Here in North America Taleggio DOP cheese might not be as famous as some its compatriots like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, or Gorgonzola, but for aficionados it’s one of Italy’s finest cheeses. Mark Cirillo, writer and editor of CucinaTO, explores the nuances of this special cheese.
Like many Italian DOP products, Taleggio gets its name from its place of origin – the Taleggio Valley in the Northern Italian region of Lombardy. It’s a remote, mountainous region dotted with natural caves that are ideally suited for aging the cheese in the autumn and winter months when Taleggio is traditionally made.
Taleggio is a versatile semi-soft cheese, made from whole cow’s milk. Despite its slightly pungent odour, it has a delicate taste, with fruity and buttery notes and a hint of truffle in its finish. The exterior has light pink or orange hue due to its smear-ripening (brine washing) process, and while the rind is meant to be eaten, it’s a good idea to brush it with a damp cloth before doing so. Taleggio is sometimes referred to as a stracchino cheese – from the word stracca, meaning “tired” – a reference to the fatigue of the cattle as they return from grazing on the steep slopes of their Alpine meadows. The cows’ fatigue increases the levels of butterfat, which ultimately makes for a richer, creamier cheese.
Taleggio is best enjoyed at room temperature, so take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before serving. Pair it with sweet flavours like fresh fruit or honey, bitter leaves like endive, or simply spread it on a slice of crusty Italian bread. Because of its soft texture and subtle taste, Taleggio is also a great recipe ingredient. Use it as a base for cream sauces on pasta, gnocchi or risotto, add it to pizzas or frittatas, or substitute it for mozzarella in a lasagna or parmigiana for a bolder, creamier alternative to these classic dishes.
As for wine pairing, Taleggio goes well with flavourful reds like Barbera, Valpolicella or Merlot, but on a hot summer day it’s also the perfect complement to something cool and fruity, like Pinot Bianco or Verdicchio.