cases, esters are generated from enzymatic activity in cheese resulting from cultures or endogenous compounds in the milk. This class of compoudns are formed by the reaction of an acid with an alcohol compound, therefor ester formation could happen spontaneously without culture activity. For cheddar, high amounts of fruity aroma is considered a defect by professional graders.

Examples of common esters found in fruit


Aroma associated with roses or other flowers.

  • Some aged cheddars
  • Some ages dutch-style cheeses

Rosy/floral aroma in one study was attributed to phenethyl alcohols, and the related esters and aldehydes.

2-phenylethanol - an example of a rose aroma compound


Aroma associated pine trees. Reminiscent of rosemary or other resinous herbs.

  • Bark-wrapped cheeses

Related to herby aromas, piney aromas are usually attributed to terpene compounds such as geraniol or prenol. Usually introduced to cheese by it's wrap or aging conditions. The mechanism through which these compounds are formed in cheese is not yet fully understood.

Geraniol - a monoterpene compound


Aroma associated with members of the alium family: garlic, onion, etc.

  • Defect carried over from the milk

When a cow's diet consists of high amounts of aliums, the main aromatic components of those foods can carry over to the milk and then into the final cheese. The compounds responsible for these aromas start their life as sulfur-containing amino acids, like cysteine. Various enzymatic activity within the vegetables create volatile aromatic compounds such as thiosulfinates.

Generic structure of a thiosulfinate


Generic term describing the presence of a flavor/aroma that doesn't belong.

  • N/A



Aroma associated with generic nuts. This term is hard to define due to the wide variety of nuts and their associated flavors, some of which differ greatly.

  • Swiss cheeses
  • Aged cheddar cheeses

In the case of swiss cheese, the nutty aroma may come about from propionic acid production due to Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. shermanii. Other compounds, like amino acids, are also produced leading to nutty flavor. Nutty notes from cheddar are a little more complicated.

Propionic acid


Aroma associated with fresh mushrooms. Umami-like meaty aroma.

  • White mold cheeses
  • Brie
  • Some camemberts

Unlike many aromas in cheese, this one can be attributed to just about one key compound, mushroom alcohol. This compound comes about through the metabolism of the white mold on the exterior of the cheese.

1-Octen-3-ol - the so-called "mushroom alcohol"


Another generic term much like "clean". Usually used for fresh cheeses.

  • N/A



Aroma/flavor associated with fresh milk or milk-fat. Reminiscent of cream or whole milk.

  • Fresh cheeses
  • Mascrapone
  • Queso Panela
  • Gouda
  • Many more...

Milky aroma is usually attributed to lactone compounds. These compounds come about through reactions of the fat in milk. See this study for potential mechanisms in gouda cheese.

General structure of lactones


Aroma associated with butter. Reminiscent of microwave popcorn.

  • Many cheeses
  • Jarlsberg
  • Havarti

One possible source of buttery aroma is from the compound diacetyl. Usually comes about from microbial activity or breakdown of compounds in cheese.

Diacetyl - buttery goodness


Sweet can mean a few different things when used in a cheese context:

  • Lack of acid flavor, like a young Colby cheese
  • Fresh milky flavor, like a whole milk ricotta
  • Actually tastes sweet, like aged Gouda. (Many aged cheeses may produce compounds later in their life that actually taste sweet)

  • Ricotta
  • Young colby
  • Aged Gouda



Aroma associated with old milk.

  • Old, poorly packaged cheeses



Different from acid, sour refers to acidity that is vinegary or citrus-like.

  • Fresh chevre
  • Other fresh cheeses
  • Cheese with high levels of acidity

Usually comes about from microbes producing various types of acids.


Aroma associated with cooked milk. Slightly sulfur note, like scalded milk.

  • Cheeses made from over-cooked milk
  • Mascarpone or Ricotta sometimes

Cooked notes from cheese are usually due to the formation of sulfur linkages in the milk proteins. Whey proteins unravel with high heat and can form sulfur-sulfur or sulfhydryl linkages.

S-S bond across whey proteins


Similar to cooked, only to a greater degree.

  • N/A



Flavor similar to caramel or cooked sugar. Sometimes referred to as "butterscotch"-like

  • Aged Gouda
  • Cheeses that use L. helviticus to some degree (e.g. Parm, sweet cheddar)

Some products of certain microbial metabolisms may have caramel flavor or perhaps some products of maillard browning reactions that are going on in the cheese. Furan-type compounds like furaneol and homofuraneol are thought to contribute to caramel flavor.



Aroma associated with cows, barns, etc.

  • Some blue cheeses
  • Some farmhouse cheddars

Cowy/barny is thought to be casued by cresol-type compounds. This aroma's complexity makes it hard to single out specific compounds. The exact mechanism is also hard to fully elucidate, but it is most likely microbially related.



Aroma associated with goats. Literally smells like goats.

