Taleggio (pronounced [taˈleddʒo]) is a semi-soft Italian cheese made from cow’s milk and named after Val Taleggio, an Alpine valley spanning 80 km2 (31 mi2) in the Bergamo province of Northern Italy’s Lombardy region.
A distinct and ancient cheese, the first mentions of taleggio can be traced back to documents from the 13th century, which—along with other cheeses such as grana—describe its trade and barter.
The Taleggio valley inhabitants started producing cheese to preserve excess cow’s milk by souring it, mixing it with calf rennet, and setting it to age for 40 days on wooden shelves in caves. Because of the use of calf’s rennet, taleggio cheese is not vegetarian.
Today, taleggio cheese is produced year-round and carries a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) from the Italian government and the European Union (EU).
Cheese labeled and sold as “Taleggio PDO” (or “Taleggio DOP” in Italian, both terms are regulated) can only be produced following a strict recipe and by authorized dairies in Italy’s Lombardy (Provinces of Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, and Pavia), Veneto (Province of Treviso) and Piedmont (Province of Novara) regions.
Taleggio is also known as a wet-rind cheese because of the way it’s produced.
Once a week during aging, the cheese blocks are turned and sponged down with generously salted water that keeps the rind soft and protects it from undesired molds. This allows the “desired” molds and yeasts to work their magic and produce the distinct skin on this cheese.
The result is a square-shaped block of cheese with a thin, soft, and edible pinkish-brown rind that’s blemished with grey and/or sage-green mold.
Taleggio cheese has a strong smell, the kind that only some cheese eaters would find appealing, which can be likened to wet grass on younger cheeses and body odor on more mature cheeses.
For those who can get over its pungent aroma, taleggio cheese conceals a surprisingly pleasant texture and mellow flavor that’s hard to mistake for any other cheese on this earth.
Soft and pasty close to the rind and firm and crumbly at the center, taleggio cheese has a pale yellow color and a sweet and nutty, slightly sour taste with a fruity undertone and a truffle aftertaste.
All in all, it’s a pleasantly light and very digestible cheese (with the rule of thumb being: the longer the cheese is aged, the more digestible it gets).
Taleggio cheese is a table cheese that can be eaten alone or cut into small triangles and served on a salumi platter without cutting away at the rind (it’s enough just to scrape off the mold). But it can also be melted on pasta dishes, pizza pies, and risottos.
The best knife for cutting taleggio is a soft cheese knife. This type of knife has a thin and straight blade with holes running through it, which help to keep the delicate cheese from sticking.
As with any wet-rind cheese, taleggio is a highly perishable dairy product that doesn’t have a long shelf life and should therefore be eaten shortly after purchase.
Tightly wrapped in parchment paper and kept in a food storage container or cheese keeper, taleggio cheese will last for 7-14 days in your fridge. It’s important not to cover this cheese in plastic wrap, as doing so will prevent it from breathing and encourage the growth of undesired molds.
Taleggio cheese can be frozen for prolonged storage of up to 12 months. To thaw taleggio cheese, transfer it to your fridge the night before you plan to eat it or cook with it. Depending on the size of the cheese, it can take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours for it to fully defrost.
While it’s okay for taleggio to have a strong odor and grey to green mold on the rind, mold on the inside of a block of taleggio cheese is a sign that it’s spoiled and unsafe to eat. So take it back to the store if you just bought it or discard it immediately if you stored it for too long.
The best substitutes for taleggio cheese are Italian Fontina, which has an equally strong smell, and French Gruyère, known for its pasty texture and creamy, nutty flavor. Other substitutes for taleggio include Munster-géromé for serving on a platter and Monterey Jack for melting.
Although taleggio cheese tends to have sage-green mold on its rind, it isn’t a blue cheese. Unlike gorgonzola, taleggio’s paste shouldn’t have any mold whatsoever.
Taleggio cheese is only supposed to be molded on the outside. If you see mold on the inside of the cheese (in other words, if the paste is moldy), this is a sign that the cheese hasn’t been stored properly and has most probably spoiled.
In terms of texture, aroma, and taste, taleggio cheese is closest to—albeit creamier than—Dutch gouda, English cheddar, French brie and comté, Italian fontina, and Swiss gruyère.
Taleggio and brie cheese are both soft cheeses made from cow’s milk. Compared to brie, taleggio has a softer rind. It’s pasty toward the rind and firm toward the center, whereas brie is more creamy and butter as a whole.
Taleggio cheese rind is edible, and offers an excellent contrast to the creamy interior. If you come across areas spotted with mold, gently scrape it off using the blade of your knife before serving.
Taleggio cheese is mostly made from pasteurized or unpasteurized cow’s milk. In some parts of Italy, however, taleggio can also be made from goat’s milk, in which case it’s labeled and sold as “nababbo.”