François Bourgon, of Xavier cheesemongers in Toulouse, who received the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 2011, which indicates that he ranks among the best cheesemakers in the whole of France, offers an answer to this puzzling question: “Personally, I would prefer to talk about expression levels… Taste is so personal or subjective or cultural or conditioned by our eating habits from a very early age, that the great cheesemakers have constructed this classification, by drawing on their own experience.”
This is a slightly acidic, even creamy and milky flavour. It is particularly found in extra fresh cheeses with either smooth or granular textures: soft white cheese, fromage blanc, cottage cheese, etc.
This flavour is typical of the majority of uncooked pressed cheeses made from pasteurised milk. But it also includes very newly refined cheeses (except veined and washed cheeses). “Neutral” cheeses generally suit those who do not appreciate cheese that is too strong.
This is particularly found in cream-enriched cheeses, as creaminess removes all aggressive tastes: it is present in Brillat Savarin, creamy Mont St Michel, etc. It’s also found in soft-ripened or uncooked pressed cheeses when they are in their newly-refined phase. These include very low-refined soft-rind cheeses, young St Nectaire for example.
This is in general found in all cheeses whose refining phases have been interrupted before full maturity: they include the soft variety (Camembert, Munster, Maroilles, Brie, Coulommiers, Chaource, St Maure, etc.) as well as hard cheeses at least 3 months’ old (Reblochon, Cantal, etc.). But equally included are the majority of those with slightly marked rinds of monastic manufacture, such as Cîteaux de l’Abbaye, or of special manufacture, for example, Vacherin Mont d’Or, Raclette, etc.
This flavour is often talked of as “cheeses of character”. It often refers to “well-produced cheeses”, not too thick, whose refining process is “just ripe”: included are Camembert AOC, raw-milk Brie, Bourguignon au Chablis, Curé Nantais, etc. The term is also used for well-refined and fruity firm cheeses, such as Beaufort. Certain rustic Tommes also have this flavour, including Auvergnates over 3 months old. Not forgetting early-season veined cheeses: Bleu des Causses.
This notion covers long-fermented thick soft cheeses, e.g. Livarot, Maroilles, Munster, etc. the smell of which is generally more powerful than their taste, well-refined veined cheeses e.g. Fourme d’Ambert, or Fourme de Montbrison, Bleu des Causses, hard thick cheeses nearing the end of the refining phase (6 months for a Fourme de Cantal, 10 – 22 months for a Beaufort or Comté).
Very strong flavour
This ranges from hot, even over-ripe, flavours and is a notion applied in general to macerated cheeses (Tomme matured in brandy, for example), to very slow-fermentation cheeses (Boulette d’Avesnes), and including some well-refined blues (Corsican blue, Roquefort); it also applies to special preparations (St Marcellin to Aromes au Gene de Marc, etc.).