Monday, December 29, 2014

Tomme de Savoie

Savoie in the Rhone-Alps region of France.

Savoie is a region in the French Alps. Though some of the tallest mountains surround the area, beautiful vineyards rest at the base of these peaks. In addition, Savoie is home to two lakes: Lac du Bourget and Lac d'Aiguebelette. The former is the largest and deepest in all of France, and the latter is the purest, least polluted lake in France. The Isere river makes its way through Savoie, feeding the two lakes. Savoie is famous for its apple and pear orchards, its breathtaking scenery, the beautiful vineyards and the cows that produce milk for some of the most distinctive cheese in the country, including Tomme de Savoie.

Alpine cows sitting in a pasture.

Tomme is really a family of cheeses, all produced in the Alps of France and in some areas of Switzerland. The cheeses tend to have notes of traditional alpine cheese, but Tomme cheeses are on the stronger side. Skimmed raw cow's milk is used to produce these cheeses, so the fat content is low. Despite being lower in fat, they still melt well and feel rich and creamy on the palate. Each Tomme-style cheese will have a slightly different flavor depending on where the cheese is produced and what the cows are eating at the time the milk is gathered to make the cheese. Sometimes the animals feast on winter hay, but other times fresh grass is on the menu.

Of all the Tomme-style cheeses, Tomme de Savoie is the most famous. The semi-soft, pressed cheese is redolent of the stables, and the more the cheese ages, the more it smells like horse manure. Don't be worried, though, this isn't a bad thing. Many cheeses are described as having rather offensive aromas but still taste good, and some find the strange odor appealing. Beneath the dark, brownish-gray rind that's speckled with patches of white, red and yellow mold sits a supple beige interior, one that has holes similar to Swiss cheese, only these are much smaller.

Tomme de Savoie has many small eyes speckled throughout the interior.

Tomme de Savoie has a thick rind.

Tomme de Savoie is aged two to four months. As it ages, the flavor intensifies. It's not quite a stinky cheese, but it can develop some similar flavors, especially close to the rind, which is a little scary looking at a glance. The cheese actually looks like it was plucked from the earth, like some kind of dirt-encrusted root vegetable turned into dairy, and it has big earthy, musty flavors to match. Expect a tangy, pungent flavor to jump out right away, revitalizing your entire being. The saltiness and rustic mushroomy notes emerge only after you begin to chew the cheese. There are slight nutty and citrus flavors hiding in there too, but they may take some time to surface. If you let the cheese age past its prime, it will develop an ammonia flavor that will overpower the nicer qualities of the cheese, but it isn't necessarily bad if you're one who likes that kind of punch on the palate.

Traditional rennet is used to make Tomme de Savoie. With the earthy notes, the cheese goes well in a baked spinach pie. Its strong flavors also stand up to cooked meats, dried meats and sausage, but if you prefer, serve it with grapes and bread. The sweetness of the fruit will counter the pungent flavors of the cheese. This cheese is a mountain staple, so don't be afraid to add it to potato dishes or melt it with other cheeses in pasta dishes.

Brochette de Tomme de Savoie (Tomme de Savoie wrapped in beef carpaccio).

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

I love a good challenge, and matching wine aromatics with those of horse manure may not be as difficult as one might imagine. “Barnyard” is actually a positive description for some red wines, inferring an earthy rustic character which I love. 

The earthiness of this cheese and the fact that is rather low in fat actually brings some red wines to mind. We could actually match it with a Savoie red, Domaine Jean Vullien Mondeuse, at $15.99. Mondeuse grapes, grown throughout this region of France are made into a dark colored, aromatic wine with flavors of tart cherries and dark plums with a generous acid level. The earthness and smokiness of Syrah makes this a really good choice as well, working with flavors of the cheese. Chave’s Offerus St Joseph, for $29.99 would be delicious, but a less expensive southern Cotes du Rhone would work well too. Kermit Lynch’s CDR is spectacular with this cheese and costs about $18.99. For value, Chapoutier’s Belleruche is acceptable for $9.99.

 If you want to impress your friends, an ideal wine to accompany this cheese is Alexakis Red, a blend of Kotsifali and Syrah. I love this wine, which I have described as reminding me of a forest floor. It is very rustic and earthy with wonderful fruit….and who would have thought of Greece? 

For whites, a good white Cotes du Rhone would work. These are usually combinations of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier and are minerally and mouth filling, and are perfect with this cheese. St Cosme James’ Little Basket Press is awesome at $15.99. Yalumba Estates (Australia) makes a 100% Roussanne Eden Valley for $20.99 that is wonderful. Finally, again turning to an unusual source, Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint from Hungary, with its minerally smoky aromatics and flavors is a great choice at only $12.99. 

Enjoy this wonderful cheese and a good bottle of wine to go with it. Lize and I are looking forward to exploring new cheeses and wines with you all over the next year. Happy New Year!

