I never used to be tolerant of spicy food. And so I decided one summer ten years ago to change that, through a grueling and relentless dedication to all things spicy. It was rewarding. Because now, I regard hotness in food as a welcome enhancer of all things.
While it's true that spicy food presents different palatal challenges than does cheese, my anecdote of taste bud transformation does illustrates a point: If you're open to revisiting foods that you once found flawed, you may be able to change. And with change comes opportunity! (Especially in matters of cheese options.) But you may need help.
So I'll try to set aside that cheesemonger inability to understand how someone could ever be offended by any kind of cheese, and instead offer recommendations, emotional support, and tactics for conquering your fears and opening your mind to the four most-shunned types of cheese. Because really, there's so much to gain from learning to love something new, especially if the only thing at risk is a bit of caloric sacrifice.
The first thing to keep in mind, if you so choose to conquer your cheese fears, is to have an open mind. Taste buds change, and so can you. Your less-than-favorable associations with certain types of cheese may simply be linked to an unfortunate experience. Don't let one bad sheep ruin your opinion of the whole flock! So while you may think that your pickiness stems from a general dislike of a specific types of cheese, you may just be under an old assumption from a bad memory.
Cheese Type: Stinky Cheese
Why the Bad Rap? The name says it all: these cheeses smell. But more often than not, the strongest thing about washed-rinds (the technical name for this category) is not the taste, but the smell itself. Some of the best stinky cheeses around are actually sweet tasting, with an eggy, custard-like consistency and flavor. Be afraid of the bark, but not the bite.
How Best to (Re-)Approach: Not every washed rind cheese tastes strong. Perhaps an especially imposing culprit caused such offense during your last try? Go for the inner paste of the cheese first. The rinds of these cheeses can be bitter, and if not bitter, then at the very least, they're much stronger. The more mild flavors live toward the center of the cheese. For an especially harmonious trio, do as the monks did and eat these cheeses with good beer and bread, both of which will act as tamers. And make sure you're not buying overripe cheese, as age is most definitely the number one enemy of this style.
Sure-Fire Ones to Try: Abbaye de Tamie, Cowgirl Creamery Redhawk, Epoisses, Gabietou, Haystack Mountain Haystack Peak, Langres, Meadowcreek Dairy Grayson, Raclette, Reblochon, Taleggio
Cheese Type: Goat Cheese
Why the Bad Rap? Some people are put off by the "goatiness" or gaminess of goat cheese. Bad goat cheese is just that: unbalanced, too tangy, and with a strong, goaty kick. I have a friend who says that she feels ill from the mere smell of goat cheese. I'm not convinced that she's ever had a really great goat cheese in the first place!
How Best to (Re-)Approach: Go mild and young to start. Seek out the best fresh local goat cheese. The further a fresh cheese has to travel, the further from fresh tasting it gets. So while a French fresh goat cheese may seem more alluring, it's sure to be weeks older-- and therefore, more mature in terms of flavor-- than something you can find at your local farmer's market. Other great options for non-goat lovers are washed rind goat cheeses or aged goat cheeses, which taste not at all of the goat. Goat cheese has incredible affinity for sweet condiments. Honey, sugared nuts, fig cakes, and dried fruit are great enhancers. Still too antsy about re-trying straight-up goat cheese? Consider mixed milk cheeses, which are made with a portion of goat milk and a portion of something else.
Sure-Fire Ones to Try: Blue Ledge Farm Crottina, Capra Sarda, Garrotxa, goat brie, goat gouda, Lazy Lady cheeses, Le Chevre Noir, Mozzarella Company Hoja Santa, robiola of all varieties, Twig Farm cheeses, Vermont Butter and Cheese Coupole and Bonne Bouche
Cheese Type: Blue Cheese
Why the Bad Rap? Blue cheese is strong! The strongest of them can sting with an intense, peppery bite. They have a long finish, so the flavor stays with you long after your last swallow. Some people think that blues can taste bitter, or that they're just too salty.
How Best to (Re-)Approach: Going for a milder version seems to be the name of this game. Not every blue cheese is strong! Some could even be considered more mild than a sharp cheddar! Great blues are velvety on the tongue, like soft butter. If you've run into problems in the past, try blue alongside a glass of dessert wine or sweet sherry, which can balance the salt and enhance the creamy, more pleasing characteristics of a blue.
Sure-Fire Ones to Try: Fourme D'Ambert, Gorgonzola Dolce, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue or Bartlett Blue, La Peral, Lively Run Cayuga Blue, Persille du Beaujolais, Roaring 40's, Rogue River Blue
Cheese Type: Creamy Cheese
Why the Bad Rap? Soft, creamy cheeses are wrongfully considered to be more fattening, simply because they're gooey and rich tasting. These cheeses are too frequently ostracized for their supposed fat content, and if eaten with abandon, there's often unwarranted guilt involved. It's time to defend the defenseless.
How Best to (Re-)Approach: Get informed! Creamy cheeses are higher in moisture, meaning that they're made up of more water than fat compared to harder cheeses. Ounce for ounce, a creamy cheese will actually have less fat per units of dry measure than an aged, drier cheese. So while this shouldn't give you permission to gorge, you should feel more calm and less guilt about taking a schmear.
Sure-Fire Ones to Try: Brie de Meaux, Burrata, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, fresh ricotta, Forsterkase, Jasper Hill Farm Constant Bliss, La Tur, Nevat, St. Marcellin
Do you have any cheeses that make you squeamish? Or are you among the brave who have conquered a food aversion, through grueling and relentless dediction? And most importantly, has your transformation resulted in a bigger, brighter future?
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant TV chef on The Martha Stewart Show.