Match of the Week Valentine's Day Special: Testun and Full Fifteen
Testun is a hard cow’s milk cheese from Piedmont in Italy which has been matured in grape must. That its name means ‘stubborn’ or ‘hard headed’ in the local Piedmontese dialect gives an indication of the character of this cheese. Full Fifteen is a sparkling red made by Andrew Mc Pherson in South Australia, it is fifteen percent by volume.
I am going to suggest that you ditch the champagne and chocolates for Valentine's Day and go with these two. A bold move that could result in massive romantic kudos or a disparaging look and a demand to nip down to the corner shop for a bottle of Freixnet Cava and a box of Milk Tray. You'll need to know your audience.
So far my cheese and wine matches have tended to be about subtlety, nuance, a carefully balanced play between flavours and textures. If these matches were friendships they’d be going to see chamber music concerts at the Purcell rooms together, or taking in the latest show at the RA. Not so much with this one. This is a rambunctious, bawdy, falstaffian match, a friendship made up of nights spent carousing in the inns and stews of Southwark, getting into drunken sword fights and waking in a ditch on the outskirts of London dressed in nothing but a pair of lady’s drawers.
Testun is one of a family called drunken cheeses which are matured in various kinds or byproducts of booze. In this case it’s matured in barrels full of the remnants of the Nebbiolo grapes pressed for Barolo, a complex and hefty red wine from the same area. I notice a rich, grapey and winey flavour in the cheese from this treatment. I also think it keeps more moisture in the cheeses than there would be if they had just matured on open shelves. The higher moisture results in more acidity, and these cheeses have a real bite, actually stinging my tongue in a kind of ‘mmm, hurts so good’ way.
Full Fifteen, a red so dark it’s almost black, with pepper, spice and dark forest fruit notes from its blend of Shiraz and Cabernet grapes, is a big hairy monster of a wine and I love it. Few wines can stand up to the sheer strength of Testun like this one does, and the bubbles lift the slightly unctuous texture of the cheese from the palate.
Do you remember pop-rocks, that weird popping candy from the seventies? This is adult pop-rocks, with added oomph and mentalness.
Like so many cheeses, the drunken cheeses have a slightly questionable origin story. It is that during one war or another, local cheesemakers hid their cheeses from the occupying forces in wine barrels and thus discovered this method of maturation My problem with this is that wine barrels aren’t a good place to hide stuff from marauding troops - what soldier in all of human history wouldn’t have gone straight for the booze?
Of course another and possibly more sensible match for Testun would be the local Barolo wine. Barolo is big hearted enough to take on the Testun, and if it is a little more costly than the Full Fifteen, it is worth every penny.
If you wanted an even more challenging cheese experience, you could try Barone Rosso, The Red Baron, another drunk cheese. Matured for up to two years, the acidic bite of this crazy cheese is off the scale. Be warned: my friend had to put ice on her lips after trying this.
You can buy Testun and other drunken cheeses from my friends Pam and Max at their stall L’ Ubriaco in Borough Market. You can buy Full Fifteen from Laithwaites Wines, online or, and this is much more fun, at their Arch Store on Stoney Street next to Borough Market. Say hi from me if you do. They might give me a bottle. To book your very own cheese tasting, contact me here.