Vin de Savoie pairs well with Tomme de Savoie.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rogue River Blue

With a population of just over 2,100, Rogue River in Jackson County, Oregon isn't exactly one of the largest cities in the United States. The verdant little area is nestled along the banks of the Rogue River. Its rugged landscape includes wooded areas, forested mountains and suburban neighborhoods. With very little snowfall but a lot of rain, the area continually looks like an El Greco landscape.

The Rogue River in Oregon flows not far from the Rogue River Creamery. 

While I enjoy pretty much every kind of cheese, I tend to get overly excited when I am about to try something different, really different. Rogue River Blue is a wild and wonderful extravagance that makes cheese sampling fun. I'm not at all surprised that Rogue River blue cheeses have received many awards and that the company has received worldwide attention and admiration. The history of the company is quite fascinating:

Rogue River Blue is a cheese made with old-world techniques, modern love and a little bit of new age idealism. With aging facilities created that replicate the conditions of the curing limestone caves in Cambalou, home of the famous Roquefort cheese, Rogue River Creamery has figured out a way to create some of the finest blue cheeses in the country. The company not only focuses on making beautiful, tasty cheeses, it is dedicated to quality and sustainability as well. And wow, Rogue River Blue is a chef d'oeuvre with its magnificent appearance. The cheese is artistically wrapped in grape leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy, giving the entire cheese a mature, seductive allure. Be sure to buy this cheese soon, because it's a seasonal cheese made during the fall. Production stops after the winter solstice.

Rogue River Blue is wrapped in Syrah leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy from Oregon.

Using raw milk from Holstein cows that graze mostly on lush grasses, herbs, berries and hops with just a bit of alfalfa and grain, Rogue River Blue ends up having a deeply rich, complex and earthy flavor. Macadamia and hazelnut notes mingle with a strong fruity pear flavor right from the start. The sweetness is undeniable in this moist, slightly gritty but mostly creamy blue, and a wonderful tart, tang cuts through, one that's typical of good European blue cheeses. With the sweet, nutty flavors comes a burst of saltiness that makes your taste buds come to attention without overwhelming them. There's also a slight herb taste, especially close to the edge, but avoid eating too close to the damp grape leaves, as the flavor can be on the musty side.

Rogue River Blue cheese is wrapped in grape leaves.

This is a cheese that grows on you the more you eat it. If you love it right off the bat, you will eventually get strong cravings for it and even dream about it. If it's not your favorite in the beginning, you will at least learn to appreciate its luxurious qualities. Vegetarians will jump for joy when they find out this blue is made with vegetarian rennet. It's not often that vegetarian cheese is so robust, flavorful and exciting. The raw-milk cheese is aged nine to twelve months, allowing the flavors to develop and mature. Its texture is less crumbly than a lot of blues but still fractures easily when you cut into it. It has a creamy but hearty feel in your mouth.

Despite the strong flavors of Rogue River blue, and despite its sweetness, this is a great cheese for baking in savory tarts, crumbling on salads or serving as part of a fruit and cheese plate. You can also add some to a hamburger with fried egg on a soft bun. Of course, a nice hunk of this blue served with a toasted ciabatta roll is also fantastic. Another option is to accentuate the already sweet cheese by serving it with nuts and fig jam or honey on crackers.

A toasted ciabata roll with Rogue River Blue makes a divine snack.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Wine with Rogue River Blue. If enjoying this cheese in its pure form (alone or with perhaps some nuts or bread) the best wines to match with it are all sweet, with one exception, as sweetness balances Saltiness beautifully. 

Port, either a well aged Vintage Port or a Tawny, is an excellent match. The sweetness offsets the saltiness of the cheese, and the big body of the wine holds up to its massive flavors. Vintage Ports can set you back $100 or more, but the Taylor Fladgate 10 Yr. Old Tawny is wonderful at $31.99 and their Fine Tawny is a bargain at $15.99 ( aged about 5-6 yrs.) 

Even better are sweet white wines. Those affected by Botrytis (“noble rot”) are especially good with this blue, as the earthiness combined with the sweet, full body work beautifully. Sauternes from France are the classic wine of this type but are very expensive. Just as good is the Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos, from Hungary, a delicious wine for $22.99 a 500ml Bottle. Eisweins are also an excellent choice. While the German ones are outrageously priced, beautiful examples are made in, of all places, Ontario, Canada. The Jackson Triggs, at $24.99 a 375 ml bottle is delicious. 

German Rieslings work well, as long as they are on the Spatlese or Auslese level of sweetness. The Rictere Brauneberger Juffer- Sohnnenuhr Auslese (you got to love those German wine labels) at $28.99 is perfect, but far easier on the wallet (and the pronunciation) is Chateau St Michelle Late Harvest Riesling at $10.99. Finally, that all purpose wine – bubbly - works here. Brut actually works well, but a nice Demi Sec, with a bit of sweetness, is especially yummy. Check out Gruet at $16.99.

Taylor Fladgate 10 Yr. Old Tawny port pairs well with the big flavors of this blue cheese.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Cheese

Below are a few cheese-related ideas for Thanksgiving. 
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

1) Mozzarella cheese stuffing:

recipe image
Stuffing with Roquefort cheese.

