Hooked On Cheese: The True Taste Of Truffles

I recently popped into one of my favorite specialty food stores to peruse their latest offerings and was greeted by a gentleman passing out samples of truffle cheese. Now, I love truffles as much as anyone who's been fortunate enough to have tried them, but I've rarely found that truffle cheese is a justified use of the precious, extremely expensive fungus. I quickly slipped by, but on my way out of the store, the guy caught me off guard and inquired if I wanted a try. Before I could say "no thanks," he asked my name; it turned out he was someone I knew from the cheese business ten years ago, but hadn't seen since. As we reminisced of days gone by, I selected a small piece of the cheese.

I lifted the sample to my nose and took in the scent, as I do with almost any cheese I eat, since a lot of flavor can be discerned from simply smelling a cheese. Wow: this smelled of rich truffles without the telltale penetrating odor of truffle oil, which has no truffle in it, just "aroma," whatever that is. My old associate told me this cheese was Moliterno al Tartufo, a sheep's milk cheese from Sardinia. He watched me examine the rind and described how it was handmade using wicker baskets for cheese molds, unlike the usual plastic molds most dairies use. This cheese was fantastic. The truffles were flavorful but not overpowering. The sheepy taste was muted because of the aging for over 6 months (younger cheese will have a stronger sheep flavor.) When I asked how the dairy could produce such a balanced flavor profile, he explained that the truffles were added after the cheese had aged for 3 months.

As I was picking a piece to buy, I tried to remember the last time I actually bought a truffled cheese; I honestly couldn't recall when that was, it had been so long.

Later on that day, I met up with my adventurous foodie friend Lily to eat some cheese and chat; she had brought some great bread from a Turkish restaurant she frequents, as well as an interesting white wine for us to try with the cheeses. It was a white Pinot Noir from Oregon: the Tendril 2014 Pretender, which had moderate citrus notes and lovely mineral-forward flavors. I saved the truffle cheese for the end of our tasting; it was the perfect pairing with the wine, warmed bread and a sliced Honeycrisp apple.

You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.

When fate gives you truffles, enjoy them.