Close your eyes and concentrate on what you’d like: a soft, sweet cheese that melts in your mouth, or a soft one with a bit of bite, or a crumbly one with a strong, lingering flavour? After having focused on the macro sensations that you’d like, open your eyes and think about what kind of milk could best satisfy your wish.
The sweetness of cow’s milk, still perceptible in some fresh cheeses, while others taste of yogurt and those that are aged longer may be reminiscent of butter(fresh or baked)? Or perhaps you preferthe distinctive saltiness of sheep’s milk, or goat’s milk, which gives both fresh and aged cheeses a unique note known as “hircine” (from Latin hircinus, meaning “goatlike”, derived from hircus, “goat” or “billy-goat”), which is a favourite with many people and has very few detractors? Once you have decided exactly what you’d like, it will be easy to restrict your choice to just a few of the many products available at the cheese counter. If you purchase them with the help of a good cheesemonger, indicating the sensations that you’re seeking, it is very likely that your wishes will be satisfied. Before leaving the cheese counter, always buy a small piece of a cheese that you haven’t tried before.
Taste it once you’re home, concentrating on the sensations that it triggers. If it is a pleasant surprise, jot down its name, the kind of milk it’s made from, whether it is fresh or aged, the producer and the macro sensations that you experienced in a notebook. As you fill up the notebook, it will gradually help you to choose the cheese you’re looking for, which you can serve to friends and guests. In order to choose cheese, it is necessary to know about it, and learning about it involves dedicating a little time and attention to this food capable of ensuring you many happy moments
Ageing and ripening are processes that affect the whole cheese, inside and out. At the moment of purchase, the consumer alters the equilibrium and commences the process of storage ofthe aged product.
Cheese is damaged when its paste comes into contactwith air,light, and changes in temperature and relative humidity. It is necessary to protect it by wrapping the portions or small whole cheeses in greaseproof paper or placing them in plastic containers and refrigerating. The attentive consumer will purchase just the right amount of cheese for short-term consumption. The label shows the date of production of fresh cheeses and thus also the date of consumption Semi-hard and hard cheeses should be stored in the fridge wrapped in cheese paper, or in a hemp cloth inside a perforated polythene bag.
Cheeses with mouldy rind, like Camembert, Paglierina, Brie and Caciotta,require particular attention because the white mould must not be damaged, and so itis advisable to leave them in the packages in which they are sold and eat them within 8–10 days.
Cheeses are cut into portions according to their shape, size and consistency.
The different types of cheese are cut as follows:
- soft cheeses and Caciottas, e.g. Robiola, Goat, etc., are cut in half and then into segments, depending on the number of servings required, ensuring that each person receives a portion of cheese that allows its characteristics to be evaluated to best effect;
- long cylindricalcheeses, with a diameter of 6–8 cm, are sliced into discs, each of which may be cut into three segments;
- medium-sized cylindricalcheeses, such as Bra, Fontina, Toma, Asiago, etc., are cut in half along the diameter and then into slices (segments); subsequently strips are cut, starting from the centre, with the two portions of rind at the ends, and ending 6–7 cm from the side rind. This part is cut into a triangular shape so that the rind forms the short side;
- blockcheeses, with square or rectangular faces, like Taleggio, Casolet, Brich, Feta, etc., are cut into quarters, depending on size, and then into strips with four or two pieces of rind that can be cut again diagonally if necessary;
- low, wide cake-shaped cylindrical cheeses, like Brie. First of all they are cut into quarters and then into segments with a short side of approximately 6–7 cm. Divide the segment into 4 triangles, two with two rinds of the flat faces and the other two also with the side rind;
- tall cylindrical cheeses are cut into discs a few centimetres thick, then cut in half and divided into segments; pear-shaped cheeses, e.g. Caciocavallo, 18 Tasting cheeses 19 Provola, are cut into segments along their length and subsequently cut into slices across the segment. Alternatively, they may be cut into discs a few centimetres thick and then divided into segments;
- pyramidaland truncated pyramidalcheeses are cut at right angles to the base along their diagonals or axes. They are then divided into triangular or rectangular portions with sides of 2–3 cm so that the rind is distributed as evenly as possible. In the case of extremely hard cheeses like Parmesan, the paste is pared into shavings using a suitably sized teardropshaped knife in order to emphasise the granular consistency.
The first rule to be followed when serving cheese regards its temperature. A cheese taken straight from the refrigerator to the table cannot express its characteristic spectrum of flavours and aromas to the full.
The volatile nature of the molecules of smell is conditioned by the temperature of the cheese. Consequently, cheese should be served as close to room temperature as possible.
