How Cheese Tasting Works

cheese tastingLike the wine industry, the cheese industry uses professional tasters to assess their products. This post from The Takeout describes the cheese tasting process which is much like wine tasting.

It starts with a visual inspection of the cheese block looking for discoloration and crystallization.

Then they use a special knife to pull a core sample, a cylinder of cheese that shows each layer from the surface to the core looking for imperfections and checking the resistance to the knife.

The smell test is next which includes taking notes on the aromas detected.

And finally the taste test, “which is little more than a nibble but one that is very carefully considered.”

“As you’re tasting it, you’re rubbing the cheese between your fingers to get an idea of how well that cheese breaks down,” Gile said. Tasters take notes on the cheese’s pH, moisture, and salt levels, as well as “everything you’re picking up on the body and flavor.” Keeping these notes brief and technical prevents tasters from growing “mentally exhausted.”

Professional cheese tasters may taste between 100-200 cheeses in a day. The worries about palate fatigue are similar to wine tasting although with the absence of alcohol the concerns are more about avoiding exhaustion.

When judging at competitions, arriving early to recover from jet lag, making sure to be neither hungry nor satiated, and constantly communicating with other tasters about what they’re tasting are part of the process of ensuring a degree of objectivity.

The question about the influence of coffee on the palate get’s a lot of discussion:

“Caffeine—coffee—is always a big talking point among cheese judges,” Gile noted. “There’s a lot of research out there showing that drinking coffee can numb the taste senses for some amount of time. But if you drink coffee every day and you choose the day of judging to not drink coffee, that’s also going to create a level of exhaustion.” These are, as he puts it, “added factors you have to learn about yourself.”

It does sound exhausting but then so is professional wine tasting. At least they don’t have to spit.

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