  • Goat's milk cheeses

Goaty aroma can usually be atrributed to specific fatty acids that are found in high concentration in goat milk. Specifically medium-length and branched fatty acids.

Caprylic acid - a medium-chain fatty acid


Aroma associated with sheep.

  • Cheese made from sheep's milk
  • Manchego

Similar to goaty aroma. Fatty acid profile seems to be part of the sheepy aroma as well as phenolic compounds, other compounds (More research needs to be done to identify the root cause)


Aroma associated with a horse blanket. Reminiscent of a generic animalic mustiness.

  • Musty cheeses
  • Unclean cheese



Aroma associated with cat urine. Very strong and reminiscent of a sulfur-like aroma.

  • Sulfury cheeses

Catty aroma is often lumped in with sulfur aroma due to similar chemistry of causitive compounds. A compound know as "cat ketone" is thought to be a cause of catty aroma.

4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one - "cat ketone"


Aroma associated with sweat or body odor, sometimes called "sweaty sock". The term sweat is often used interchangeably with "cheesy" when describing the aroma in other foods.

  • Smear cheeses

Sweat aroma is usually attributed to wide-range of compounds. One such compound is isovaleric acid. Found in sweat and often described as having a "vomit" aroma.

Isovaleric acid


Lanolin refers to the wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals. Reminiscent of a dirty/fatty aroma.

  • Some sheeps' milk cheeses

Lanolin is made up of long chain fatty acids.

Long chain fatty acids


Aroma associated with hay or straw. Commonly known as the "Feedy" defect.

  • Varies

Unclean practices could cause hay to enter milk supply and flavor could possibly carry over into cheese.


Drying or puckering sensation in the mouth.

  • Varies wildly

The causes of astringency can vary greatly. In some cases metal ions could give astrigency, in the case of salt-replacing cheese. More information can be found here. High levels of acidity can also cause this.


Prickling or "spicy" feeling in the mouth. Literally feels hot or burning.

  • Aged raw milk cheeses
  • Lipase cheese

The actual mechanism of the burn sensation is not fully understood. Histamine-type compounds found in the cheese are thought to be a leading cause. Free fatty acids can also cause a prickling/burning sensation. Lipase effects are also being studied.

Histamine - a possible culprit


Aroma associated with soap. Think ivory soap.

  • Some goats' milk cheeses
  • Romano cheese

Soapy aroma/flavor is usually caused by medium and long-chain fatty acids.

Long chain fatty acids


Aroma associated with wax.

  • High fat cheeses

Long-chain fatty acids once again. Heavily saturated.

Long-chain saturated fatty acid


Aroma associated with baby vomit. Often called "rancid" or "piquant".

  • Provolone
  • Lipase-added cheeses

Comes from the fatty acid butyric acid. Lipase cleaves off fatty acids from triglycerides.

Butyric acid


Aroma associated with sulfur, boiled eggs, struck match.

  • Some aged cheddars
  • Very variable

Sulfur is the hallmark of some aged cheddar cheeses. Sulfur is dervied from sulfur-containing amino acids. Microbial action (or perhaps enzymes) produce sulfur compounds such as: hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, etc.

Methyl mercaptan


Aroma associated with ammonia.

  • Camembert cheeses
  • Some smear cheeses

Ammonia and ammonia compounds can be a result from microbial metabolism and protein break down.

Ammonia (NH3)


Basic taste

  • Various

Flavor enhancer


Basic taste

  • Various

Often confused with acid. Some people have a higher threshold for the detection of bitter, leading to the term "bitter blind". Bitterness is often caused by the presence of "bitter peptides" that are a result of protein breakdown.


Sweet can mean a few different things when used in a cheese context:

  • Lack of acid flavor, like a young Colby cheese
  • Fresh milky flavor, like a whole milk ricotta
  • Actually tastes sweet, like aged Gouda. (Many aged cheeses may produce compounds later in their life that actually taste sweet)

  • Various

While sugar is rarely added to cheese, sometimes sweet taste is present. In the case of swiss cheese, it is thought the amino acid proline is responsible.




Basic taste. Meaty, savory, etc.

  • Parmesan
  • Many others

Microbial metabolism and protein breakdown can result in umami-tasting compounds, like the amino acid glutamate.


Catch-all term to describe a foreign taste in cheese.

  • N/A



Tangy-ness associated with having metal in the mouth.

  • Some salt-replacer cheeses
  • Excessive acidity

Common in instances where potassium chloride (KCl) is being used to lower sodium contents.


Aroma of beef broth. Sometimes referred to as meaty. Similar to umami.

  • Various
  • Aged cheddar
  • Aged Parmesan



Aroma of roasted vegetation and meats. Similar to brothy, but often associated with cooked nuts.

  • Various

Roasted aroma is usually attributed to Maillard browning products and their derivatives. Origins still aren't completely clear, microbial metabolism is also a likely suspect.

Example of the Maillard reaction


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Whey Taint

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