by Ashley Linkletter | As far as cheese goes, Taleggio is quite sexy. It’s gentle and voluptuous, and it positively trembles under the weight of its own rich density. Made from the winter milk of cows, it’s a very old cheese that’s been in production in Italy’s Val Taleggio – an Alpine valley in Lombardy – for over two millenia (noted in the writings of Cato, Cicero, and Pliny the Elder, Taleggio can actually trace its origins to at least a couple of centuries before the foundation of the Roman Empire).
As a washed rind cheese, Taleggio is rubbed with seawater to help form an outer crust and to prevent unwanted mould growth as it ages in wooden boxes for 6-10 months (the boxes themselves contribute to the earthy straw notes of the rind in the finished cheese). Though it’s a raw milk cheese by tradition, there are now factory-made (and pasteurized) versions available, and like Pecorino, Asiago, Provolone, and 20 other Italian staple cheeses, it enjoys “Protected Designation of Origin” (PDO) status.
Eaten alone, Taleggio is a thick, creamy cheese with strong fruit notes and some faint lactic sourness on the finish. It’s most obvious food pairing is with mushrooms, the woodsier and more savoury the better (crimini and portobello work well). To wit, saute some mushrooms with white vermouth, garlic, and fresh thyme; pile them on some thick slices of white toast and then top with generous pieces of torn Taleggio. Give it a quick 5 minutes in a hot oven and you have an instantly satisfying and delicious dinner!
Alternatively, add Taleggio to your risotto in the last few minutes of cooking (instead of Parmesan), or stir some into your polenta and serve alongside an arugula salad. Taleggio also pairs well with sweet things and looks beautiful on a cheese plate beside fresh or dried figs finished with a quick drizzle of honey. Barberas and Pinot Noirs with overt berry notes love Taleggio; somehow the bright fruitiness of the wine makes the cheese seem even more buttery in taste and texture.