The age of a cheese, does it really matter?

Sometimes, but not always. Depends. So why then ask if the age of a cheese matters? Because it is a topic that at least some of us are concerned with. For me this has to do with integrity among other things.

the age of a cheese
Well matured Queso Cabrales from Asturias in Spain.

the age of a cheese is important

Listen; Age is not important, unless you are a cheese (Helen Hayes – 1900-1993. Amerikansk skuespiller.) There are probably more than one way to interpret that quote. There are, as far as I know, discussions throughout the trade whether maturing makes the cheese indefinitely better. I doubt it. This is a topic that concerns firm and hard cheeses, let that be mentioned. Last timer I observed this discussion was during Cheese 2017 and a tasting of firm and hard cheeses. I won’t go into that discussion, but what is beyond doubt is that there is a difference between a fresh and a matured cheese and whatever is in-between. Maturing is about breaking down proteins. During that process things happen. Notable things. Texture, flavour and aroma.

what’s the point?

Firstly age is all too seldom declared on cheeses. Some exceptions of course, such as Parmigiano Reggiano and many of the Alpine cheeses. As long as these are matured any longer than the minimum requirement, age will be stated. Because it matters. Not least price-wise. For other styles if you buy a whole cheese ready wrapped from the dairy, date of making is probably stated. Maybe coded, but that is solvable.
And this is very useful information. If a cheese is cut and re-wrapped by a retailer this is information that seems to disappear. Best before, yes, but that is of no real help as it says nothing about maturity.

Does it matter? In my opinion it does. It has to do with my expectations of flavour. And to those of you thinking “Best before” is for wimps and when it all really starts; for some cheese that’s so. For others, not. I do not want an “ancient” Brie. I avoid that by smelling at the cheese. So can you. Some cheeses turn bad or very opulent after a while. Remember cheeses are alive. Even though I want a cheese to challenge me, I want it to taste good.

the age of a cheese
This cheese is so mature it has gone rotten.

I am surprised there is seemingly no red line from the manufacturer straight through to the consumer telling anything about when the cheese was made, and consequently the age. With so many rules concerning cheese making I am surprised this does not seem to be mandatory. Traceability. If such rules are in place there is a lot of sloppiness around, though.

The world Champion phenomenon

Fanaosten won this year’s World Cheese Awards. Impressive. However, Fanaosten comes in a variety of ages and sizes. The winner was a cheese of about five kilos, matured for 13 months, according to information I have received. That is fine, of course. I have not tasted it. However, I have tasted one matured for 36 months or so, and from a 60-kilo-wheel. I assume that is quite a different cheese. The challenge is I am sensing an attitude that as long as Fanaosten won, it does not matter which one was the winner. They’re all world champions. In my opinion they’re not. That said, this generalisation is mostly from the retailers. But they influence their customers a well. A very good sales argument, of course. Whatever it takes.

I do not think this a very Norwegian issue though. I do expect some more precision, both to be fair to the consumers and to say something about what I as a consumer can expect.

Share your cheese knowledge

1 thought on “The age of a cheese, does it really matter?”

  1. Frode Rekve

    I couldn’t agreed more.
    Age is even often more important to the final consume experience, than the basic qualities of the milk, production etc.
    Either we are talking about cheeses that improves by maturing or cheeses that’s best consumed fresh.
    For a hard cheese as i.e. “Fanaosten” a 3 months old, 13 months or a 36, will appears totally different for the consumer.
    So different that they may appear as different cheeses.
    So if you buy the young one and believe that you have tastes the World cheese Award winner, I’m sorry.
    You been the victim of an illusion…
    Or of marketing…

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