Taleggio, that squishy soft and fragrant piece of gooey loveliness has a history stretching back to the 10th or 11th century. Originally from the Val Taleggio, in the foothills of the Italian Alps, history has it that the name comes from the word ‘stracchino’ which means stretched or exhausted and refers not to the cheese making process but to the state of the cows following the treck down the alps from the summer pastures. Thankfully, cows do not have to walk for miles in modern cheese times.
Taleggio is described as a smear-ripened soft cheese which, to my mind, conjures up a sultry, and slightly tipsy, Gina Lollobrigida in a country smock, all flashing eyes and mouth. Anyway – I think the image sums up the cheese. The rind is soft and thin with a rosy light-brown colour and a golden straw cheese under the crust. The aroma that hits you when you unripe your slightly oozing square of Taleggio is unique – a hint of grass meadow when young, a definite whiff of sweet silage straw when older. With a delicate taste and tang, it is best enjoyed ‘smeared’ over your finest bread accompanied by a dark pilsner, a fruity young white wine like Gewurztraminer or a robust Valpolicella.
It is also excellent as a cooking/melting cheese. Nigel Slater is particularly fond of slow fried potato with thyme and the cheese melted in the pan. My love affair with this cheese is now permanent as it is the perfect cheese for Cauliflower Cheese – nothing needed except steamed cauliflower, the cheese herself and a scattering of sea salt, grated black pepper and sprinkle of fresh rosemary. Slip the cheese in thin squares over the cauliflower and grill for five minutes or until the cheese is melted. Eat on its own (if your feeling greedy) or as an accompaniment to your main meal.