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How to Discover Cheeses You'll Love

Liz Thorpe, author of The Book of Cheese, talks about her Gateway approach to cheese buying and eating, how to make a perfect cheese plate, and more.

By
Kara Rota,
October 24, 2017
Episode #172

book of cheese liz thorpe Liz Thorpe had been working in cheese for about a decade when she began to notice a fundamental problem in how people were talking about and buying cheeses. As a cheesemonger and then Vice President at the famed Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York, Liz knew how to talk about all of the standard classifications: cow, goat, or sheep; geographic region of origin; fresh milk versus aged cheeses. But she eventually realized that all of that information didn’t really mean a lot to the average consumer. Over and over, they’d approach the counter uncertainly and she’d ask what they were looking for. They’d say, "I don’t really know!"

Over the years, she realized that the reference points people used were the same ones over and over. They knew they liked Brie or Havarti, or that they didn't like blue! Hence were born The Gateway Cheeses, ten cheeses from which even the most amateur cheese enthusiast can find their footing and begin to discover the wide world of cheese.

The Book of Cheese is an unprecedented guide to over 250 types of cheese, both authoritative and accessible. Organized into ten chapters named after the iconic Gateway cheeses, The Book of Cheese takes the reader on a journey through Liz’s insider knowledge about cheesemakers and techniques, and irreverent prose that makes each cheese’s character memorable. It’s the only guide you’ll need to explore the world of cheese further and find cheeses you’ll love.  

The below is excerpted from the The Book of Cheese by Liz Thorpe.

Discovering Cheese You'll Love

HERE’S WHAT I’VE LEARNED SINCE MAKING CHEESE MY LIFE’S WORK:

  • It doesn’t matter where cheese is made.
  • Or what kind of milk it’s from.
  • Or the technical classification I or any other expert would give it.

WHAT MATTERS IS:

  • Starting with general, universally understood cheese-reference points.
  • Using them to establish what kind of cheese you like.
  • Having guidelines so you know what kind of flavors that jumping-off point will lead to.
  • Embracing the awesome miracle that your own memories and experiences—their smell and texture
  • and temperature—inform your impressions of what’s good.

AND, THEN, MOST IMPORTANT:

  • Venturing out with these guides to discover other cheeses that you are going to love.

Four Pairings with Swiss Type Cheeses

1. PICKLED FRUITS AND VEGGIES

Pickled things are ideal with washed rinds, and many Swiss types are brine washed during their aging. Crunch balances dense, smooth paste while acidity cuts meaty savor and salt. These days there are countless options in a jar, as well as super-quick pickles you can make at home in less than twenty minutes. Pickled fruits, such as raisins, figs, cherries, or apricots (Boat Street Pickles is my favorite brand), are softer and sweeter, whereas pickled vegetables ranging from red onion to okra to the ubiquitous cuke often introduce smoke or heat and do better at the extreme end of the washed-rind flavor spectrum.

FLAVOR SPECTRUM (PICKLED FRUITS): 1–5

FLAVOR SPECTRUM (PICKLED VEGGIES): 6–10

2. BITTER FOODS

High-cacao chocolate, espresso, and broccoli rabe all stand in here for high, persistent bitter flavor. The natural sweetness of Swiss types, plus salt and chewy or melted texture, offer a soothing blanket atop bitterness.

FLAVOR SPECTRUM: 1–10

3. BELGIAN ALE

With sweetish and toasty malt overtones, yeasty character and, often, natural spice notes anchored in bright acidity Belgian Ales emphasize the natural flavor profile of medium to intense Swiss types. Their similarities push forward the delicate hop and fruit profiles of the ale.

FLAVOR SPECTRUM: 3–10

4. CONFIT-STYLE JAMS

Raw and pickled onions are a traditional pairing with Taleggio types and they work here for the same flavor reasons. Other (spreadable) options are slightly sweetened confits and jams made from onions or shallots. On the more intense end of the Swiss spectrum, caramelized and roasted onion flavors prevail. Play them up with a savory smear.

FLAVOR SPECTRUM: 6–10

To hear the full interview with Liz, listen in the top right hand player, or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify.

Copyright © 2017 by Elizabeth Thorpe. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Ellen Silverman.

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