Cheese making is an art, a historic and ancient craft no less. It is of course a way of using and preserving milk, concentrating & coagulating the protein, and giving it a relatively long life.
The skill in cheesemaking involves creation of a product with fairly consistent specific taste, texture, smell, and looks. A lot of cheeses are made these days in industrial factories (shame), but there are still thousands of small producers making wonderful handmade cheeses to die for.
Cheese making involves the introduction of bacteria causing a fermentation of the kind of milk in use – different bacteria strains produce different characteristic tastes and flavours, and sometimes mould spores are introduced as well to ripen certain cheese types. The best cheeses go through at least a year’s maturing process into the bargain (the worst only a few months), when their specific characteristic s develops to the desired level – they are then ready to eat.
Knowledge, experience, judgement, control, skill, time and effort by the cheesemaker is required to deliver a good quality product. Cheesemakers are specialist in their specific cheese, which they nurture tirelessly before releasing it to market.
That takes us on to the consumer then, doesn’t it? All that dedication by the cheesemaker is now thrown to the wind isn’t it? Two thick slices of dubious bread are buttered (salted?), and a thin slice of cheese inserted together with pickle, or raw onion, or sliced tomato, or lettuce & mayonnaise, etc, and there you have it – a cheese sandwich. There is absolutely NO CHANCE that anybody could actually taste the crafted cheese is there? Or perhaps a thin slice of a cheese is slapped on a slice of toasted bread and shoved under the grill to melt the cheese, and there you have it – cheese on toast. Any chance there of tasting the wonderful original cheese, do you think? Alternatively, possibly butter a salty cracker biscuit or a sweet digestive and add a bit of cheese – what can be tasted? Certainly NOT the cheese, eh?
No, cheese should be just ripe, eaten in small chunks and the real taste really savoured, don’t you think? No problem in having a biscuit, or other accompaniments, or some wine in conjunction at the same time – but not in the same mouthful, eh? The contrast in flavours can indeed enhance the taste of the cheese – for example some cheese’s taste is especially improved when eaten with fruit.
Avoid cheese with things put in it – cranberries, pineapple, apricots, mango, beer, and the like – a sign of poor cheesemaking perhaps?
Ditch the supermarket pre-packaged, plastic covered, vacuum wrapped, smell-less, mass produced cheeses – most of it is inferior, pasteurised, bland, flavourless, unripe, or processed junk. Long gone unfortunately are the days of the 1950s when you could go into a Sainsbury’s shop, taste some ripe cheeses and be served a nice wedge cut with a wire from a full wheel of cheese.
So find instead a local specialist cheese shop and work your way through their say two hundred different & artisan cheeses, freshly cut from the wheel [English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, German, Polish, French, Spanish, Italian, Swiss, Dutch, Canadian, etc]. Discover and experience in particularly the widely different tastes between unpasteurised & pasteurised cheese.
Perhaps try some different bries [say de Meaux StLuc (strong – good with pickled pear), de Meaux Donge (mild), Campagnard (creamy)]; enjoy Hawes Wensleydale (accompanied by Eccles cake) ; savour ewes milk Manchego [semi curado (matured 6 months, strong taste), curado (matured 12 months, softer), and compare with curado pasteurised (matured 12 months – flavour and texture impaired) – try with membrillo jelly perhaps); have some cows’ milk Aged Gouda (5 years old, sweeter, and lactic acid empowered); value a piece of Gruyere Alphage (mellowed by moisture removed with steam and served with a little truffled honey perhaps); delight in a little Stilton Colston Basset; relish the taste of ewes milk artisan Roquefort Vieux Berger (the king of blue cheeses to saviour with a glass of sweet desert wine); take pleasure in some unpasteurised Isle of Mull cheddar.
All that could be a good start to real cheese tasting, don’t you think?
[Last year, we Brits spent nearly three billion pounds on about four hundred-and-fifteen tons of cheese]