Most fresh cheese is made by curdling milk with an enzyme, and then draining off the whey. The curds that remain are molded into cheese. Fresh cheeses tend to be bland, so they're often used as vehicles for other flavorings. Some, like cream cheese, are used to make dips or cheesecakes. Others, like ricotta cheese, are used as fillings for dumplings, pasta, crepes, or pastries. Still others, like cottage cheese, can be a meal all by themselves once they're perked up with herbs, fruit, or other flavorings.
Fresh cheeses have a higher moisture content and are usually lower in fat and sodium than other cheeses. Most are highly perishable, keep them tightly wrapped or covered in the refrigerator. Moist fresh cheeses like cottage cheese and ricotta should be eaten within a week of purchase; firmer cheeses like cream cheese and farmer's cheese can usually be stored for about two weeks. Don't eat fresh cheese if mold appears on it.
* Denotes cheeses that we do not carry but their substitutions are available.
Alouette This is one of several spreadable cheeses that combine cream cheese with various flavorings, like herbs, garlic, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes. You can set them out with crackers for guests, but your gourmet friends probably won't indulge. Substitutes: Boursin (considered better) OR Rondelé
Boursin This creamy cheese from France is usually flavored with herbs, garlic or coarse ground pepper. It's mild and delicate, and goes well with fresh bread and dry white wine. Boursin is considered better than some other flavored spreadable cheeses, like Alouette or Rondelé, but none of these cheeses are well regarded by gourmets. Store Boursin in the refrigerator but bring it to room temperature before serving. Eat it within a few days of purchase.
* Buttermilk cheese This is a tangy, creamy cheese that we don't carry, but it's easy to make at home. To make your own: Line a colander with several folds of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel. Pour buttermilk into the cloth, then put the colander into a larger container and let it drain overnight in the refrigerator until it's reduced to a cheese like consistency. Substitutes: ricotta cheese (especially as a pasta filling) OR cream cheese (especially in cheesecakes)
* Caprini This is an excellent Italian fresh cheese that's hard to find in the U.S. Substitutes: yogurt cheese
Cottage cheese This simple, mild cheese was traditionally produced in Europe's "cottages" from the milk left over from butter making. It's versatile, easy to digest, and a good source of protein. It's sold with either large or small curds, and with fruit or chives sometimes added. Use it within a few days after purchasing and discard if mold appears.
Farmer cheese This mildly acidic fresh cheese is made by pressing much of the moisture out of cottage cheese. Some varieties resemble a very dry, crumbly cottage cheese, while others have can be sliced. It's primarily used for cooking. Substitutes: queso fresco OR queso blanco OR jack OR Muenster
Fresh chevre See goat cheese (fresh).
Fromage blanc This usually has the consistency of thick yogurt. It's expensive and hard to find, but very tasty and relatively low in fat. It makes a great topping for desserts. Substitutes: quark (very similar) OR yogurt cheese OR buttermilk cheese OR blend equal parts cottage cheese and yogurt until smooth OR cream cheese whipped with cream
Fromage frais This is the French term for "fresh cheese."
* Gervais Use within a few days after purchasing. For best flavor, serve at room temperature. Substitutes: cream cheese
Goat cheese (fresh) Don't confuse this mild fresh cheese with aged goat cheese, which is less common and more flavorful. Fresh goat cheese is like fromage blanc, only made with goat's milk. There are several varieties, including Montrachet and cabecou, which is soaked in brandy. Goat cheese is usually vacuum-packed, though many connoisseurs seek out the more perishable but tastier paper-wrapped cheeses at specialty shops. Substitutes: fromage blanc OR bucheron Complements: white wine
* Kefir cheese Substitutes: yogurt cheese OR cream cheese
* Labanah See yogurt cheese
Mascarpone A key ingredient in tiramisu and zabaglione, mascarpone is velvety soft and slightly acidic Although Italian in origin, the name is said to come from the Spanish mas que bueno, "better than good." It's usually sold in tubs. Use it soon after you purchase it since it's highly perishable. Substitutes: Blend 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 1/4 cup whipping cream. OR Blend 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup cream OR Blend 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 1/8 cup whipping cream and 1/8 cup sour cream. OR Whip ricotta cheese in a blender until smooth (lower in fat).
* Neufchatel Very similar in taste and appearance to cream cheese, but it's made from milk instead of cream so it contains less fat and more moisture. Cheesecakes made with it cook more quickly and are more prone to cracking. Use it within a few days after purchasing, and throw it out if mold appears. For best results, serve chilled. Substitutes: cream cheese (typically higher in fat) OR Boursin
* Paneer cheese Indians like to serve this bland fresh cheese with spinach or peas. Use within a few days. Substitutes: cubes of firm tofu OR feta cheese (much saltier)
Quark This versatile fresh cheese resembles soft cream cheese. Germans (who call is quark) and Austrians (who call it topfen) use it to make everything from cheesecake to gravy. Substitutes: fromage frais (very similar) OR yogurt cheese (more acidic) OR two parts ricotta cheese and one part sour cream OR strained cottage cheese OR mascarpone.
Queso blanco This popular Hispanic fresh cheese is often added to casserole or bean dishes, since it holds its shape well when when heated. It's a good cheese for frying or grilling, though queso para freir is a better choice if you can find it. Substitutes: queso para freir OR queso panela OR farmer cheese OR Monterey jack.
Queso fresco Mexican cooks like to crumble this mild grainy cheese onto soups, salads, casseroles, and bean dishes. It softens but doesn't melt when heated.
* Queso para freir This fresh Hispanic cheese is salty and crumbly. It's terrific for making the Caribbean specialty queso frito (fried cheese) since it holds its shape when when heated. Substitutes: queso blanco (Not as salty but also holds its shape well when heated) OR mozzarella (also fries well) OR queso panela (also fries well)
* Queso panela This popular Mexican cheese is mild and crumbly, and it doesn't lose its shape when heated. It's often mixed into bean dishes or casserole fillings or crumbled over salads and tacos. It can be fried, though queso para freir or queso blanco hold their shapes better. Queso panela is sometimes served with tropical fruit as a snack or appetizer. Substitutes: queso blanco OR high moisture mozzarella OR queso para freir OR feta OR ricotta OR drained cottage cheese OR Requeson cheese
Ricotta cheese This Italian fresh cheese is made from the watery whey that's drained off in the production of mozzarella, provolone, and other cheeses. Ricotta cheese is sweeter and smoother than cottage cheese, and it's much richer in calcium. You can eat it straight from the tub with fresh fruit, but it's more commonly used as an ingredient in pasta dishes and desserts. Italian ricotta cheeses are made exclusively with whey, while American versions add milk as a stretcher. Low-fat versions are available, and they work quite well in cheesecakes.
Rondelé This flavored cream cheese is an inexpensive domestic version of Boursin. Substitutes: Boursin
Yogurt cheese This is a soft, tangy, and nutritious cream cheese substitute.
Fresh cheeses work best in cold dishes.
Fresh cheeses tend to break down when added to hot sauces, so add them at the last minute.
Lactose-intolerant people may prefer aged cheese over fresh, since aged cheese contains less lactose.