How to learn about cheese?
If you’re anything like our team of curd nerds at Barbury Hill HQ, you’ll have a strong interest in artisan cheese and you’ll certainly enjoy tasting it. But has all the tasting made you very curious to expand your knowledge? From your own mindful tasting to reading and structured study, there’s plenty you can do to expand your cheese knowledge. Read on to discover what you can do to learn about cheese.
Mindful Cheese Tasting
The next time you give into a cheese craving, don’t just cut a hefty slab and dig in. Try a tasting by following the steps below. This simple process deploys all your senses and will help you better understand your likes and preferences whilst allowing you to become more informed. Develop your understanding with a little practice and your taste buds will thank you for it!
Like a wine tasting, ‘look’ before anything else. This is also the time to cut the cheese so you can see both the outside and inside. What type of cheese is it? White and it’s most likely a goat’s cheese, cream tends to suggest a brie, pale yellow is likely to be a cheddar, while a deeper yellow is probably a gouda. Note the textures and colours you can see and how they compare to other cheeses of the same or different varieties.
Consider both the exterior and interior texture – this will tell you a lot. Is it soft and moist or dry and crumbling? Is the rind soft and the inside creamy? Make a note of its characteristics and what you like or don’t like. Consider the quality. Do you think this is a standard cheese or one of a higher quality? Think about age. Soft cheeses are typically young and high in moisture, whereas a hard cheese will be lower in moisture as it’s been aged for longer.
This is an important part of the process as your smell is often more sensitive and capable of picking up details about the cheese that your tastebuds might miss. Get this right and it can heighten your experience of the cheese! What are you getting? Jot it down.
Go on then! Taste your cheese
Try to judge the ripeness – if underripe the taste could be lacking or even bland. A perfectly ripe cheese is more likely to display upfront and animated flavours. Past its best, and your cheese is likely to lose its unique character and probably taste like any other old cheese. What do you enjoy about this one? A basic rule of thumb; if you’re picking up one single flavour it’s probably a standard cheese. If you’re experiencing different flavour profiles then it is likely to be an artisan cheese of greater complexity and higher quality.
Finally, write down a few notes and compare these the next time you taste cheese. Being able to understand your preferences will help clearly identify what you like. And with a better understanding you’ll be able to approach the cheese with added confidence!
Suggested Cheese Reading
A Cheesemonger's Compendium of British & Irish Cheese
A helpful book to buying and understanding some of our wonderful farmhouse cheeses. Written by Ned Palmer who has spent the last 20 odd years looking after, selling and talking about cheese as well as travelling around the British Isles visiting farms and cheese makers. A well-regarded read with good reviews. The end of the book includes notes on how to buy cheese, how to store cheese - see also our Ultimate Guide to Storing Cheese - and some ideas of how to pair different cheeses with drinks.
The Oxford Companion to Cheese
Readers of the book claim that they didn't know that there was so much to know about cheese! A comprehensive reference book with detailed content about cheese making, history and ingredients. It’s worth noting that if you are specifically interested in British cheese this book touches on a selection but the content tends to focus on American and European cheeses. Nevertheless, an excellent book that will keep cheese aficionados happy for years!
Gimblett’s Guide to the Best British Cheeses
Do you know your Brightwell Ash from your Baron Bigod? Highly recommended for any cheese enthusiast. A comprehensive guide to over 80 of Britain’s finest artisan cheese makers with over 200 cheeses, including tasting notes and suggested drinks pairing. This book opens the door to the best of British cheese making and will help elevate your knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of British cheese.
Talk to your cheesemonger
Cheesemongers are often a fount of knowledge and they’re always very happy to share if you ask the right questions. Understanding what you already enjoy – this is where mindful tasting helps - will guide an expert cheesemonger to make recommendations. At the very least they should be able to tell you what’s popular and why, and the hidden gems they’d recommend. Milk, and therefore cheese, can change at different times of the year so find out what they’d recommend right now and why. Try different cheeses if they are offering samples. Learning is about taste, taste, taste.
Visit a farm or cheese maker
What can be better than getting out there to visit a cheese maker and tasting? We recently visited Bath Soft Cheese (Park Farm, Bath, BA1 9AQ) where we enjoyed their excellent café. With all of their award-winning cheese on offer, and an elevated viewing area where you can watch the cows being milked, it’s a destination in itself. They also run open days – check the website directly for information. For something more in-depth, consider one of Quickes behind the scenes tours where you’ll learn about their craft of producing excellent cheddar, including a tour of the dairy, cheese stores and farm. Prices from £35 including lunch.
Food festival masterclass
Are you attending any food festivals this year? Why not take a moment to read our guide to the best UK food festivals to visit this summer. You will find many offer talks or masterclasses and with a bit of research you might find talks dedicated to cheese. A good example of this is Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival which is offering cheese talks by experts. We’ve already signed up. See you there!
The Academy of Cheese
Whether you're a cheese professional or simply have a strong personal interest, The Academy of Cheese offers industry recognised accreditation. It’s a well respected not-for-profit organisation that promotes cheese knowledge, cheese education and careers in cheese. Chose from different courses and a style of learning that suits you – whether self-study, virtual or classroom study - as part of a small group. With three different levels of learning and a Master of Cheese accreditation coming soon, the Academy of Cheese can take your cheese-learning journey from a one-day course to developing an in-depth understanding over several certifications. Visit the Academy of Cheese for more details.
Has this story been useful? If you think there are other ways you can learn about cheese then please get in touch. We’d be pleased to hear your recommendations.
by Dan, Barbury Hill Founder
Dan founded Barbury Hill and he is the man behind our mission to shine a light on the best of British food and drink. He loves wine, cider and small batch cheese. And every producer on Barbury Hill.