Savory and decadently umami, taleggio is another favorite cheese that I only get to enjoy occasionally.
Since it’s the holidays, I say bring out the stinky cheese! Taleggio is definitely stinky but absolutely worth getting past the olfactory insult because it is delicious and creamy. Taleggio gets its name from the caves of Val Taleggio in Italy. First recorded history of Taleggio cheese is around the 9th century. Although, it was not always called Taleggio, originally it was named Stracchino quadrodi Milano, it isn’t until the 1900’s that it became known as Taleggio and acquired the Protected Designation of Origin. It is made from cow's milk and aged in caves.
One interesting thing about Taleggio is that it is made into squares, not rounds or wheels. It is also what is considered a smear-ripened cheese. Sounds a little gross, but really it just means that the outside is washed with a solution containing a particular strain of bacteria. This is what contributes to the unique flavor that develops as it ripens the interesting color of the rind.
From a culinary perspective, Taleggio is interesting. The smell suggests that it will have a strong flavor and fool one into serving it up with bits and pieces that will handle the insinuated palate. However, don’t be fooled, it is actually quite mild, although it has a very complex flavor pattern. Taleggio is a soft white cheese so it can be added to just about any recipe calling for a soft white cheese. It is delicious melted on sandwiches and into risottos or cheese based culinary creations. My favorite way to eat Taleggio? With a hunk of freshly baked warm sourdough bread and maybe even a glass of red wine. Seriously, a treat to be sought out.
From a health perspective, because Taleggio is ripened in a similar way to blue, it has many of the same properties for health. It is a great source of vitamins and minerals, namely B vitamins, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It is heart friendly and contributes to a decrease in oxidative stress and systemic inflammation. It also has a teeth whitening quality, helping to decrease plaque and support healthy gums.
Caveat: unfortunately, in the U.S. we do not honor the protected origin, so if you are buying U.S. produced “taleggio” it isn’t really taleggio. What makes Taleggio what it is, is the bacteria and yeast found in the Lombardy region. This doesn’t mean that the cheeses produced here are any less tasty, it just means they aren’t as authentic. I highly recommend going for a traditional PDO Taleggio from Italy at first, then if you want to try some local brands, by all means give it a go.