GETTING THE MOST OUT OF TASTING CHEESE
You might have learnt that we humans can perceive 5 basic different tastes: salty, bitter, sweet, sour & savoury/umami. Much research (read money) is involved in the business of how these building blocks of taste can be influenced by other factors because there’s so much more to the perception of flavour than what just happens in your mouth.
There’s also the subjective side of things, such as memories, past experiences, our current emotional state, sounds (your seafood dish with a side of seagull squawk perhaps?) even the time of day. One winemaker we know swears that the morning is the best time of day for her to taste wine because her palate is least adulterated.
There’s a whole lot of science behind how we perceive taste and plenty of resources should you wish to delve deeper. For example - Penicillium camemberti, a microbe found on the surface of white mould cheese which breaks down fat in cheese produces a range of compounds as it metabolises the fat. One of these compounds has a mushroom-y aroma. Hence, many white mould cheeses (such as Brie & Camembert) will smell of mushrooms.
We’ve put together a basic primer for helping you get the most out of tasting your cheese.
- Serve cheese at room temperature. Taking the cheese out of the fridge (leaving it fully wrapped) about 30 mins to 1 hour before serving allows the flavours and texture to develop their full potential. Unwrap shortly before serving.
- If your aim is to take a deep dive into cheese tasting, keep the accompaniments simple so as not to overwhelm your palate. Always taste the cheese on its own first, then you’ll be able to get a feel for what might work with it.
- Have a good look at it and take note of what the rind and the interior look like in terms of texture, colour etc.
- Take a good sniff. Cut a decent sized portion and hold it close to (but not touching) your nose then inhale. This provides a preview as to what it will taste like and will also betray any potential issues with the cheese – not that your H&B cheese should have any. We carefully inspect all our cheeses before they are available for sale.
- Into the mouth we go. Hold in your mouth at first and pay attention to how it feels and what flavour notes you first notice. Gently chew, breathing through your nose and allow the full spectrum of flavours to wash over your tongue. There are enzymes present in saliva which help break food down and influence how we perceive food. The bacteria we all have in our mouths also have an influence.
Texture plays a key part too. How does it feel in the mouth? Is it silky? crumbly? fudgy? chalky?
As it sits in your mouth and warms up, you’ll notice the length of the flavours, how complex they are. This may even change again upon swallowing the cheese.
Remember an edible rind will taste different to the interior of a cheese and you may discover you prefer one over the other, or like a combination of both.
- Approach tasting actively, and, if possible, with a buddy to chat things over with. Try to identify specific notes by referring to the flavour wheel provided. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not, and there are no wrong answers. We all perceive things differently (just as we see colours and hear sounds differently)