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Taleggio cheese is a mild cheese that comes from the Lombardy region of Italy and has a deceptively pungent and tangy aroma. Also known as Stracchino di Milano or stracchino, this cheese is made from cow's milk and has a thin salted crust. Traditionally, taleggio is aged on wooden planks in caves for six to ten weeks. To promote the growth of mold and prevent discoloration of the cheese, it is washed weekly with a seawater sponge.
Traditional taleggio cheese is made with raw, whole cow's milk. Taleggio cheese made with unpasteurized milk is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and cannot be imported into the United States. Modern taleggio cheese is made with pasteurized milk in factories and aged in cellars. This process lends a brighter color to the finished product. Other ingredients, such as spices, nuts, and raisins, are sometimes used to add flavor and texture to the cheese. It has an extremely high fat content that approaches 50 percent.
Taleggio cheese is widely considered to be one of the world's oldest soft cheeses and dates to before the 10th century A.D. The cheese melts smoothly and easily and has been commonly referred to as salty, fruity, mellow, creamy, and even stinky. It has a washed rind with a reddish-orange color and becomes softer the longer it ages. Its flavor and color also deepen as it ages. Once the cheese is cut, the aging process will cease.
Wines that pair well with taleggio cheese include Italian Nebbiolo wines, Merlot, Riesling, and Sauternes. Other appropriate wine pairings are Barolo, Soave, Chianti Riserva, or Barbaresco. Many people enjoy it spread on crusty Italian bread, paired with fruit, or melted on pasta. It can also be used in salads, bruschetta, polenta, and risotto.
The name taleggio comes from the Val Taleggio — an alpine valley in the Italian region of Lombardy. Val Taleggio is shared between the provinces of Bergamo and Lecco. It is well known for its cow's-milk cheeses, such as taleggio cheese.
There are variations in the preparation of taleggio cheese. When the rind is covered with mold, patches of green or gray mold may be seen on it. These patches of mold are commonly called bloom. Instead of encouraging mold to grow on the rind by washing it with a seawater sponge, the cheese can be coated in wax. The most common shapes for this cheese are rectangles and squares.