Professional Cheese Tasting: The Fundamentals

Though many people might think that wine tasting is the most complex form of high cultured experience, the world of cheese tasting is an unexplored gem that in fact exceeds the intricacies of the wine world.

In class yesterday we were given the pleasure of meeting Mr. De Riccardis, a professional cheese taster here in Italy, who gave us a detailed lesson on how to properly taste and evaluate top quality cheeses. For this particularly tasty lesson, we evaluated 4 different Italian cheese varieties: Raschera d’Alpeggio, Taleggio, Pecorino Romano, and CastelMagno.

Before I go into detail about each cheese, there are several rules for tasting and evaluating cheese properly.

First and most importantly, cheese must be eaten alone (no bread or wine) and using ones hands… forget about cutlery folks, this is the real deal.

1.) Evaluating Shape: There are 7 different shapes of cheese. These include

  • Sferic (stretched curd): ie Mozzarella
  • Oval: ie Provola
  • Cylindrical: ie Parmagiano Reggiano
  • Parallelepiped/Square Slab: ie Taleggio
  • Log: ie Goat
  • Truncated Pyramids: ie Valencay
  • Undefined Shape

2.)Evaluating External Surface:

  • Is the cheese with or without rind?
  • Smooth or Rough surface?
  • Crust with natural molds or no molds? (90% of molds come from Penicillin family)
  • Dry or Moist rind?
  • Paraffin wax covering?
  • Washed rind? Washed with water/brine solution

3.)Evaluating Undercrust: If the cheese has a present rind.

  • is the depth/distribution of the rind uniform? If the cheese fails this test then it cannot be considered a top quality cheese (though is usually still edible)

4.)Evaluating Colors of Cheese Paste:

  • Milk white, Greyish white, Ivory white, Straw Yellow, Orange (Mimolette), Bleu

5.)Evaluating Eyes/Holes:

  • Absent (Parmagiano Reggiano)
  • Round: (range from dot size-nut size) ie Swiss.
  • Lengthened Partridge Eyes: ie Asiago
  • Irregular: ir Roquefort

OK! so now that we know the physical regulations for evaluating cheese, let’s get into the good stuff. How does it TASTE! What I found particularly interesting for all of our tasting samples was that the smells of the cheeses sometimes differed entirely from their taste. In other cases, the tastes became far more complex and defined when tasted.

Raschera D’Alpeggio:

Raschera D'Alpeggio
  • Production Area: Piedmont, Italy city of Cuneo
  • Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
  • Rennet Type: Calf
  • Average Aging Period: 7-8 Months
  • Production Period: June-September
  • Average Weight: 12-13 Kg

Personal Notes: This cheese is delicious, milk, and soft. Would have gone great with a Pinot Noir and a piece of bread but also was delicious on its own. Comparable in taste and texture to Asiago.

Taleggio:

Taleggio

  • Production Area: Lombardia, Italy
  • Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
  • Rennet Type: Calf
  • Average Aging Period: 2 Months
  • Production Period: Year Round
  • Average Weight: 2.5 kg

Personal Notes: I really enjoyed this cheese, the texture reminded me of Brie… despite a somewhat strong smell this is a relatively mild cheese. Delicious

Pecorino Toscano:

Pecorino Toscano:

  • Production Area: Tuscany, Italy
  • Milk Used: Whole ewe (sheep) milk
  • Rennet Type: Calf
  • Average Aging Period: 3-5 months
  • Production Period: March-November
  • Average Weight: 3.5-4 kg

Personal Notes:
Personal Notes: This cheese has a texture similar to Parmagiano Reggiano but a much heavier taste. I don’t particularly like it but it can be good in certain dishes as it adds a particular complexity that can’t be found in Grana or Parmagiano.

Castelmagno:

Castelmagno:

  • Production Area: Piedmont, Italy
  • Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
  • Rennet Type: Calf
  • Average Aging Period: 7-8 months
  • Production Period: July-Sept
  • Average Weight: 2 kg

Castelmagno is considered one of the most expensive and rare cheeses in the world. Sold at 60E/kg only 600-700 wheels are produced per year.

Personal Notes:Though this cheese is considered one of the most rare and expensive in the world, I couldn’t get myself past the first bite.. The cheese was so pungent it actually burnt my tongue, and though I tasted the mushrooms, the overwhelming taste of soap kind of killed my appetite. Others in the class seemed to like it though.

OK enough cheese for one day, but to say the least I had a very tasty lesson. The first of many “Quality Food Tasting” lessons that we will have throughout the course of the year. I am going to go and buy some cheese from the market across the street to continue my ‘studies’. I am a very good student. 😉

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