The Italian cheese industry is a treasure chest that can deliver surprising gems when it’s appropriately explored. The trouble is even we, food lovers, can be somewhat chauvinistic in our choices. Not that we’re averse to trying new things, far from it: we’re always open to new flavors. But it can be hard to let go of safe choices like Mozzarella and Cheddar and switch them for new, untested cheese varieties when you can’t be sure if the taste is something you’ll enjoy, when you should be using them, or how.
This guide is specifically designed for people who’re having trouble deciding whether or not Taleggio cheese is something they should add to their shopping carts. We’d like to say that an answer is a resounding yes for any true epicure, but we also understand that lesser-known, piquant cheeses may not be up to everyone’s alley. Having the correct information is essential to making informed decisions you won’t regret.
What is Taleggio Cheese?
Taleggio is a type of soft Italian cheese, washed-rind and smear-ripened. It’s made from whole cow’s milk. The milk can be both pasteurized and unpasteurized, though the former is much more common as large commercial producers typically opt for pasteurized milk.
Taleggio is one of the oldest Italian cheeses, with its proto-version at the very least (if not what we consider traditional Taleggio nowadays) being around since Roman times.
Texture: Taleggio texture ranges from semi-soft to soft, creamy, and somewhat spreadable. On the outside, it’s covered with a thin, coarse crust. The cheese is softer on the outer side, closer to the rind, and gets denser and firmer towards the center. The crust is not only edible but is considered a great combination with its soft and smooth interior. You aren’t obliged to eat it if you’re not fond of cheese crust, but it would be considered a waste to dispose of it.
Color: Taleggio cheese color ranges from bone white to pale yellow on the inside. The rind is more of a toss-up and can vary from pale pink to intense orange with a bit of grey and green mold tagging on top. That said, remember that Taleggio is not a blue cheese variety. While the presence of mold on the crust is expected, the interior should be completely mold-free. If you notice any mold in the cheese paste itself, dispose of it immediately, as it’s a sure sign of spoilage.
Flavor Profile: Taleggio has a robust and complex flavor profile. The most forward flavor notes are nuts and fruits, with creamy and buttery notes distinctly noticeable underneath. Taleggio isn’t overtly tangy, but there’s a distinct tartness present in the aftertaste.
Aroma: Strong aroma is one of the most noticeable aspects of Taleggio cheese. It’s not pungent, precisely, but it’s stronger than many other kinds of soft Italian cheese like Mozzarella, Ricotta, Mascarpone, etc.
Taleggio has been granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the EU, which means authentic Taleggio can only be produced in certain specifically designated areas in the Lombardy, Veneto, and Piedmont regions.
What Does Taleggio Cheese Taste Like?
While Taleggio’s flavor profile is rather complex, the taste isn’t as overwhelming as one might expect. On the contrary, it’s relatively mellow and creamy akin to Mozzarella (though Taleggio is undoubtedly more robust). The aftertaste comes with just a touch of saltiness and pleasant acidity that doesn’t go into a sharp bite.
Taleggio is neither overtly sweet nor savory; instead, it catches the balance of being rich without causing discomfort. It’s a very versatile, pleasant flavor that pairs well with most other ingredients.
How is Taleggio Cheese Made?
Taleggio production is a seasonal affair that takes place during Autumn and Winter.
The process of making Taleggio starts by making cheese curds from acidified milk (either raw or pasteurized) mixed with rennet. Fresh cheese curds are then separated a few times to expel excess whey. The curds are then deposited into signature square Taleggio molds and left until what remains of the whey is completely drained.
Once drained, they’re brined by hand and transferred to seasoned wooden shelves, where they’re supposed to age for approximately 25 to 60 days. Unlike many other types of cheese, Taleggio aging is a hands-on process: the cheese blocks need to be turned regularly to ensure the salt is spread evenly. They’re washed with a seawater sponge about once a week to ensure the mold doesn’t spread inside the cheese paste, and the outside develops the signature thin crust. The crust must range from rose-pink to orange in color.
Once 25 days have passed, Taleggio is either deemed ready for packaging or held to age for a few more days (the aging length varies from recipe to recipe and thus from producer to producer).
The Taleggio cheese production process must adhere to certain standards as it has been granted protected status (PDO/DOP). No additives or filters can be used during the process; the flavor relies only on the quality of cow’s milk.
What is Taleggio Cheese Good For?
Taleggio cheese’s mellow flavor and excellent melting qualities make it nigh-ideal cheese for cooking and baking. While it’s already great as it is (and makes an excellent basis for fondues and souffle), not adding it to more complex dishes is a greatly missed opportunity.
