They seek a language for cheese

murrayThe 21st century, at its birth, saw cheese researchers in something of a frenzy trying to solve the industry’s great language problem. The problem is this: say what you will, the taste of a cheese is hard to describe.

This cheese – this one! – is better than the others, you insist. But how can you say why? Which words would cause competent cheesiasts, munching this same cheese and hearing you speak, to all agree?

Researchers chose to concentrate on cheddar. One must start somewhere.

In 2000, Jane Murray [pictured here, above] and Conor Delahunty [pictured here, below] of University College Cork rejected all earlier cheese-language-making attempts, complaining that “the method by which these were selected” was vague.

delahuntyMurray and Delahunty went at it with 25 volunteer taster/talkers and samples of Ballyclough cheddar, unislim reduced-fat cheddar-type, and other cheddary cheeses available in Ireland. Their resulting paper,Selection of Standards to Reference Terms in a Cheddar-Type Cheese Flavour Language, serves up a list of 21 terms to be used singly or in judicious combination: pungent, caramel, sweaty, creamy, fruity, buttery, rancid, cheddary, mushroom, mouldy, nutty, smokey, soapy, processed, sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, astringent and balanced….

—So begins this month’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

BONUS (tangentially related): “How 17th Century Fraud Gave Rise To Bright Orange Cheese

Improbable Research