Steve Jones can hear cheese ripen the way dogs can hear an epileptic seizure, or a Prius. Put a wedge of Pont l’Évêque on his board, and—like Sherlock Holmes determining the path of a man’s life by a hat he has left behind—he will divine not just its particular Norman provenance, but its importer, its distributor, its modes of transport, and the precise hour at which it may be best enjoyed with fresh ale. (No, not wine. We will elaborate in a future installment.)

It was Tabla Mediterranean Bistro, Sunday, eight PM, and The Ultimate Cheese Challenge was about to enter its final tasting. Jones had hand-cut 1,100 samples of thirty-six cheeses, and exhibited the rangy calm of a sprinter’s high. I approached the proprietor of Portland’s internationally-renowned Cheese Bar with my standard operating ignorance and, sussing my green like a stillborn Camembert, he humored me around the capacity event with a kind and sage enthusiasm. I soon learned that this was tantamount to “talkin’ leptons” with Stephen Hawking.

Cheese chart by
  • Chris Onstad / 33 Books
  • Cheese chart by

Note in the photograph a scan of my initial attempt at using the 33 Cheeses analytic model. Not possessed of any sort of cheese vocabulary beyond “melty” and “punch-you-in-the-face stinky,” I was delighted to note an overt caramel flavor in a fenugreek-imbued product which I would have previously only described as, “dang.” Steve politely disagreed with a few of my ham-fisted assessments, but the pride of hitting at least one mark before this great fromager was palpable. A visit to his shop and deli is hotly anticipated for this weekend. Many thanks to Tabla for hosting this best-in-class affair.