Taleggio cheese is great for melting into savory dishes like quiches, gratins, polenta, pasta sauces, and soups, adding extra flavor and luxurious stretchy texture.
It goes well with most ingredients, but poultry, leafy greens, and neutral vegetables seem to be the best pairing for it. Mellow but flavorful Taleggio can accentuate those flavors with no risk of overpowering them. Spinach and bacon quiche, grilled zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, etc., or quick chicken soup are all great options to try.
It also makes a great topping when grated on salads, pizza, risotto, etc.
What to Pair with Taleggio Cheese:
Taleggio is a rather complex combination of a strong aroma with a mellow but robust flavor. It’s not overpowering, but it’s not easily overwhelmed, either.
As such, it has the versatility of being good with more neutral ingredients (such as the aforementioned leafy greens and vegetables) but can hold its own against more flavorful ingredients as well.
Taleggio makes a good pairing with delicate, moderately savory (and sometimes a bit sweet) Italian cured meats like prosciutto, pancetta, porchetta, and mortadella.
It’s a frequent choice for a dessert, either by itself with some wine or with moderately sweet, crisp, and a bit tangy fruit, like apples, pears, berries, and grapes are all going to work fine with Taleggio.
When it comes to drinks, Taleggio is customarily paired with medium or full-bodied red wines like Merlot, Barbaresco, Barolo, and Chianti.
Top 5 Kinds of Cheese to Substitute with Taleggio
Since Taleggio isn’t as well-known as some other types of soft Italian cheese, most people have little idea how to utilize it, aside from enjoying it raw, either by itself with some crackers and wine or as a sandwich ingredient.
And while it’s by no means a wrong manner to have it, Taleggio can be much more versatile if allowed. The easiest way would be simply substituting certain other cheeses for Taleggio in recipes you already know how to cook. Here are five cheese varieties that are closest to Taleggio in texture and flavor.
Brie is considered the closest alternative to Taleggio in flavor and texture. It’s also a smear-ripened cheese with a soft, spreadable texture and creamy, fruity taste. The significant difference between the two is the strength of the flavor profile: where Brie is subtler and sweeter, Taleggio is more robust, with a noticeable tang. Brie is also softer and creamier than Taleggio, while the latter is nuttier. Taleggio is an excellent option to swap for Brie if you have no problem with stronger flavors.
Similar to Brie in looks and texture, it’s not a surprise that Camembert is another option you can easily substitute with Taleggio cheese. Frankly, replacing Camembert for Taleggio can work even better since it’s more intensely flavored than Brie. Taleggio cheese is arguably mellower than Camembert with its intense mushroomy and earthy flavor, but the texture, aroma, and nutty flavor work well enough.
Fontina is another washed-rind Italian cheese. Taleggio can make a good substitute for it due to the similar flavor notes: Fontina has a similar tangy and nutty flavor, and while its texture isn’t soft, it has excellent melting qualities, which makes it easier to swap for it when cooking more complicated dishes. If you’ve ever made pasta, risotto, or fondue using Fontina cheese, then you’ve got a great reference point to go off on when cooking with Taleggio.
Limburger might be the most controversial cheese on the list due to its pungent aroma. If you’ve tasted Limburger and liked the flavor but could do without the aroma, then Taleggio cheese might be just the alternative you need. While the Taleggio cheese smell is also strong, it’s not as pungent as Limburger’s, and it has a similar soft, melty texture making the swapping process easy. Taleggio and Limburger share nutty and creamy flavor notes, though Limburger is earthier, with somewhat mushroomy undertones.
Gruyere comes second only to Brie regarding expert advice on which cheese to swap with Taleggio, and some would argue it’s an even better fit. The trick is knowing which type of Gruyere you’re switching: Taleggio works fantastic as a substitute for Mild Gruyere (Doux), but it may not be strong enough for well-aged Gruyere with a more complex, sweet, but earthy flavor. On the other hand, Young Gruyere has a similar creamy and nutty flavor, making Taleggio cheese one of its closest substitutes.
Visit Yummy Bazaar’s Cheese Store for More Options:
Yummy Bazaar hosts a wide assortment of gourmet and artisan cheese produced by some of the most renowned manufacturers from around the world at our online cheese store. Not only will you find easy access to the prized authentic Taleggio cheese, but you can also check out other cheese varieties, including those we’ve been advised to substitute for Taleggio (and vice versa). There’s no better way to learn about cheese than by giving it a taste and comparing and contrasting different flavors on your own.
If you decide to try it, don’t forget to let us know which cheese you think is closest to Taleggio in flavor and texture. The Yummy Bazaar team disagreed quite a lot, and we all stayed true to our initial opinions in the end, which doesn’t happen that often. We’d be grateful for your input to decide the clear winner.