Another important rule to follow is that the portion on the plate should, wherever possible, reflect the original shape of the cheese. The consumer must be able to evaluate both the part of the cheese close to the rind and that in the middle of the cheese in order to assess the overall evenness of ripening of the paste.
For those who eat simply for nourishment, it’s important for bread to taste of bread and for cheese to be recognisable as such. Furthermore, meat, chocolate and fruit are closely bound up with their usual way of perceiving food without contemplating the sensory experiences that they provide. Other people approach food by applying tasting techniques to it, concentrating on its sensory profile and using sight, touch, smell and taste to identify its distinctive characteristics. Although the purposes of sensory analysis are identical to those of tasting, it is carried out in a different manner, as consists of the evaluation of a sample by trained people using standardised parameters of evaluation based on shared, uniform and regulated methods.
The taster is a person who makes a totally independent Tasting cheeses 20 qualitative/quantitative evaluation of the product, backed by years of experience in the field. Sensorial analysis consequently assumes that the evaluation is always performed in ideal tranquil conditions and involves a certain number of specially trained people who form the Tasting Panel.
- Visual evaluetion The outside of the cheese is examined: the whole cheese and the piece; the state and colour of the rind; the presence of designation of origin marks and those of the producer. These signs are usually present either on labels or cut into the crust. After cutting the cheese, the following aspects are examined: colour of the paste, characteristics of the paste (smooth, grained, oozing fat or moisture), marbled (presence of characteristic edible moulds, e.g. Gorgonzola), presence of eyes (holes) or any cracks, breaks, flaking, etc. in the paste, thickness of the rind, state of the under-rind.
- Olfactory evaluation must be carried out in a room without any strong odours that could interfere with the aromas of the cheese. The cheese is sniffed for a few seconds to identify the overall intensity of its smell, before breaking it down into its various components and describing it as thoroughly as possible using the appropriate olfactory descriptors (e.g. milk, butter).
- Taste Evaluation (flavourand aroma) When the sample is in the mouth its flavours and aromas are perceived simultaneously. The former are detected principally by the tongue, while the aromas are perceived by the nose via the retronasal passages connecting the nostrils to the mouth. A small piece (5–8 grams) of cheese is placed in the mouth and slowly chewed, while the taster tries to identify the sensations that gradually become apparent. The flavours are: sweet, salty, acid, bitter. Piquant, astringent or mouth-puckering, refreshing (like mint), etc. are “trigeminal” physical sensations perceived by the mucous membranes of the mouth during tasting. The evaluation of the aromas released in the mouth during chewing involves “retronasal” perception and requires the use of olfactory descriptors.
- Evaluation of Structure The structure of a cheese is perceived by touch and can thus be assessed both with the fingers and in the mouth. During visual examination, the structure of the rind (outer appearance) and the paste (inner appearance) is Tasting cheeses evaluated with the fingertips. During the tasting examination (in the mouth), the structure is assessed by the tactile papillae of the tongue and also with the chewing movement and the dissolving effect of saliva.
- Length and Aftertaste These sensations are perceived after the cheese is swallowed. Length refers to the lingering of one or more taste sensations already identified during chewing and is measured in minutes or seconds, while aftertaste indicates the presence of a flavour and/or aroma that remains at the end of tasting
The art of pairing cheese with wine can cause a few problems, due to the sheer number of Italian and foreign cheeses. However, there are several rules that can be followed to ensure a good match between wine and cheese. The first is that the cheese and the wine must offer a comparable level of sensations, so that those of the cheese do not overwhelm those of the wine, or vice versa. It is always advisable to follow the principle of pairing wines and cheeses from the same production zone. If they are to be the focus of a meal, the selection of cheeses is of fundamental importance. A fresh, soft-paste cheese, with a delicate flavour can be used to start with, paired with a light, fruity white wine. It should be followed by gradually more intense and strongly flavoured cheeses, paired with increasingly firmly structured and full-bodied wines. If the cheese is served at the end of a meal, perhaps after braised or roast meat that was teamed with full-bodied red wines, it is advisable to continue with a cheese that is suitable for pairing with the same wine, or even a more firmly structured or fortified one, which is perfect with blue cheeses. Modern restaurants tend to offer dishes constituting a progressive sensory crescendo, and cheeses are teamed with wines, sauces, chutneys, honey, fruit, etc. so that they do not dominate the various components of the dish, but enhance the harmony of flavours and aromas. We recommend reading the Torino DOC guide in order to try the best pairings with local wines. In addition to a detailed description of winegrowing in the province of Turin, it also presents the producers, grouped according to the main production areas (Canavese, Collina Torinese, Pinerolese, Valsusa) and the wines that passed the oenological selection by the Torino Chamber of commerce.