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Cheese Tasting: The Advanced Course

Parish Hill aging cave

In my last post, we talked about how to really taste cheese.  This post will focus on a few more tips you can employ to get even more out your sample.

1. Examine the cheese.  You can learn a lot from just looking at it.  For instance, if it’s oily with a slight sheen, you’re likely holding a sheep’s milk cheese.  Sheep’s milk cheeses glisten because sheep’s milk has such a higher fat content than other milks.  At room temperature, that fat liquifies a bit and produces the sheen you are seeing.

If it’s chalky and bright white, you’re almost assuredly holding a goat milk chese.  Somewhere in between?  Lay the odds on cow.  Fattier than goat, less than sheep, cow milk falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

Do you see blue veins?  You’ve got a blue in your hands.  Duh?  Seriously there are many blue cheeses that are very lightly veined and if you get  such a sample it may not be immediately apparent that the cheese is a blue.

2. Break the piece open and take a whiff.  Goat can be lemony with a whiff of, well, goat!  You might also pick up barnyardy, floral, fruity, meaty and a host of other aromas.  These may not be direct clues to the type of cheese you have in hand, but they can tell you a lot about how the cheese will taste.

3. Start rolling the piece between your fingers to warm it up.  Play with it a bit, working it into a cube.  is there a telltale fatty sheen on your hands?  We’re back to sheep again.  Is it hard to form into a cube because it’s crumbly?  Welcome back to goat cheese.

But more importantly, working the sample like this is going to release a lot of volatile esters whose scent can once again tell you much about the sample before you ever taste it.

4. Eat.  Confirm your hypothesis, solidifying your idea that you do indeed know what you are doing when it comes to cheese.

Are you going to do this in front of the cheesemonger at the counter? That probably depends on how well you know him or her.  But it is a fun exercise to do at home.  There’s a whole world of sights, scents, and tastes that are not readily apparent when you’re given a cold little sample in the shop.  Go home and let the cheese talk to you.  It’s worth it.

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