A Soft Cheese is a cheese with a lot of moisture in it, keeping its texture so soft that it is usually spreadable.
The process of making Soft Cheeses differs from making “Hard Cheeses” in that the curds aren’t pressed to squeeze out the whey, as they would be for instance in making a hard cheese like Cheddar. Consequently, they have a high moisture content, making them ideal growing places for mould. This is taken advantage of in making the ripened soft cheeses, as in Camembert or Brie, though you don’t want to see green mould growing on top of the unripened ones, such as when you open a tub of Cottage Cheese or Quark in the morning.
Ripened Soft Cheeses are mostly European in origin, whereas unripened ones are British and North American. Ripening, in the case of Soft Cheeses, means aging the cheese for a few weeks. Unripened soft cheeses are the simplest ones to make, and so could be made by any farm or country dweller with little experience or time. Unripened soft cheeses are also simply called “Fresh Cheeses.”
Any kind of milk can be used in making Soft Cheeses, whole or skim, cow or goat or sheep. Many soft cheeses are enriched with added cream as well. The milk used to be left to sour naturally, but this won’t work with pasteurized milk, so starters have to be added instead.
The fat content of Soft Cheeses varies wildly from one type of cheese to the other.
- Full Fat Soft Cheese: minimum 20% fat, maximum 60% moisture
- Medium Fat Soft Cheese: fat content from 2 to 20%, maximum 70% moisture
- Skim Milk Soft Cheese: maximum 2% fat content, maximum 80% moisture
Soft Cheese is a generic term mostly used in the UK. It means the recipe writer isn’t fussy, s/he just wants some type of soft cheese. Cottage Cheese is the preferred type of soft cheese in the UK and in North America. Curd Cheese, Cream Cheese, Ricotta, Quark, Pot Cheese, and the soft variety of Hoop cheese also count as generic “soft cheese.” All of these would satisfy the recipe’s requirement for a “Soft Cheese.”