Once you get past the domineering dual giants of Parmigiano and Pecorino, Italy produces a wonderful array of complex cheeses, worthy of attention. Spearheading this line of underdogs, though popular in its own right, is Taleggio. An ancient cheese (the Taleggio Cheese Protection Union, an organization responsible for protecting the name Taleggio, claims its roots go back before the 10th century), Taleggio is a fine example from an area which produces excellent cheeses (many of which, like Gorgonzola and Marscapone, have been equally as corrupted by factory production).
It is best to avoid the rind on this cheese. I’m not a big fan of eating the rind on washed-rinds. They tend to be overly strong and still house grains of salt from its numerous brine washes. In addition, Taleggio’s is definitely on the thick side, making it a bit of an overpowering, chewy experience. Inside, though, lies the treasure! Rich, sour, meaty and strongly fruity, it manages to personify all that I love about this type of cheese.
Much like cheeses I’ve written about previously, quality varies wildly. As always, the finest selections are raw milk and from small producers. The worst examples, pasteurized slabs of bland cheese, do little justice to the name. Sometimes the rind is not even truly washed, but instead dyed red to try to mimic the look of authentic washed rinds. Always ask to try a sample before purchasing. A perfectly ripe example will be practically flowing uncontrollably from its rind. Be forewarned, though, once the interior is exposed it will quickly begin to brown. I’ve found that within 2 days, it will turn from a ivory into a light brown and longer than that, well, it’s best to trim off the edge and go from there. If you’re interested in trying something similar, Meadow Creek (Virginia) makes an excellent cheese based on the Taleggio recipe called Grayson. Made from raw milk from their own herd of Jersey cows, I’d pick up Grayson in place of a factory-produced Taleggio any day.
Taleggio matches well with charcuterie and one of the best paninis I’ve had recently was a mix of Taleggio and speck, truly an excellent combination. Like many washed-rinds, I actually shy away from the typical hunk of baguette. Instead, I love it with whole grains breads and even strong sourdoughs.
Taleggio is widely available at most cheese shops, even the not-so-quality ones. I strongly encourage checking out the selections at your trusted local cheese shop. Because it has a large production, prices tend to be very modest. Murray’s Cheese has it for $11.99/lb. Artisanal has it for $11.50/lb. In addition, Saxelby Cheesemongers will be happy to sell you the previously mentioned Meadow Creek Grayson (call for pricing).