Cheese Tasting Notes: The Ultimate Cheese Tasting Guide


Discovering the nuanced world of cheese tasting is as delightful as it is delicious.

Much like wine, cheese offers a spectrum of flavors, textures, and aromas waiting to be explored.

Whether you’re savoring a creamy Brie or a sharp vintage Cheddar, each cheese variety presents a unique profile that awaits your senses.

Learning the language of cheese transforms a simple snack into a sensory journey.

Picture a wooden board adorned with various cheeses, grapes, crackers, and a small jar of honey, with a glass of wine nearby.

A variety of cheeses arranged on a wooden board, accompanied by grapes, crackers, and a small jar of honey. A glass of wine sits nearby

Starting your cheese-tasting adventure is easy.

Begin with a few simple steps: sight, touch, smell, and, most importantly, taste. As you examine the cheese’s appearance, texture, and scent, you start to anticipate the flavors that will unfold.

Cheese flavors develop in stages, with initial notes giving way to complex layers that dance across your palate.

Each cheese tells a story—where it’s from, how it’s made, and the perfect pairings. These stories are revealed through the taste notes you detect.

As you become familiar with these flavors, you’ll learn to identify the subtle and bold characters that make each cheese a unique experience.

Dive into our guide on how to taste cheese or explore common flavor profiles to enhance your tasting skills.

The Art of Cheese Tasting

A table set with various cheese types, accompanied by tasting notes and utensils, under soft lighting

Getting into cheese tasting can level up your food game, helping you appreciate all the flavors and history behind each cheese.

Here, you’ll learn about where this cool practice came from, why texture matters, explore different types of cheese, and get tips on picking the best ones for your tasting adventure.

Origins and History

Cheese has been a staple in human diets for thousands of years, dating back to ancient times. The art and science of cheesemaking developed independently across various regions.

Over time, cheese tasting has become a cherished tradition among enthusiasts who appreciate the history and unique qualities of each cheese.

Understanding Cheese Textures

The texture of cheese, from the creamy consistency of cream cheese to the crumbly nature of aged Gouda, is crucial in cheese tasting.

The cheese-making process directly influences texture, affecting how flavors are perceived on your palate.

  • Soft: Brie, Camembert
  • Semi-soft: Havarti, Gouda
  • Firm: Cheddar, Swiss
  • Hard: Parmesan, Asiago
  • Blue: Gorgonzola, Roquefort

Cheese Types and Styles

Cheese comes in various types and styles, each with a distinct flavor profile.

Get to know common varieties like Cheddar, Brie, Mozzarella, and Blue cheese.

Each type often reflects its region of origin and the specific techniques used in its creation.

For example, Parmesan is known for its hard texture and nutty flavor, which is typical of cheeses from the Parma region in Italy.

Selecting Cheeses for Tasting

When choosing cheeses for tasting, aim for quality and a range of styles.

Your cheeseboard should include various textures and flavors to showcase cheese diversity.

Start with milder cheeses like goat cheese or Mozzarella and move to stronger flavors like Blue cheese or Asiago.

This progression allows your palate to appreciate each flavor’s subtleties without being overwhelmed.

Sensory Characteristics of Cheese

A variety of cheeses arranged on a wooden board, each with a distinct color, texture, and aroma. Labels indicate tasting notes such as nutty, creamy, and sharp

During a cheese tasting, your senses are treated to a symphony of characteristics, from appearance to taste and texture. Engaging all your senses helps you fully appreciate each cheese’s complexity.

Visual Inspection

The visual aspect of cheese can tell you a lot about its quality and style.

Look for uniform color, signs of mold, and examine the rind—its texture and color can indicate age and flavor.

Inspect the interior for consistency and texture, noting any eyes or holes that may affect the cheese’s profile.

Olfactory Experience

Take a moment to smell the cheese. The aroma sets the stage for tasting, awakening your anticipation of flavor.

Cheese can present a range of aromas, including floral, fruity, nutty, and sometimes ammonia notes, each contributing to the overall intensity of the olfactory experience.

Taste and Flavors

Now, let your taste buds join in.

Cheese flavors can be sweet, salty, bitter, or a balanced mix.

Look for subtleties like milky sweetness, sharp acidity, or a nutty flavor that reveals itself as the cheese lingers on your palate.

Tactile Sensations

Finally, pay attention to the texture as you handle and bite into the cheese.

The paste should reflect the fat content—it could be creamy, crumbly, or somewhere in between.

