The reason for this could be a standard one. Either the cheese was not cared for properly or it was not wrapped correctly. It could also not have been of good quality to begin with. These issues are of course avoided by purchasing at a quality shop that handles cheese properly. Precautions include proper ripening methods, proper wrapping and cleaning, and refacing cheeses when needed.
So, what could the other reason be for the difference in taste?
My question to the customer is this: Are you really asking for the right cheese? Below, I cover a few of the most common examples of mistaken identity when it comes to cheese.
I find that many people will ask for Spanish Manchego without further defining it. Most people are not aware that this cheese is available in both raw milk and pasteurized versions. In addition, it is available in three-month, six-month, one-year, and even older ages. If you were to compare a three-month pasteurized sample verses a one-year raw milk sample, you would discover a world of difference in taste – a new cheese altogether, in fact.
When it comes to Spanish Manchego, we usually carry an eight-month aged version. We feel this varietal has far more flavor than the one-year pasteurized version. And it is much more popular, by the way.
Everyone knows Swiss cheese… or do they? There are many imitation versions produced in many countries of the world, but there is only one true Emmentaler (also known as Switzerland Swiss). The true nutty flavor of this cheese has made it a popular favorite for centuries. Emmentaler is a great eating cheese, but it also melts well, is often a key ingredient in fondue, and it keeps very well.
Emmentaler, however, is another cheese that is available in many different ages: six-month, nine-month, one-year and even various older ages. Obviously, the taste of each age will vary dramatically, and this difference will also be noticeable when used in cooking. For example, a fondue made with a young cheese will likely turn out bland compared to a fondue made with an aged one. What did you buy last time?
Swiss Gruyere and French Comte
These two very similar cheeses share the same problem. They will vary from six months to eighteen months in age, therefore creating a vast difference in taste. Many will say they favor one cheese over the other, but are they comparing age or the cheese itself?
An eighteen-month cheese from one country cannot be properly compared to a six-month cheese from another country. Unless the country you buy from is important to you, it would be best to taste the difference for yourself rather than to choose by name.
Is a four-year aged Vermont cheddar better than a six-month Wisconsin? One could write a book on this topic. You will find all kinds of cheddars, ranging from six months to fifteen years old or older. It would be more important to know how the cheese was made, the time of year it was made, how it was aged, etc. in making a choice. I personally would not buy a cheddar merely because it comes from a specific state.
Brie vs. Camembert
From my experience, most people assume that camembert is stronger in taste than brie. Technically, both brie and camembert share the same exact recipe; the only difference is age. Aging will make one stronger than the other. There are also many different manufacturers of both varietals and they can vary dramatically. You may find either of these cheeses ranging in price from $4.00 to $20 per wheel, based on quality and age. Some are modeled after French raw milk cheeses, even though raw milk cheeses of this name are not actually allowed in the United States. These cheeses are more pungent than the others.
Very similar to cheddars, this family of cheeses will vary by age, ranging from a few months to as old as 12 years. Be aware of very old varietals; they can be just too hard in texture and lack the added value of a deeper taste.
The answer to finding that exact same cheese involves more than just knowing the name of it. When ordering, I advise to not only remember the name, but also the age and type of milk used to produce it. This is the best way to ensure you land on the very same cheese you enjoyed last time. It is also worth a moment of your time to jot down the details of a cheese you love.
I suggest that knowing the name of a cheese is perhaps less significant; taste is what is truly important in the end. Also bear in mind that not all cheese retailers carry the same selection. Better questions to ask might be something like the following:
“I like aged cheddars around three to four years old and I’m familiar with Vermont cheddars. What do you have in stock that I might like?”
“I’m making French onion soup and I like a well-aged Gruyere. What similar cheeses do you carry in this category?”
If you ask only for the name of a cheese you may not end up with the flavor you really wanted. Know more than just the name.
And as I always say, try before you buy.