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What’s a “Nutty” Cheese?

wedge and crumbles of parmigiano cheese in front of wheel
My cheesemonger says I often like “nutty” cheeses. What does that really mean, given that I eat many different kinds of cheese?
The cheese descriptor “nutty” is one of the most commonly used and hardest to define for a cheesemonger. What one person calls nutty isn’t always the same for another person. Like wine, the language we use to describe cheese isn’t widespread or universally known (yet). It’s my job to figure out what “nutty” means for the customer, so I can serve him or her the best cheese for his or her palate. I will often begin with, “Do you usually like harder or softer cheeses?” and “Do you generally like cow, sheep, or goat’s milk cheese?”

If the customer has a preference, I’ll move forward with more specific flavor references. In general, though, the “nutty” cheeses that most people refer to are firmer, longer-aged cow or sheep’s milk wheels. But sometimes a soft-ripened Brie is what the customer thinks of as nutty, so it’s best to find more descriptors and sample some cheeses at the shop to crack that nut (so to speak). Once you have a cheesemonger who knows your palate, the cheese dialogue gets easier. As you taste and learn more about different cheeses and styles, your cheese vocabulary expands. Before you know it, you’ll be describing your cheese in all sorts of ways.

Ricardo Huijon

Originally from Guanujuato, Mexico, Ricardo Huijon has worked in both wine and cheese in California for the last 20 years and is known throughout Napa Valley as "The Cheese Guy." He is the cheese buyer and manager of the Oxbow Cheese Merchant in downtown Napa, CA.

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