How to Organize a Proper Cheese Tasting
Just like wine, cheese should be sequenced properly for the best tasting experience.
As you may know by now, there is a science to cheese boards. Crafting the perfect cheese presentation requires thought, care, and artistry—and the same is true of eating cheese. The order in which you taste your cheeses, as well as the arrangement on a plate, impacts your tasting experience.
Before you get started setting up your cheeses, you have to buy them, and cheesemonger Carol Johnson, of Monger’s Palate in Brooklyn, recommends choosing no more than five.
"It gets really overwhelming if you do more," says Johnson. "Your palate gets tired. It gets expensive. And the guests get overwhelmed. It's easier to represent a cheese and talk about it and taste it if you have fewer and focus on quality." (Johnson's sweet spot for a tasting is three to five cheeses.)
Once you're set on cheeses—here are a few of our current obsessions, by the way—it's time to organize them for tasting; there should be a strategic progression in flavor.
Organize horizontally from freshest/mildest to strongest.
"It's for your palate, so you don’t get overwhelmed by, say, eating a blue cheese too early on, and you can't taste anything after that," says Johnson. "A lot like a wine tasting, we work from mildest to strongest."
Stick to a country.
Johnson likes to explore the cheeses of one country in a tasting, displaying varieties that are made with different milks and in different styles.
"You’re doing the same place, just different representations of the styles," says Johnson. "I would do do milk from different regions, with goat, sheep, and cow."
In her dream French tasting, she would go "probably do three different milks—and try to hit different regions. Maybe I would do a traditional central French goat cheese – Valencay. Then maybe a sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyranées region of France: Ossau—Iraty. It’s a little creamier, semi-firm, a little more of a mountain cheese. And then I would end with a traditional French blue—Roquefort."
Make sure to include one sweet and one savory accoutrement.
"Include at least one thing that’s sweet and one thing that’s savory," she says. "Honey or chocolate. Fruit jam. Something like pickles or cured meats or caramelized onions."
She tries to stay on the theme with the country she's selected, so if she's doing France, her accoutrements match. "I would do cornichons, a little mustard, a fresh fruit or something like figs, and baguette," she says, though feel free to break as many rules as you want. It's cheese, after all.
"It really depends on the cheese and the preference of the person putting together the plate," she says. "I like to do bread. I'm not a big crackers person."