We consume all day, mindlessly, or even deeply appreciatively popping food in our mouths, chewing and swallowing. That’s eating, and it’s not the same as tasting. When you’re trying to learn a cheese, detect its animal origins, determine its style, you need to taste carefully. If you’ve participated in formal wine tastings you’ll notice the similarities in approach.
Fresh: High-moisture style usually eaten within days of its production. Fresh cheeses aren’t typically included in formal tastings because they’re regarded as simple and straightforward: more often used as an ingredient than as a stand-alone cheese. Expect a creamy texture, no rind, and milky, neutral aroma. The flavor can be sweet and mild (when made from cow milk) or tangy and lemony (when made from goat or sheep milk). Some of the better-known fresh cheeses are fresh goat cheese (“chèvre”), and cream cheese.
Photo: Tara Striano
There are blocks of cheddar and wheels of cheddar. Little cylinders that look like concrete plugs called “truckles” or, less romantically, “midgets.” There is the regionally-driven and fiercely debated color comparison (yellow or white?). The difference, by the way, being that one is tinted with a flavorless, plant-derived coloring called annatto, and the other not. I’ve already established myself as a white cheddar girl, though the yellow (orange, really) was, and still is, typical in New York State and Wisconsin. In the past ten years, American cheddar makers have duly noted the magnificence of cloth-bound English cheddars made in Somerset, like the famed Montgomery’s and Keen’s, and have explored traditional English processes, resulting in mammoth thirty to fifty-pound, bandaged wheels, wrapped and aged in cheesecloth, and altogether different from the traditional American forty pound blocks that spend a few months, or even a few years in a vacuum sealed bag.
Photo: Bob Montgomery for the Cellars at Jasper Hill
“It’s wrong to say you’re an artisan if you don’t start with the raw material.” Paula Lambert, The Mozzarella Company
“An artisanal producer doesn’t change their milk, they change their recipe.” Allison Hooper, Vermont Creamery
Photo: Tim Calabro
The most-oft asked question comes with narrowed eyes, when patrons inquire, “This is raw milk cheese? So it’s illegal, right?”
Whispers. Head nods. Hand rubbing. “Contraband?”
No! Not right!
Photo: Tara Striano
One of the most happily reliable ways to guess what kind of milk your cheese might be made from is to look at the color of the interior, or paste, of the cheese. Snow white, bone white, china white paste, and you’re almost certainly looking at a goat or sheep cheese.
Photo: Geert Teuwen