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Cheese 101

Learn how to taste and pair cheese like a pro.


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Michael and Charlie Kalish own and operate Third Wheel Cheese, a San Francisco Bay Area-based consulting firm and consumer educator for the artisan cheese business. They recently met up with California Bountiful TV Host Tracy Sellers at Mission Cheese in San Francisco to offer some of their best tips for tasting and pairing cheeses:

Tip #1: Cheese tasting basics

  • Move from least intensity to highest intensity. For example, start with a subtle cow's milk tomme and end with a sheep's milk blue cheese.
  • To avoid cross-contaminating flavors, use separate knives or other utensils for cutting or use a paper towel to wipe the knives between uses.
  • When featuring multiple cheeses on a cheese tray, try to provide a variety in styles, textures and milks. Cheeses from different milks show distinct differences in flavors and aromas.
  • Cheeses should be removed from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior to serving to allow them to warm slightly. Cheeses taste best at room temperature.

Tip #2: Match intensity with intensity

  • If a cheese has a subtle, delicate profile, match it with similarly subtle beverage or food. The goal is to amplify/complement the flavors, not to have one overwhelm the other.
  • If two cheeses have a similar level of intensity, it is important to consider their textures and acidity.  For example, a cheese with a long, pronounced finish and that sticks to the inside of the cheeks can be obtrusive if followed by a flinty, dry cheese with a delicate finish.
  •  When pairing foods with cheese, your goal should be to highlight both elements equally. Ideally, go for flavors that will accentuate rather than overpower the cheese itself. Similarly, cheeses shouldn't overwhelm what you choose as accompaniments.
  •  If in doubt, get recommendations from your local cheesemonger.

Tip #3: Location, location, location!

We like to say, "What grows together goes together." Terroir means taste of place, acknowledging the influence of environment on flavor. Matching beer or wine with cheese produced in the same region isn't a guaranteed home run, but it's a great place to start.

Tip #4: No rules!

Remember, when it comes to tasting and pairing, there are no firm rules, just guidelines that can get you in the right ballpark. The only way to know if a pairing works is to experiment and taste for yourself. Don't forget: Even a bad pairing can be educational!

For more information on the Third Wheel Cheese Consulting, visit www.thirdwheelcheese.com.


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