Taste the Difference

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Permit me to share a tribute to one cheese I consider great:  Azeitão.  This little Portuguese sheep’s milk drum makes me really happy.  First, there’s the anticipation, laced with curiosity:  Every Azeitão is a bit different; not one has ever disappointed.  When I get my hands on one, I can’t wait to cut into it.  A ripe Azeitão is a cheese I can enjoy on its own – no bread, no wine, not even any company required.  And there’s always the temptation to eat one whole, right down to the rind – it’s just that good. 

Ideally, an Azeitão will be a little plump and quite soft.  Its aroma, exuding from the rind alone, will be green and grassy with a note of olive.  To be in a room thick with the scent of several of these tender young things transports me to the south of Portugal in a heartbeat.  If it’s soft and melting and nobody’s looking, I’m tempted to cut out the top of my Azeitão, scoop out a delicious dollop with one finger and quickly pop it into my mouth.

The Azeitão’s first taste impression is buttery, with a scarce bit of salt thrown in.  The flavors widen quickly, however, offering vegetal notes; a trace of avocado appears, with a few drops of lemon juice for accent.  Then, a meatiness descends further back on the tongue – filet mignon…no, tenderloin of lamb, yet with a light fullness balanced by a lingering hint of bitterness.  Essence of ripe mango comes into play, its juices visiting the outer edges of the tongue.  This is getting really interesting: I don’t want it to end! The thick, creamy Azeitão falls away gracefully with a touch of peach and ground almond lending a tantalizing and refreshing sweetness to the finish.  I might try some of the rind to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  Then I’ll dive back into the paste to savor another leisurely mouthful of its delights.

- from Mastering Cheese, by Max McCalman and David Gibbons