Let the cheese melt in your mouth to fully experience its tactile elements, from smooth to grainy.

Flavor Notes

A variety of cheese wheels and wedges arranged on a wooden board, accompanied by grapes, crackers, and a selection of knives and tasting notes

When you’re ready to dive into cheese tasting, your senses will be greeted by a variety of distinct flavors. These descriptors will help you identify and describe what you’re experiencing.

Buttery

Buttery cheeses have a rich, creamy feel that smoothly coats your palate. They often deliver a gentle, mellow taste.

Rich, creamy, and reminiscent of butter.

Nutty

With each bite, nutty cheeses impart a wholesome flavor reminiscent of almonds or cashews. Cheeses like Gruyère are renowned for their nutty undertones.

Flavors that resemble nuts such as almonds or hazelnuts.

Earthy

Expect an organic, often mushroom-like savoriness from earthy cheeses. They tend to remind you of the aroma of a forest floor or wet soil.

Tastes of mushrooms, truffles, or soil.

Tangy

Tangy cheeses hit your tongue with a pleasantly sharp and acidic note, often found in yogurty flavors. These are sharp, zesty flavors with a bit of acidity.

Sharp, zesty flavors with a bit of acidity.

Salty

Salty flavors in cheese help to enhance other taste profiles. This includes not only classic sea salt but also hints of brine and minerality.

Noticeable saltiness, enhancing other flavors.

Sweet

Sweet cheeses can surprise you with a subtle sugary hint or a touch of caramel, contrasting beautifully with saltier or bitter elements.

Subtle sweetness, sometimes reminiscent of caramel or fruit.

Fruity

These cheeses can offer a fresh burst of fruitiness, ranging from mild to bold, similar to tasting a fresh piece of fruit.

Flavors of fresh or dried fruits like apples, pears, or apricots.

Herbaceous

Herbaceous cheeses contain notes of fresh or dried herbs; think of a walk through a garden, with all the green, leafy aromas.

Flavors of fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, or basil.

Pungent

Pungent cheeses are bold and assertive; they’re the variety that announces themselves as soon as you enter the room.

Strong, bold flavors that can be quite intense.

Umami

Umami is the savory depth found in cheeses that have been aged; it’s a rich taste that fully rounds out the cheese experience.

Savory, mouth-filling flavors often found in aged cheeses.

Spicy

Spicy cheeses leave a little heat on your tongue, whether from peppers, spices, or the cheese-making process itself.

A hint of spice, sometimes from added peppers.

Creamy

Creaminess in cheese can range from the lush richness of a triple crème to the subtle softness of a young Brie.

Rich, smooth flavor often found in soft cheeses.

Grassy

These cheeses often carry the fresh flavors of pasture and hay, perhaps a reflection of the diet of the dairy animals.

Fresh, green flavors reminiscent of fresh-cut grass.

Smoky

Smoky cheeses have been treated with smoke or have a naturally smoky flavor, bringing a rustic and often nostalgic quality to your taste buds.

Flavors imparted by smoking, resembling wood or char.

Mild

Mild cheeses are understated and gentle, perfect for those who prefer a subtle flavor that quietly complements other foods.

Subtle, delicate flavors that are not overpowering.

Texture Notes

A variety of cheeses displayed on a wooden board, with different textures and tasting notes written on small cards next to each type

In cheese tasting, texture plays an essential role in the sensory experience. It can vary greatly from one cheese to another and adds to cheese’s overall character. Let’s explore the different textures you may encounter.

Creamy

Creamy cheeses spread easily across your palate, often rich and buttery. Picture a ripe Brie that melts in your mouth with a luxurious feel.

Smooth, rich texture that melts in the mouth.

Crumbly

A crumbly texture is typically found in cheeses that break apart easily, such as feta or aged cheddar, leaving a delightful granularity on your tongue.

Breaks apart easily, often seen in aged cheeses.

Dense

Dense cheeses have a compact and heavy feel. Think of aged Parmesan that’s less creamy, offering a concentrated flavor.

Firm, compact texture.

Firm

Cheeses with a firm texture are solid to the touch and slice cleanly, such as Manchego or Gouda, providing a satisfying resistance.

Solid, holds its shape well.

Smooth

Smooth textures are uniform and even, with no grittiness, like classic Havarti.

Even, uniform texture without granules or grit.

Velvety

Velvety cheese textures give a sensual mouthfeel that’s soft and luxurious, reminding you of a fine Camembert.

Soft, silky texture that feels luxurious.

