WTF does SHARP (cheese) mean?
I blind tasted a whole lot of cheddar!
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(I’m sharing some of what I wrote over at Uproxx - you can read the whole story here!)
For cheese nerds and professionals, “sharp” can be a tricky term. Customers often seek sharp cheeses but it’s not clear what the term means. The imprecision can breed confusion, and different people think of sharpness differently.
“Sharp doesn’t necessarily align with packaging,” explains Evey Vaughn, a cheesemonger at New Seasons Market in Portland, Oregon. “It greatly muddies the waters when trying to engage customers on the topic.”
Cheese writer Janet Fletcher breaks down sharpness into four components: Glutamic acid, salt, lactic acid, and modern cultures. Even for experts, it’s hard to pin down the flavor components in cheddar and it’s equally hard to define that gorgeous je ne sais quoi of sharp. So what does sharp mean to me? It’s where intensity meets acid. Intensity is simply how powerfully the flavor hits in my mouth. Acid highlights and brightens. Like the acid in lemon or vinegar, it makes your mouth draw into a pucker. It makes you want more. It’s visceral. So for the purposes of this tasting:
Intensity + Acid = SHARPNESS.
Sharp is a great word because I really do think of a sort of knife to your palate and my editor said, “we want to talk about those cheeses that feel like they’ll cut your tongue.” As for why that note is so welcome in cheddar, it’s because it balances richness and creates dimension.
If you’re a cheese nerd/professional/lover - do you agree with my definition?