Cheesemonger Claudia Bowman shares her top cheese tips with us – from smell, through to the different varieties.
1. Smell First
The visual assessment of a cheese and aromatic evaluation are as important to appreciating a cheese as the flavour.
In approaching any culinary-appreciation experience, you must fully appreciate the two senses of smell that are key to doing justice to the whole experience – be it chocolate, wine, whisky, artisan beer, or cheese. First, smell with the nose before the product enters your mouth. The second sense of smell arrives once the product is in your mouth – the aroma travelling up the back of your throat and into the nasal passages, creating a prolonged sense of appreciation. I call this second sense of smell the “continued aroma”; I think it’s greatly underappreciated and is fully responsible for enhancing a product’s flavour! To better understand what I mean, try eating with a blocked nose; you lose much of the flavour!
So … as difficult as it may be to resist the temptation to simply scoff down the cheese, slow yourself down long enough to smell, then focus on what it is you’re enjoying. What type of milk is in the cheese? What’s the cheese style? And what accompaniments do you imagine enjoying alongside?
2. The Cheese Stands Alone
First and foremost, try a cheese on its own. We have a terrible habit in Australia of relying too heavily on bread, crackers, and other accompaniments such as quince paste. When purchasing special cheeses, whether they’re international or local, that have been made with great integrity (and that probably cost you a small fortune), appreciate the flavour profiles and characteristics of the cheese before masking the cheese with the textural and flavourful characteristics of the accompaniment. Call me a purist, but in the same way that I have come to appreciate coffee straight up with no milk or sugar, cheese can be enjoyed as is!
3. Fresh Cheese
“Fresh” cheeses, such as ricotta, feta, mozzarella, burrata, and curd, fall into this category because, essentially, they are as good as they ever will be on the first day they’re made! Fresh cheeses don’t require weeks, months, and even years of maturation time in the same way a cheddar, gouda, gruyere, pecorino, or parmesan does. Fresh is best. Of the seven categories of cheese that I teach, fresh cheeses have the highest moisture content. This moisture facilitates the continued breakdown or fermentation of the curd to a point at which it becomes past its best.
Indications of a cheese that’s past its best include the cheese being uncharacteristically fizzy, sour, or fermented; it’s most obvious when the container or package it’s sold in looks bloated.