How's a cheesemaker to know when a cheese is done aging, without breaking into the entire wheel? To ripen properly — never mind evenly — cheeses need to remain whole, so it's pretty wasteful to remove an entire test slice for the sole purpose of tasting how it's coming along.
But cheesemaking isn't guesswork, and sometimes it's necessary to figure out what's going on beneath the rind. Luckily, there's a tool that does just this.
The name says it all: it's called a cheese trier. Almost resembling an apple corer, but substantially longer and more narrow, a cheese trier is a metal instrument that pulls out a cross-section from a cheese wheel. Since most cheeses age from the outside in, the area just beneath the core will be more mature than the very center. The tool is really effective since you can get a sampling of different parts of the wheel.
Typically, a cheese trier is great for testing the readiness of large wheels of cheese, like parmesans, cheddars, and mountain cheeses, but you can use them to taste smaller wheels, too, like natural-rinded cheeses and washed rinds. It's important to know how a cheese tastes during the aging process, since the methods of affinage may change accordingly. But mainly, how else is one to know when a cheese is ready for sale than by the way it tastes?
After tasting, the plug goes back into the hole that it made (so it's important not to eat the entire sample, especially the part just beneath the rind). And while the bit of cheese removed with the trier will leave a small hole in the paste of the cheese (no, the pocket won't fill in over time), it doesn't affect the aging too dramatically.
Occasionally, you'll find a wedge of cheese that you can tell was the tester wheel, as it may have a small, circular hole where someone tasted. This is quality control at its best, and luckily, most cheese is sold by the pound, so you won't be paying for that empty air pocket in the middle of your piece of cheese.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and used to be 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 and food stylist on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: How To Taste Cheese: The Cheesemonger
(Images: Jos Vulto, of Heinennellie, used with permission.)