Flaky

Flaky cheeses tend to break into thin layers, which you might find in some high-quality aged cheddars.

Layered, breaks apart in thin layers.

Grainy

A grainy texture is often found in hard, aged cheeses where you can feel tiny granules, like in a good-quality aged Parmesan.

Slightly gritty texture, often seen in aged or dry cheeses.

Soft

Soft cheeses, such as goat cheese, are spreadable and yield easily under pressure.

Easily spreadable, pliable texture.

Chewy

Cheeses with a chewy texture require a bit more bite and are often hearty and satisfying, such as mozzarella.

Requires some bite to break down.

Elastic

Look for an elastic feel in cheeses like fresh string cheese, where it stretches and pulls apart gracefully.

Stretchy, bounces back when pressed.

Hard

Hard cheeses are tough and often need a knife to cut. An example of this is Pecorino Romano.

Solid, needs a knife to cut.

Chalky

Chalky cheese textures are dry and may leave a powdery feel in the mouth. This texture is common in some goat cheeses.

Dry, powdery texture.

Aroma Notes

When you delve into the world of cheese, your nose is your guide. Aromas give you a sneak peek into the flavor notes you might discover upon tasting.

Barnyard

Barnyard aromas are reminiscent of a countryside farm and can include notes of hay or animals. This scent is often found in natural rind cheeses.

Earthy, farm-like smell.

Fruity

A Fruity aroma might hint at anything from fresh apples to ripe berries, adding a sweet and tangy layer to your cheese experience.

Aromas of fresh or dried fruits.

Nutty

Nutty smells can evoke almonds or hazelnuts. They are commonly associated with aged cheeses like Swiss varieties.

Smell reminiscent of nuts.

Buttery

Buttery fragrances signal a rich and creamy taste, often present in cheeses like Brie or Camembert.

Rich, dairy-like aroma.

Earthy

If your cheese smells Earthy, think of mushrooms or damp soil. This characteristic is found in cheeses such as Limburger.

Smell of soil, mushrooms, or truffles.

Herbaceous

With Herbaceous aromas, expect to be reminded of fresh-cut grass or herbs, which adds a refreshing touch to the cheese.

Fresh herb smells like thyme or rosemary.

Pungent

Pungent aromas are strong and can sometimes be overpowering. They’re typical in washed-rind cheeses.

Strong, assertive smells, often from washed rind cheeses.

Milky

If you detect a Milky scent, you’ll be reminded of fresh cream or milk. This is a telltale sign of a very fresh cheese.

Fresh, dairy aroma.

Smoky

A Smoky aroma will transport you to a campfire or smoked meats. You can often find this in gouda that has been smoke-cured.

Aroma of wood smoke or char.

Floral

Floral notes can be subtle, resembling a field of wildflowers or blooming gardens, lending a delicate nuance.

Hints of flowers like lavender or chamomile.

Sweet

Sweet fragrances are similar to caramel or butterscotch and are pleasing to the nose, indicating a potentially dessert-friendly cheese.

Aromas of caramel, honey, or vanilla.

Spicy

Finally, Spicy aromas will have you thinking of peppercorns or even cloves, suggesting a cheese that packs a bit of heat.

Smell of added spices or peppers.

Appearance Notes

When examining a cheese, your eyes are your first tool for assessing its character and quality. Now, let’s get up close and personal with each visual attribute.

Rind

The rind of a cheese can tell you a lot about its aging process and flavor profile. For instance, a bloomy rind usually has a white, fluffy appearance that indicates a creamy texture within, like that found on a Camembert.

Descriptions of the cheese's outer layer, such as bloomy, washed, natural, or waxed.

Color

Color can range from pure white to deep orange. It’s an indicator of the type of milk used and possibly the addition of coloring agents such as annatto, which is common in cheeses like Red Leicester.

The color of the cheese, which can range from white, yellow, and orange to blue or grey.

Veining

Cheeses such as Roquefort have distinctive veining patterns caused by molds that also impact flavor—expect boldness from blues with heavy veining.

The presence of veins, often blue or green, in blue cheeses.

Crust

The crust may develop on aged cheeses, like on a well-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, and usually signifies a mature flavor profile.

The outer texture, which can be smooth, rough, or cracked.

Interior

The interior, or ‘paste’, of the cheese should be consistent with its type. For example, a gouda should be dense and smooth, while an aged cheddar might display small, crunchy crystals.

The cheese's inner appearance, which can be smooth, dotted, marbled, or solid.

