A “turophile” is someone who is a cheese expert — connoisseur of cheese to be exact. In practice, turophiles are able to taste a cheese, extract certain flavors, and determine what kind of cheese notes they are tasting through intuition (and years of practice). Sounds impressive and a bit intimidating, right?
Differentiating obviously distinct cheese types is one thing. For example, most novice cheese lovers can tell the difference between mozzarella and Parmesan. But getting to the heart of describing that mozzarella or Parmesan can be the hard part. How would you actually describe Parmesan cheese? We’ve all heard buzzwords to describe cheese flavor profiles like “nutty,” “sharp,” or “fruity.” But what does sharp even mean? What kind of cheese has a nutty flavor? Doesn’t cheese just taste like…cheese?
Luckily, picking out and identifying certain cheese tasting notes is a skill that can be taught, and all it takes is a little practice. If you are a cheese lover, but a novice in the tasting field, use this article as a guide to a beginner’s flavor profile. Follow these tasting steps below and you’ll be rubbing elbows with the turophiles in no time.
3 Steps to Recognizing Cheese Tasting Notes
Step One: Sight
There are actually three main ways to evaluate a cheese, and the first step is by sight. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to keep this simple. Take a look at the cheese and note what you see. Is it a white cheese, light yellow? Bright yellow? The appearance of the cheese will actually help you narrow down the flavor profile of your cheese. A lot of this process is memorization, and knowing the kind of cheese it is will help you to extract certain flavors. We’ll cover specific textures in a future article, but for now, it’s best to evaluate the overall look of the cheese.
Sure, you probably already know the basics of recognizing a cheese type based on certain visual qualities — like whether or not the cheese has holes or blue veins in it. The color of a cheese is actually usually indicative of a cow’s diet. However, orange cheeses are almost always that color because they have been dyed to match a certain aesthetic we expect from a cheese like cheddar.
Pale, buttery yellow cheeses are usually an indication of a cow’s diet and the level of beta-carotene — which can be found in fresh grass. This milk is often higher in fat content, which can impact taste. Contrastly, cheese that is stark white (like mozzarella) is always derived from a different animal’s milk, like goat or buffalo. This cheese is white because these animals do not store beta carotene in their fat, but rather transform it into vitamin A.
As for blue cheese, well, that one is pretty self-explanatory! The blue veins are actually mold. If you didn’t know that, don’t panic! You can learn more here.
In summary, there’s much more you can tell based on sight than the obvious signs you might usually look for — like blue veins.
Step Two: Smell
This step is the most integral for developing your flavor profile and properly identifying specific cheese tastes. When you smell the cheese, you will want to hold your cheese at a bit of a distance from your nose. This will help you determine the intensity of the cheese (a more intense and stinky cheese, like Limburger, will be easy to identify, while a cheese like Parmesan may be a bit more difficult). Close your eyes and see what smells initially come to mind when evaluating your cheese. Pay attention to what you are smelling other than the “cheese” itself. For example, the secondary notes you might be picking up could include grass or a floral aroma. Other common examples include:
- Nutty: This is a common note associated with Asiago cheese and Parmesan cheese. These cheeses will produce extremely nutty flavors, and the more you practice noticing these notes from the aroma so you recognize them in the flavor, the more prominent they will become.
- Fruity: Imagine you sliced open a peach and could smell that mild, sweet scent of fruit. Oftentimes, specific compounds in the milk form through a combination of acid and alcohol that create a natural fruity aroma. When it happens naturally in many aged Italian cheese, like Grana Padano, this is a good thing. But if a fruity aroma occurs in a cheese like cheddar, it’s an indication of a defect.
- Buttery: You probably hear this word often to describe certain cheeses. Think of the aroma of microwave popcorn when you imagine a buttery scent. An example of a cheese with a buttery aroma is Havarti.
Head to your local store and grab a wedge of Parmesan, Grana Padano, and Havarti so you can smell these differences for yourself and begin to recognize them!
Step Three: Taste
After spending some time with your cheese, it’s time for the best part: tasting it! With tasting, you’ll certainly pick up on some of the notes mentioned above, like nuts and fruit, but you should also pay attention to a few other qualities and flavor ranges. For example:
Sweetness to Sharpness
Sweetness will be recognized on the tongue immediately, especially when you compare them to sharp cheeses. Examples of sweet cheese could include aged gouda and fontal. The most well-known sharp cheese is one you probably already have in your fridge — cheddar. You’ve likely noticed that many labels on cheddar cheeses specify whether it’s a mild or sharp cheddar. As a general rule, the softer or creamier the cheese, the milder and sweeter the flavor. When pairing your cheese with a sweet dessert, like chocolate, consider a neutral cheese, like ricotta.
Low Acid to High Acid
Acid is a sensation that will be felt in your cheeks. Something that is high-acid is going to make your mouth pucker, almost like drinking lemon juice. Cheeses that are high in acid include goat cheese, blue cheese, and feta. Brie, and ricotta are low in acidity. For wine pairing, consider high acidic cheeses alongside a sweet wine like a Riesling to balance out that acidity. A crisper white wine like a Sauv Blanc will level up the acidity of the lower cheeses.
Low Lactic to High Lactic
The most common element you might be tasting in your cheese is milk. For cheeses that have a high lactose content, this one can be particularly dominant. This sensation can be discovered in a few different ways. Lactic cheeses are usually very fresh and milky tasting, with high levels of moisture and fat. The smoother cheeses, like cream cheese, brie, and goat, are going to be predominantly lactic in their taste profile. Cheese like provolone and gouda have a lower percentage of lactose, so will have less of a lactic taste.
We recommend buying cheeses from both ends of the spectra to practice tasting and identifying cheese flavor profiles. Since this is a beginner’s guide to cheese tasting, we’ll stop there. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into cheese flavor profiles and how to recognize them! In the meantime, you can use these tips to put together your own show stopping cheeseboard using Cello cheese. Or you can get some help from our experts by downloading our eBook!
If you’re always looking to impress your friends and family with your cheese expertise, sign up for our monthly newsletter to get our latest articles and advice straight to your inbox.