The Cheese Insider: How to Taste Cheese

When you begin the joyous task of consuming cheese, consider these helpful hints:

Before tasting any cheese, be sure to allow the cheese to come up to room temperature. If you have a wedge/piece of cheese larger than what you plan to eat/serve, then cut off the amount you think you will need, leave that out, and then re-wrap the rest and place back in the refrigerator. By letting the cheese come to room temperature, it allows the aromas and flavors to be at their maximum potential. Remember, natural cheese is a living organism and needs to breathe. It is best to cover the cheese while it is coming to room temperature, this will prevent the cheese from drying out.

Milder cheeses should be tasted first, then continue with some stronger-flavored ones. Leave the full-flavored blue-veined and “stinky” cheese until last.

Ideally, you should taste each cheese at the center of the cheese first, working your way to the outside. The reason for this is that the “big” flavor, especially open/cave-aged cheeses, is on the outside of the cheese. The flavors of these cheeses come from the outside in. We tell people in our cheese shops that if they choose to remove the outside rind of a particular cheese, remove only the thin part of the rind.

We suggest that you start tasting the cheese from the tip of your tongue, working the cheese toward the back of your mouth. This way the cheese forms individual flavor characteristics as it comes in contact with the flavor sense areas (i.e. sweet, salty, sour, hot, etc.)

When tasting cheese, consider:

  • Texture – smooth, grainy, supple
  • Density – how compact it feels in your mouth
  • Flavor – how flavorsome is the cheese? Is it clean, mild, strong, fruity?
  • Acidity – is it lemony?
  • Finish – do the flavor characteristics linger in the mouth (similar to that of wine or beer)?
  • Saltiness – is the cheese well balanced?
  • Conclusion flavors – earth, nutty, toasted, grassy, mushroomy, creamy, pungent
  • Aroma – smell the cheese, get a feel for its aroma (as you would with beer or wine)

Developing a true taste for cheese takes time, but will enhance your experience each time you do it. I love to let people smell and taste the great Wisconsin artisan cheeses in our shop, something that the customer does not typically get to do in a grocery store.

There are so many great handmade cheeses made right here in Wisconsin. Step outside the box and try a few – you will be glad you did!


Source: A Passion for Cheese, Paul Gayler, St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

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