How to taste cheese

Like wine, good cheese deserves thoughtful tasting. If you can resist the urge to just tuck in, here are tips on being a more discerning cheese lover.  

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Look

  • First of all stop and look at the cheese. You can tell a lot by just looking.
  • Consider the colour of the outer rind. Is it waxed, natural or washed?
  • Look at the paste (the body of the cheese). What is its colour? The colour will vary with the type of milk used to produce the cheese - for example goats cheeses tend to be whiter.  What is its texture and density?  
  • Look at the area between the rind and the paste.  Most cheeses ripen from the inside out so this can give you an idea of how ripe the cheese is.  In a young, soft cheese the rind will be integrated with the cheese.
  • Can you see any crystals? These develop in some cheeses as they mature and add depth of flavour.

Touch

  • Don’t be afraid to feel the cheese to explore its texture. Is it creamy or crumbly? Is it dense or light? This will give you an idea of how the curds have formed.
  • Break a little between your fingers to release the aroma. Does it crumble, melt or change?

Smell

  • Have a smell. This will help you understand the style of the cheese as well as its condition.
  • Remember that cold cheese does not reveal its full aroma so don’t smell it straight from the fridge.
  • Is it a simple or complex smell? Is it warm and milky?  What words come to mind to describe the smell?  Smell can often create an emotional response to a cheese. What does it remind you of?

Taste

  • After this careful exploration you will be much more alert to the taste. Take your time to observe how the flavours evolve in your mouth. Do the tastes change as you move it around your mouth?  Is it nutty, salty, buttery, tangy or even sweet?
  • Don’t forget your nose - breathe out through your nose and observe the aromas.
  • Often the difference between a good cheese and a poor one is that a good cheese, like a good wine, has a longer finish.

Here is a selection of common words used to describe cheese - take your pick and enjoy your cheese ! 

Sharp        Mellow        Salty        Sweet        Sour        Bitter        Fresh 

Lactic         Tangy         Sour        Earthy         Farmyard    Goaty        Fruity

Grassy        Mushroomy    Nutty        Buttery