Shape

Shape varies from wheel to block to pyramid and can affect the maturation and thus, the taste of the cheese. Brie, traditionally crafted into wheels, ripens differently than a pyramid-shaped Valençay.

The form of the cheese, whether it is round, square, wheel-shaped, or wedge.

Moisture

Lastly, moisture content can be seen and felt. Cheeses with a high moisture content like mozzarella will be springy and moist, while dry aged cheeses may be crumbly.

The level of moisture visible in the cheese, indicating if it is dry, moist, or wet.

Mouthfeel Notes

When you’re tasting cheese, the texture as it interacts with your mouth—known as the “mouthfeel”—is as important as flavor. Different cheeses can give a variety of textures, each creating a unique experience.

Melty

Melty cheese feels smooth and often becomes runny when heated. Imagine the enjoyable sensation of warm brie or mozzarella stretching beautifully between your bite and the remainder of the slice.

How the cheese melts in your mouth, often associated with soft cheeses.

Cooling

Cheese that provides a cooling sensation may have a high moisture content. Fresh cheeses like cottage cheese or cream cheese often leave a cool, refreshing feel in your mouth.

A sensation of coolness, often found in fresh cheeses.

Grainy

A grainy texture in cheese, like that in aged parmesan, can leave tiny granular bits on your tongue. These dissolve slowly, adding depth to the experience.

Slightly gritty feel, typical in some aged cheeses.

Waxy

Waxy cheeses have a firm, often pliable touch. When you chew them, like Gouda or Edam, they don’t melt quickly and maintain a smooth, durable texture.

A coating sensation in the mouth.

Tacky

If you’re tasting a cheese that feels tacky or sticky, it might cling to your teeth a bit. Some aged cheddars have this texture, but it’s a pleasant way that prolongs the flavor.

Slightly sticky texture.

Oily

High-fat cheeses may have an oily mouthfeel. Cheeses like triple crèmes can coat your palate, leaving a rich, buttery finish.

Slick, oily sensation, often in aged or high-fat cheeses.

Fibrous

Fibrous textures in cheese, more common in aged varieties like an aged provolone, provide a more substantial chewy experience and linger on your palate.

Slightly stringy texture.

Chalky

Lastly, chalky cheeses, which are often young, fresh cheeses like goat cheese, might crumble and dissolve quickly, leaving a dry but clean taste in your mouth.

Powdery, dry sensation.

Visual Cues

When tasting cheese, your eyes are the first to feast, and they can tell you a lot about its quality and taste. These visual cues can help you anticipate the cheese’s flavor profile before it even hits your palate.

Eyes

The eyes, or holes, in cheese are formed due to the fermentation process. Cheeses like Swiss and Gruyère are known for their notable eyes. The size and number of eyes can hint at the cheese’s age and flavor intensity.

Presence and size of holes in the cheese, typical in Swiss-style cheeses.

Bloom

Bloom refers to the fluffy white rind on cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, which comes from beneficial mold growth. This rind is a sign of proper maturation, and it influences the cheese’s tanginess and depth of flavor.

The fluffy, white rind on bloomy rind cheeses.

Marbling

Cheeses with marbling have streaks or spots of mold, often of a blue or green shade, giving indication to the distribution of flavors, like the robust taste found in Blue cheese. Marbling can significantly impact the sharpness and intensity of the cheese.

Patterns of blue or green veins in blue cheeses.

Crystals

When you spot crystals on hard, aged cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, it’s a signal of well-developed flavor and crunchiness. These crunchy bits are often tyrosine or calcium lactate crystals, indicating a long aging process.

Presence of calcium lactate or tyrosine crystals, indicating age.

Conclusion

Start your cheese-tasting journey with confidence and curiosity.

Tasting cheese involves engaging your senses and noting your experiences. Remember to:

  • Prepare: Let your cheeses reach room temperature for full flavor expression.
  • Assess Visually: Look at the texture, color, and shape. Is the rind bloomy or washed? Is the color consistent?
  • Touch and Smell: Feel the cheese for firmness or creaminess. Inhale for a prelude to the flavors you might expect.
  • Taste: Let the cheese coat your palate. Is it buttery, sharp, or nutty?
  • Record: Keep notes of your impressions using a Cheese Tasting Sheet to track the flavors and textures you discover.

Always be open to trying new types of cheese and revisiting ones you’ve tried before. Your palate might surprise you by evolving over time.

Happy tasting, and may your cheese discoveries be as delightful and diverse as the cheeses themselves!