Fresh cheeses, as the name implies, are not ripened, or aged. White in color, they are typically moist and mild, whether made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep. They can be delightfully tangy, milky and buttery yet light.
Before pasteurization and refrigeration were invented, fresh cheeses were the farmer's way of dealing with excess milk production. Today, many of these cheeses are considered gourmet products.
Varieties include supermarket favorites like cream cheese, mozzarella, ricotta and queso fresco as well as burrata, mascarpone and chevre.
A fresh cheese can provide an appealing counterpoint to a variety of ingredients. Mascarpone, for example, can be stirred into a savory risotto or whipped with cream to make tiramisu. Layer ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella and add a dash of extra virgin oilve oil for a delicious caprese salad. Cheesecake made with ricotta rather than cream cheese is lighter but no less luxurious. Or simple enjoy a fresh cheese with a drizzle of honey or olive oil.
Fresh cheeses usually have short shelf lives and will sour if kept longer than about a week. Refrigerate them in a tightly sealed container or in the brine in which they came. Discard the cheese if you see any mold or discoloration.
Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”