While the term "surface-ripened" is self-explanatory, how does one know which cheese falls into this category? Look for one of two things: an oozy paste (the term for the interior of the cheese) with an extremely thin natural rind, or a firmer cheese with a wrinkly, coral-like rind. Treat the living rind with care: it has its own distinct flavor and is delicate (if you keep it wrapped, the cheese will stay soft; unwrapping will result in a hard cheese). For this reason, these cheeses should be enjoyed out of hand, preferably with a sturdy cracker and reliable Sauvignon Blanc.
Surface-ripened cheese examples: Many surface-ripened cheeses are goat cheeses, such as Crottin de Chavignol or Vermont Creamery's Bijou; others, like Italian robiolas, are a mixture of different milks.
Photo: Anna Monette Roberts