Why does this cheese taste better today?

This is a question I recall asking myself years ago when I was rethinking the description I wrote the day before. The cheese sample was wrapped correctly and set in the cave with its ideal temperature and humidity. The cheese changed noticeably; it had become better balanced. When I asked an industry veteran, Debra Dickerson, about the altered state, she told me she believes the enzymes played a role. After all, cheese is a living food, lest we forget.

Sometimes those changing profiles are noted in how a cheese pairs with a wine: same cheese with the same wine, slight differences one day to the next. In those instances other external factors may influence those relative successes. The time of day may be different; the temperature of the wine and cheese, or the ambient temperatures might be different; different flavors may linger on the palate; or even how well we may have slept the night before could be a game-changer. Yet the cheeses do change themselves; the wines too. The younger softer cheeses will change more dramatically than the aged ones; they are still in their “formative years,” so to speak.

Another factor altering our assessments of the same cheese will be our familiarity with it. A first impression may be a little jarring. On second taste on another day, we may be better acclimated. Those heady aromas may be a little easier to ingest if we remember that the flavors are actually rather tame. This is one of the biggest reasons why cheeses taste different on different days. The aromas become less volatile as a cheese matures. This can make a cheese less challenging to wines; or this can give them enhanced synergies with a particular wine.

This is one of the thrills of tasting artisan cheeses: that you can expect the unexpected. This can cause angst for makers entering their cheeses into competitions. They are generally forbidden to take samples from their entries; they have to analyze their candidates from their outer appearances and aromas only; they must hope for the best. In our Best in Show class we sample cheeses the way judges analyze them: visually, aromatically, by flavor and texture. One difference is that we assess those cheeses while enjoying wines alongside. Remember, those wines can place a spotlight on nuances in a cheese, and those subtleties may be a little different from one moment to the next.

I believe this is one thing that makes artisan cheeses especially exciting; they are always evolving.

Max McCalman

Spread the curd!
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One Response to “Why does this cheese taste better today?”

  1. Matt Says:

    Yeah, foods are great that change/get better over time like that, always something different or new, so reactive to the environment, just have to be aware of it.

    Come to think of it, not sure of too many other foods that are like that? Of course there's a peak sooner or later, but measuring in decades instead of days isn't exactly small.