Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cheese! That Makes Sense!

How keen are your senses? Can you distinguish even fine levels of saltiness, bitterness, sweetness, or sour? How much do you know about cheese and your sensory enjoyment of this widely varying food? I try to maintain that there's always something new for me to learn, so last evening, I joined about fifteen other people at Local Roots to learn more about the nuances of smell, taste, and touch when evaluating cheeses as Brian Schlatter of Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese and Abbe Turner of Lucky Penny Creamery hosted an evening of "cheese sensory evaluation."

Brian started the evening with a quick overview of the body's senses and their role in how we select the food we eat. He followed that with an exercise to test people's sense of smell, passing around more than twenty opaque tubes containing a variety of unknown substances. Participants were instructed to open each tube directly beneath their noses and, relying solely on the sense of smell, attempt to identify each item. As Brian reviewed the answers, he pointed out some of the subtle differences between things like cultured and uncultured butter or milk and yogurt.

In the second exercise, Brian shared three samples of cheddar cheese from one cheesemaker, explaining how visual evaluation of a cheese can provide surprising taste results. Each of the three cheddars looked very similar, but one had nutty overtones, one tasted sweet and mild, and the third had a "catty" or overpowering flavor that many people found less than optimal.

Next, Brian and Abbe offered each participant a plate divided into eight sections, with two examples each of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter tasting ricotta cheese. These examples, Brian noted, were intended to help develop the palate so that differing levels of each of the tastes could be perceived.

Finally, Brian and Abbe shared six different cheeses –- Lucky Penny chèvre, gouda, Canal Junction's Charloe (a washed-rind cheese) and Flat Rock, a Comté, and a Manchego –- with everyone to begin to put together all that had been learned up to that point. In tasting each cheese in turn, participants shared their impressions as to overall flavor as well as to ask questions about how the cheeses were produced, what created certain flavors and overtones, and what could cause variations in the taste from season to season.

To round out the evening, Abbe shared samples of her new peanut butter goat milk fudge, a product that many hope to find at Local Roots soon!

Many thanks to Brian and Abbe for sharing their combined knowledge and good humor –- not to mention some very delicious cheeses! –- in celebration of National Dairy Month.

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