How to taste Cheese

“The More attention you pay, the more cheese tells you.”, Adam Centamore.

In the last column, we explored how the human senses of smell and taste are inseparably linked. Together they provide a spectrum of flavors and sensory pleasures. Now, let’s explore the component of taste itself. Conventionally, experts have thought that the tongue detects five tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. We know the first four of the five tastes. But what is Umami? It is a Japanese word meaning “delicious taste” It is a savory taste that can be described as “brothy” or “meaty”, which comes from glutamic acid, a form of amino acid. The strongest taste of umami can be found in soy sauce and protein rich food. Did you ever taste a cheese like the long aged Parmigiano Reggiano, Comte, or Gruyere, and found it is too complex, too delicious to describe? That is when you use the word umami.

But wait, there is the sixth one, really? Yes, scientists have found that the tongue has taste receptors for fat, which might explain why we like fried foods. The tests on rodents showed a receptor on the tongue tastes fat – it is not known if it is t he same for humans. Is this why we can savor the taste of cream, butter, bacon, etc.? “Fats taste because of the interesting molecules that are fat soluble – beef marbled with streaks of fat is much more tasty than lean beef because all the interesting flavors from the animal’s diet dissolve in the fat and are retained,”, according to Professor Tim Jacob, an expert in smell and taste research at Cardiff University. Well, wait a minute. I am of Asian descent, Indonesian specifically. Our national dishes are complex and spicy – they can be extremely spicy hot. Indeed, there are hot cheeses too such as The Rattlesnake – cheddar with tequila and habanero. Can there be the seventh taste for it?

How to taste cheese?

  1. The Look. Before you smell or taste, examine the cheese closely. Note its general appearance including color and texture. Cheese can be quite beautiful. There is a certain sensuality of triple cream, elegance of bright white goat cheese, and complex interior of blue cheese. Look at the texture of the rind. If the cheese is cut, note the appearance of the interior. Are molds growing? Many store bought cheeses which are tightly wrapped in saran, might suggest asphyxiation, the cheese may not have been able to breathe.
  2. The Feel. Texture of cheese is a really important part of your evaluation. Adam Centamore, suggested to take a small bite, let it sit on your tongue for a moment. Notice how firm or soft the cheese feels. As it warms, it will soften a little more. Now slowly chew it, paying attention to the physical impression of the cheese makes. It is soft and pliable, or it is hard and granular?
  3. The Smell. Whether you bring the cheese right up to your nose, or maintaining some distance, take note of what you smell. Does it smell grassy, woodsy, barnyard like, or lactic (milky)? Max McCalman, explained that a cheese’s aroma and its flavor can be very different, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Some of the worst-smelling cheeses taste the best. Yet it is not necessarily true the stinkier the cheese, the stronger the flavor. For example, Tallegio, Munster, Epoisses, even Limburger, are much easier on the tongue than they are on the nose.
  4. The Taste. When tasting cheese for the first time, less is more. Indeed, this is true especially when you want to enjoy a piece of fine cheese. Do not find your self chewing. Find a way to cut the cheese thinner and longer. You have seen so many ready-to-go cheese trays in supermarket chains contain cheeses that are cut in the cube form. You know how many times you have to chew a piece of a cubed cheese and you may as well forget to taste the cheese. This is why you should not cut cheese in large cube form. The smaller amount will be easier to manipulate in the mouth. Let it rest in your mouth for eight to ten seconds. What do you taste? Do you taste strong saltiness with sweet finish? Do you taste a peppery bite or a bowl of beef broth with caramelized onion? Do you taste caramel or sourdough-tang? Do you taste sweet butter or brown butter? Some people said they taste a long aftertaste finish – tangy, salty with slight umami taste of Tom cheese of Reverie Creamery. Remember, cheese is an amazing food that ultimately displays an amazing range tastes and flavors.

Author: Riko Chandra

Published in The Lakeside Ledger, June 22, 2017