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An introduction to the cheese of Europe

Brie, Edam Roquefort - the iconic cheeses of Europe go on and on, providing endless moments of indulgence

Cheese – the ultimate bite. Nestled in a sandwich, melted over soup, or eaten by the morsel; there are few foods more universally loved. And it just so happens that Europe is the world’s cheese capital, giving you ample opportunity to taste your favourites as you travel across the continent.

Many of our European river cruise itineraries give you the chance to sample some of the continent’s best-loved cheeses. As we navigate through the Provence region of France, an area world-renowned for food, you’re invited to a cheese and olive tasting event – introducing the flavours of southern France. Or heading a little north, you can sample the famous cheese varieties of Holland as part of a food tasting tour of Rotterdam.*

If you love cheese as much as we do, , from French heavyweights like Brie and Langres, to lesser-known morsels you’d be a fool to miss. We’ll look at five of the main cheese types found on the continent, before delving into the classic examples.

Fresh Soft

fresh soft image

Matured for just a few days, fresh soft cheeses are a young variety, with a high moisture content which gives a unique, creamy texture. Typical varieties of fresh soft cheese include mozzarella, ricotta, and cottage cheese; feta is another example, though this is pickled in salt, which gives a firmer consistency. Most European countries have regional fresh soft cheeses, and varieties are often wrapped in herbs, leaves or ash to impart flavour and help store the cheese naturally. Delicious spread on bread or crackers, fresh softs are also used in many regional dishes.


Named for the French commune from which it originates, Gournay is a soft, creamy cow’s milk cheese that is often flavoured with herbs and spices. Developed by François Boursin, the cheese is a typical fresh soft from the Normandy region.


In Germany, cottage cheese goes by the name ‘Hüttenkäse, and is widely available in plain, sweet and savoury varieties. Sweet Hüttenkäse, served alongside fresh fruit, is a typical breakfast, while savoury versions are enjoyed alongside salads and as a sandwich filling.

Soft Rind

soft rind

When cheese is left to mature, a rind grows, which helps the cheese to ripen and retain its soft interior. Soft rind cheeses are among the most prevalent varieties throughout Europe, from Portugal to France, Hungary to Austria. Young soft rind cheeses have a buttery, mild flavour, and this develops as they age. Mature soft rind cheeses, with a yellow or red-brown skin, meanwhile, have a robust, complex flavour, as well as a distinctive aroma. Perfect for picnics, rind cheeses are more flavourful than fresh, but still soft enough to spread.


Originating in northern France, Brie is a cow’s milk cheese with a chalky white rind and distinctive soft interior. Typically aged for 5 to 6 weeks, the cheese received AOC certification in France in 1980, and is now one of the most-eaten cheese varieties in France – perhaps Europe.

Queijo de Serra da Estrela

Portugal boasts several soft rind cheeses, but one of its most beloved varieties is Queijo de Serra da Estrela – the so-called ‘king of Portuguese cheeses’. With its creamy brown rind, the age of this cheese is immediately evident, and confirmed by its strong aroma and intense, complex flavour.


semi soft

Semi-soft cheeses begin as a soft rind cheese, with a similar preparation and maturing process. Where they differ is in the pressing. Semi-soft cheeses are pressed to remove the whey, which creates a rubbery, dry, elastic-like texture. Some varieties are then repeatedly rinsed in brine, which helps to build flavour and aroma. Thin-rind semi-soft cheeses are mild and buttery, while those with a thick, mouldy rind have a stronger, earthier flavour.


Produced on the Langres plateau in the Champagne Ardennes region of eastern France, Langres is a cow’s milk cheese with a distinctive creamy yet aromatic flavour. These unusual flavour notes stem from the rind being repeatedly rinsed with brandy, which imparts notes of tart grape and alcohol.


Perhaps the definitive semi-soft cheese, edam is a great example of the classic ‘rubber’ cheese which is produced when whey is removed early in the maturing process. Produced in the charming Dutch town of Edam for centuries, Edam is famously sealed in a layer of red paraffin wax, which helps with ageing and transporting.



Hard cheeses are pressed for hours, days and weeks at a time to remove as much moisture and whey from the curd as possible. Not only does lead to a very dry cheese, but also a hard, compact texture, which takes a long time to mature. Hard cheeses are stored in cellars for months or even years at a time, where they develop layers of mould that impact strong, complex flavours.


Produced in the La Mancha region of central Spain, Manchego is among the most prominent varieties exported from Iberia, and one of the best-loved hard cheeses on the continent. Made from sheep’s milk, the cheese is aged for anywhere between 60 days to 2 years, and is known for its mild, piquant taste.


One of Switzerland’s most iconic varieties, Gruyere originates in the country’s western cantons, specifically Fribourg, Vaud, Berne and Jura. Initially sweet, the cheese has a distinctive saltiness, with notes of nutmeg and grass as it ages – a process which typically takes 5-12 months.



Distinguished and powerful, blue cheese is a love-or-hate variety, whose veins of blue mould impart big, intense flavour. Crafting blue cheese differs from all other maturation processes, with artisans deliberately creating small air holes in the ageing containers to alloy mould to develop. As the blue mould takes hold, it reacts with the curds within the cheese, creating a truly distinctive, almost spicy flavour.


Roquefort is among Europe’s most domineering blues, with an intensity of flavour that’s second to none. Produced in the South of France, Roquefort is a sheep’s milk cheese with a tangy, slightly moist texture, and deep, distinctive blue mould finish. Paired with a glass of white wine, there are few greater combinations.


Edelzpilz is a German blue cheese variety, made from cow’s milk, which many say resembles classic varieties from neighbouring Denmark. With a soft rind, the cheese has a semi-hard texture, with faint veins of blue mould invoking a subtle spiciness. Blue cheese may not be synonymous with Germany, but this variety is certainly worth seeking out.


Ready to load up a cracker and taste your way through the cheeses of Europe? A deluxe river cruise from Emerald Cruises is the perfect way to indulge, offering passage through some of the continent’s most highly prized cheese-producing regions. For more information, or to book, visit the homepage or call us today on 855 444 0161.

*Please consult the tour itinerary for the most up to date events and activities