Taste Cheese Like a Curd Nerd

Don’t be intimidated. Learn how to taste and buy cheese like an expert, and build a memorable cheese board for pairings.

Photo by Shutterstock/Pinkyone

Twelve years ago, I wandered into a cheese shop in Philadelphia, and it changed my life. The cheesemongers behind the counter were so friendly and receptive to my bumbling questions about the fuzzy lumps and cratered facades of the 300-some cheeses stacked around me that I vowed to taste them all. I was new to city life — fresh from Wisconsin — and dairy had become my default cure for homesickness, not to mention my entry into Philadelphia social life as a solo flyer in search of a new scene. Wherever I went, I took cheese. New friendships were ignited over blissful bries. I quickly formed a cheese-tasting band of rogue expats and grad students who joined me at the table over the course of a summer while we ate nothing but blue cheeses.

Photo by Shutterstock/Halfpoint

Over the course of five years, I tasted roughly 350 different cheeses. I chronicled the process on my blog, Madame Fromage, and later in my book Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings. Since then, I’ve become a passionate curd mistress who hosts parties for visiting lactic luminaries, offers pairing workshops, curates restaurant cheese boards, and only travels with a dairy itinerary thanks to a tour company called Cheese Journeys, for which I co-host Gouda getaways and cheddar odysseys. None of this would have happened, however, if I hadn’t learned a special breathing technique. I call it the “yoga breath” of cheese.

How to Truly Taste Cheese

Picture this: You walk into a cheese shop where a provolone the size of a watermelon dangles from a hook over the register. It’s a Tuesday at 10 a.m. and the place is empty except for a couple of guys in aprons behind the counter who are milling around a freshly cracked wheel of Roquefort. You watch them crush bits of this iconic French blue between their fingertips, inhale, close their eyes, open their mouths, exhale audibly, and then chew thoughtfully. Grins flash across their stubbled faces, and one of them starts to speak in tongues: “Plums, freshly dried ... then limestone, brine, definitely brine ... whoa, fresh fennel!” You’ve just observed the yoga breath.

Photo by Getty Images/IgorDutina



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