How to taste Cheese


“Every piece of fine cheese you savor has a story to tell. It begins with outward appearance and aroma, continues with a series of momentary taste impressions, and ends with much longer period of contemplation. The crux of the matter is taste, and the first thing to remember about taste is that the nose does most of the work.” (Max McCalman)

The human senses of smell and taste are inseparably linked. Together they provide a spectrum of flavors and sensory pleasures. But how does taste actually work? The human tongue is covered with thousands of papillae. Each contains hundreds of taste buds, located on the front and back of the tongue. The roof and sides of the mouth contain taste buds, however they are in lower quantities. Though we use tongue to taste, how can the statement above saying that “the nose does most of the work”, be true?

After all, you would think that the nose is for smelling and the tongue is for tasting.

Here is the explanation.

When you like the flavor of something, most of the perception is based on the aroma of what was consumed. Even if it does not seem like you smelled what was being eaten, aromatic molecules still added lots of information as you chewed. According to Adam Centamore, some research suggests that, unlike, the receptors the tongue uses to detect taste, chemoreceptors in the nasal cavity are highly specialized. Wait a minute, what are chemoreceptors? They are special detectors that sense airborne aromatic molecules and pass coded electrical information on to the brain. Remember, when you have a stuffy nose, no matter how delicious tasting a bowl of hearty chicken soup your mom made, it will be tasteless.

We have to understand though, if you don’t have any reference to such information in the brain, then it becomes new information. What I am trying to say here is that, if you smell a piece of cheese that smells briny like fresh oysters but you never once had fresh oysters in your life, then you probably say in disgust, “what the heck is that funky fishy smell”. You still make some correlation to a certain group of objects. If you think a cheese or wine has the aroma of pineapple and you have never seen or eaten a pineapple, then you would just say it is fruity. Now if you only eat meat and potato in your lifetime, you probably have not much to say.

Author McCalman, also said that aspiring connoisseurs of fine food and wines in America are disadvantaged because in this country we’re brought up to shun anything that smells, strong, pungent, funky – in other words, interesting. Billions of dollars are spent each year by the personal hygiene, cosmetics, and home-home products industries developing and marketing products that mask natural odors. He further said that we are a culture that is out of touch with its nose! So one of the first steps toward enhancing our appreciation of artisan cheese is to make a conscious effort to get back with our sense of smell.

The bottom line is the more you explore, the more you experience with so many different kind of foods, you will be rewarded with an impressive of vocabulary of cheese descriptors. You can say a cheese to have beefy, oniony, grassy, barnyard aroma. When you taste Loire valley style aged goat cheese you can say …ah the core of the cheese is pasty and chalky in the very center with tart lemony taste, but just under the rind it is creamy and slightly pungent with a distinct goat milk taste. When you taste long aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, you can say that the cheese is granular with strong umami taste. What is umami taste?

Well, in a couple weeks we will explore the component of taste. The more you understand what they are, the easier you will able to describe the cheese and this is applicable to other food as well. In the mean time, believe me that in such a little piece of cheese, it can have complexity in terms of aroma, texture, flavor more than any other foods. Harbison, a soft-ripened cheese (like brie) wrapped in a strip of spruce bark from Jasper Hill where I studied cheesemaking is the image for this article. It is served with fresh radishes and carrots to contrast and compliment both flavor and texture. Can you imagine the aroma and taste of this cheese? Well, also imagine, a cheese named Winnimere, also from Jasper Hill, which is just like Harbison, however, it is washed repeatedly with brine creating a completely unique and complex taste and aroma? So, be fearless and adventurous! This weekend, try few little pieces of those odd looking cheeses with strange names that you want to get acquainted with but have not had a chance to do so…

Stay tune for Part 2.

As Published in The Lakeside Ledger 06072017.

Author: Riko Chandra.

Reference: Adam Centamore, Tasting Wine and Cheese. Max McCalman, Cheese Plate.