While mild cheeses have their place, I love cutting into a round of a runny, stinky cheese. French, Italian, American; I don't care where it's from as long as it's creamy and delicious and yes, a little stinky. On a recent trip to Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City I rediscovered one of my favorites: Taleggio, a cow's milk cheese from the Lombardy region of Italy. While it's not as strong as some other stinky cheeses out there, it has an earthy, nutty, almost fruity flavor and a pronounced smell of a barnyard. (But it should never smell of ammonia; this indicates the cheese has gone bad.)
This is a washed-rind cheese, which means it has literally been washed during the ripening process (it's aged for 35 to 40 days). The wash also can be used to finish the cheese, which imparts a certain flavor to the cheese. Taleggio has an interesting history: it's been made in Italy since the 9th century, when cheesemakers washed it with saltwater-soaked sponges. Raw and pasteurized forms are available, and you'll find it in almost any gourmet market or cheese shop. Taleggio can be used in myriad ways: in a grilled cheese sandwich, as a fondue cheese, mixed in a polenta or pasta, or just served with a crusty loaf of bread. Try it with wines from Northern Italy: the crisp white Verdicchio or the red Barbera or Valpolicella.
Photo courtesy Murray's Cheese