A lot of times, folks will ask me how to learn more about cheese. There’s no one way to go about it, but here’s what I usually suggest!
Taste as much cheese as possible. I’m not talking about eating kilos of cheese every week. I mean conscientiously taste many types of cheese on a regular basis. Compare and contrast cheeses side by side to understand differences in aroma, sight, texture, mouthfeel, flavor, and finish. Use all of your senses to experience a cheese. Try out the same cheese or cheese type made by different companies, at different times of year, from different places, at different ages. Try to articulate what the rind looks like, what the paste (the inside) looks like, what it smells like, what texture it has in your mouth. Take notes so you can remember what you’ve tasted. One notebook floating around there that I particularly like is the 33 Pieces of Cheese notebook. It lets you fill in info about a cheese’s provenance, milk type, name, and even price. Or just create a document or table on your computer!
Get to know your local cheesemongers. Knowledgeable cheesemongers are often your best resource about the cheeses available in your area. They know what’s good at the moment in the cheese case, since they’re the ones who care for these little gems when they arrive in the store. Don’t be afraid to ask them for samples. If you really want to get them going, ask about ways to cook with or serve cheeses. Ask about where the cheese comes from, and who makes it. Ask them about wine pairings, or beer pairings, or chocolate pairings. Ask them what kind of bread they think would go best with a given cheese. Cheesemongers love to share their knowledge and passion for these little morcels of aged milk. To find cheese shops near you, check Culture Magazine’s cheese shop directory.
Visit a cheese festival. Taste lots of cheese while you’re there! Eat, drink, play around with pairings. Talk to the people behind the tables. Ask them questions about their animals, their facilities, what got them into cheese, anything you’d like!
Volunteer or work. If you’re really in for a hardcore cheese experience, see if you can find part time work behind a cheese counter, or selling cheeses at a farmers market for a local cheesemaker. If you want less of a commitment, see if you can volunteer at a local cheese festival or special event. If you’re looking for more of a commitment, see if a cheesemaker, distributor, or retailer near you is looking for a cheese guru and learn on the spot! You can also join a cheese or food society if there is one near you. For instance, I’ve been involved with the California Artisan Cheese Guild for a few years, and have had the chance to connect with industry folks, taste cheese, and learn about the cheese industry and craft.
Take a class. It can be helpful to check in with a cheese expert to provide yourself with a framework to taste, cook with, or pair cheeses. If you’re at a loss on how to articulate what you’re experiencing, working with the guidance of a pro can make things all clear! If you want to learn how to make cheese, there are classes for that as well!
Read about cheese. There are so many great books out there about cheeses of different regions of the world, cooking, pairing, and making cheese. Here are some of my favorites:
Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques and Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses by Mary Karlin and Ed Anderson
The Cheese Board: Collective Works: Bread, Pastry, Cheese, Pizza by the Cheese Board Collective Staff
Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producers by Gianaclis Caldwell and Ricki Carroll
Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher
Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings by Tenaya Darlington
Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best by Max McCalman and David Gibbons
Some online cheese resources and other blogs to follow:
Happy cheese hunting!