I found myself thinking yesterday of the number of cheeses I've sampled at restaurants and cheese counters, and how few of those I can even name, much less recall clearly. This prompted me to try to figure out how many cheeses I can recall clearly enough to identify.
To be more precise, my standard for inclusion in this list is that in a cheese plate of only these cheeses, I think that I could distinguish each of these cheeses from each other. (I leave open the possibility that I might get confused by unfamiliar cheeses on the plate.)
Cheeses on the same line are cheeses I would probably confuse with each other.
Cream Cheese / Neufchatel (American Neufchatel, that is)
Bleu cheese / Gorgonzola / Stilton (I might be able to distinguish Stilton from the others)
Mozzarella / Provolone
Parmesan / Parmigiano Reggiano / Romano
Brie / Camembert / St. Andre
Swiss / Emmenthal / Jarlsberg
Alpine Lace (just by the size of the holes)
Queso blanco / queso fresco
Some cheeses I know that I've tried but wouldn't be able to identify include Port Salut, Reblochon, Cabrales, and Manchego.
That's 27, which is a bit more than I'd expected. My guess is that this is a medium amount; I'd expect that most everyone could hit 10, some folks on my friends list would not be able to break 20, and some people on my friends list could break 50 or 100.
I'm not sure how many possible cheeses there are; I found it hard to count the cheeses at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cheeses, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheese says "The British Cheese Board claims that Britain has approximately 700 distinct local cheeses; France and Italy have perhaps 400 each."
I wonder how I'd do on this test with other sorts of foodie pursuits. I doubt I'd recognize such a variety with beer, for which I have trouble distinguishing a stout from a porter, or with wine, where I have only a feeble chance of distinguishing a Riesling from a Chardonnay.