by Zoë Björnson for USA TODAY 10Best

Vertical tastings are how to expand your cheese knowledge

There’s only one way to learn a lot about cheese – and it’s by eating a lot of cheese. Enter the vertical tasting: more or less tasting several variations of the same type of cheese. When it comes to setting up a vertical tasting, you have a few options.

Going granular

Select the same cheese at different points in the aging process or the same style of cheese made on different days. A tasting like this allows you to really taste how different flavors develop as a cheese ages.

Same cheese, different farm

Tasting the same cheese style from different producers allows you to explore the role geography plays in taste. This is where you’ll notice how the weather, grass and grazing habits of the cows play a big role in taste.

Gateway Cheeses

Renowned cheese expert Liz Thorpe created the concept of Gateway Cheeses. There are nine well-known cheeses with specific flavor and texture associations that serve as the gateways to hundreds of cheeses with similar qualities.

This way of tasting allows those new to cheese to start with something they know and like, eventually finding other cheeses with the same qualities to add to their cheese repertoire. What follows is a sample vertical tasting, focusing on brie as a Gateway.

Goat's brie

A goat’s milk brie provides a lighter alternative to the typical cow’s milk version. You’ll immediately notice that it has the classic bloomy rind of a brie, but is lighter in color. It's a little sweeter, and much less stinky, with a tangy flavor.

Green Hill, Sweet Grass Dairy

Being a few notches lower on the stinky spectrum is Green Hill from Sweet Grass Dairy. The cheese has a creamy texture and grassy flavor. Sometimes there are even notes of mushrooms.

Fromage de Meaux

Fromage de Meaux is the closest you can get in the U.S. to a true brie. Smoke, salt, cream and mushroom come through when tasting this cheese, and you’ll be left with a bit of a sour aftertaste.

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