Our sense of smell is sensational. It sharpens our awareness, warns us of danger, influences our mood and even impacts who we are attracted to. Most importantly, smell is responsible for how we taste food. Of course our tongue experiences sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami, but our nose takes care of the rest, like the emotions we encounter when our smell memory kicks in. As children, our sense of smell is the strongest. If only our first encounter with B. (Brevibacterium) linens (the bacteria responsible for that pungent washed rind aroma) was experienced as a young child in grandmas kitchen along with her warm chocolate chip cookies. But most of our first encounters with B. linens were while suiting up in our itchy polyester uniform in the seventh grade gym locker room. This emotional memory can make it difficult to take the plunge into the world of washed rind cheeses, but it is worth the risk.
It can be especially difficult to turn people on to washed rind cheese for one main reason: the smell! There is no denying the aroma can be assaulting, but the flavor is often nutty, buttery and even fruity. Washed rind cheeses should be served at room temperature, which means they need at least a half hour out of the cooler before being ready. This allows the microorganisms inside the cheese to wake up and release their scent, permeating whatever room they reside in (and usually the neighboring room, too). For those who have learned to trust what their sense of smell tells them, measly attempts to coax them into a sliver of a stinker are often denied. However, if the bond between a noses memory and its taster can be broken, an addiction is born.
One of my favorite washed rind cheeses is Taleggio from Northern Italy. It is very aromatic, but tastes nothing like it smells. Taleggio is tangy and meaty, and has a pleasant melt-in-your-mouth feel that is quite exquisite. You wont be able to stop after just one bite! I love Taleggio with a chunk of baguette, wedge of honeycomb, pile of marcona almonds and a glass (or two) of Nebbiolo. Because Nebbiolo wines are rich and tannic they partner well with meaty, washed rind cheeses.