We’re Talkin’ Taleggio!

David | Blog | January, 18 2011 | No Comment

For this installment in the I Never Met A Cheese I Didn’t Like series we visit Italy to meet Taleggio.

The name Taleggio has been in use since before the 10th century in the caves of Val Taleggio, a tiny village at the base of the central Italian Alps. It might be the granddaddy of soft, washed rind cheeses. The cheese is made from large-cut curd (the size of an acorn) that is ladled into square molds and then heated for up to a day. Taleggio is then cave aged for around a month to six weeks, while being turned and washed with brine. Those sold outside of Italy are often made with pasteurized milk. All of those imported by the U.S. are made with pasteurized milk, as U.S. law would require at least 60 days aging for raw milk.

The wonderful blog After Cheese Comes Nothing (now on hiatus) had this to say about the famous Italian stinker back in 2008:

Taleggio: ancient, lusty, pungent, and meaty….

…and they can stand to sit some more (aging): the flavors will intensify from moderately tart, with a Swiss-like tang, to deep, rounded, and beefy. The smell also intensifies, even more dramatically, to furnish at its fullness a pungency too robust for the faint of spirit and weak of will.

Taleggio’s redolence of rain-wet grass and body odor, cooked greens and baking bread results from the brine washings, which clean some bacteria off the rind but also foster the growth of Brevibacterium linens, the characteristic infection of washed-rind cheeses — what makes them stink well and colors them orange.

The best Taleggio I’ve known has a wonderfully balanced, complex and lasting flavor: some fresh salt and tang mellowed, widened and warmed by grass and meat flavors, some scrambled egg, a slight sourness on the swallow, a fruity aftertaste.

You should be able to get imported Taleggio from any decent cheese retailer in the U.S. If you want to try an American similarity, made from raw milk, I would recommend Meadow Creek’s award-winning Grayson (aged two to three months). Heck, try them side by side!

As for pairing with beer, washed rinds need a good malt base, but can tolerate some hops if the malt is there first. This could mean a nice German-style lager (fest-marzen), an American brown or porter, or a malty Belgian-style beer.  A decade ago I would not have recommended looking for Italian beers to pair this with—there was simply nothing interesting brewing there. All that has changed.  In Chicago, West Lakeview Liquors has an outstanding selection of bottles from all  points of the globe where craft beer has exploded, including Italy. Look for malty beers from Italian breweries Birrifico, Baladin, and Revelation Cat, or wander the globe. Cin Cin!

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