2) More cheese stuffing recipes:

Kunik cheese.
3) American cheese ideas for Thanksgiving:

Cheese platter
Cheese platter for Thanksgiving.
4) And finally, the perfect cheese platter for Thanksgiving:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kite Hill Soft Ripened Cheese

It had to be done. Since I live in Boulder -- a health-food eating, yoga-apparel-wearing, Prius-driving, new age community where gluten-free, vegan and organic foods were popular long before they became trends -- I felt compelled to sample and review some vegan cheese. Despite my thin, pale appearance, I'm not vegan, but I fit right in the Boulder "bubble" in that I am a self-proclaimed foodie who pays attention to labels. Even though I'm not vegan, I did give the lifestyle a try many years ago, and I even came up with a vegan truffle recipe that was surprisingly good. I admire vegans; I just can't seem to handle the diet. Kite Hill has made at least some vegan options more appealing, though.

Years ago, I was chatting with a friend who happens to be vegan, telling him that vegan cheeses weren't very appetizing. I told him someone needed to come up with a way to make vegan specialty cheeses and insisted it could be done, though I had no idea how. Little did I know that someone would actually figure out a way to do it less than a year after I had that conversation. Lo and behold, a vegan Brie-like cheese has been born!

Soft Ripened
Soft-ripened almond milk cheese.

I'm impressed. Looking at the company's history, it's no wonder why the cheese came out as well as it did. They had an outstanding team of some of the best culinary, cheese-making and scientific experts working on this project, and these wizards have done something extraordinary. Rubbery, bland vegan cheese this is not. It's surprisingly good and flavorful. It's also lower in fat and calories than most specialty cheeses. For anyone who has given up dairy and misses it, this is a must try. Even people who love and consume dairy regularly will be amazed.

The texture and appearance of the rind of Kite Hill semi-soft ripened cheese is very much like a standard brie, only not quite as tough. It has the same earthy, mushroomy flavors one would expect with a fluffy, bloomy white rind. Inside the soft rind is where things aren't quite as perfect. For a non-dairy cheese, this is probably as close to perfection as things can get, though. Imagine a wheel of Brie running off with a package of silken tofu and having tasty little babies. The result is a very soft and creamy product that lacks the slight firmness and more textured mouthfeel of true semi-soft cheeses. It feels a bit squishy in your mouth. The small wheel of non-dairy cheese isn't as tall as a regular Brie either. It looks sort of flattened in comparison, but the overall look is still pretty.

Wheel of Kite Hill ripened non-dairy cheese.

Wheel of Kite Hill cheese sliced in half.

The flavor could also be considered some kind of Brie-tofu hybrid, but it's more sophisticated than that. It's mild with definite almond notes. There's a little bit of pungency lurking in there somewhere, a slight tang to it, but it's not overly strong or sharp. The earthy and mushroomy flavors linger from start to finish. You won't get this cheese running with added ammonia flavors as it ages. Its flavor remains pretty consistent whether it's young or older. The entire time I was sampling this charming little cheese, I was thinking, "Well done, Kite Hill, well done!"

I would recommend serving this cheese not directly from the refrigerator as suggested on the Kite Hill website, but closer to room temperature. Somewhere between cold and room temperature is about right. The flavors are more pronounced if the cheese isn't eaten extra chilled, even if the texture isn't quite as firm. Serve the cheese as you would any other semi-soft cheese: on crackers or crusty French bread, in sandwiches or with fruit. Though it can be placed in a heated oven and technically baked, it won't come out like a true baked Brie. Instead, it will end up more like a baked custard. The flavor will be good, but don't expect much gooeyness when you dip into the end product.

The soft-ripened cheese comes in a traditional-looking wooden container with a brightly-colored Kite Hill label on the top.

Soft Ripened
Kite Hill vegan cheese.

Kite Hill products are available at Whole Foods Market. They are usually found in the refrigerated section along with other vegan products, not in the cheese section.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Since we are discussing a vegan cheese, we need to talk about vegan wines. Actually, there are very few vegan wines. In fact, most organic wines are not vegan. During the process of wine making, the wine is finely filtered, usually using animal products. The most commonly used materials are egg whites, casein (an animal protein) and isinglass, which is a very pure gelatin derived from fish. 

There some estates that are beginning to use other materials that are not animal derived such as carbon, bentonite clay, limestone and plant casein. Most of these estates don’t mention this on their labels, so you’ll need to ask your wine person if you are interested. 

This cheese, being brie-like, calls for a white wine. Since the flavor is not too strong I would go with a Sauvignon Blanc. Frey, an organic producer, does a good one for $12.99. Another wine that works well here is Viognier with a floral aromatic nose and a medium body that stands up to the mild funkiness of the cheese. Rosenblum, famous for their Zinfandels and a vegan producer, makes a great one called Kathy’s Cuvee for $18.99. Bubbles work beautifully with this cheese. Mumm Napa’s Brut would be perfect at $19.99 and allow you to stay vegan. There is a wine out there for everyone, including those who maintain a vegan lifestyle.

Award-winning Mumm Napa Brut pairs well with Kite Hill's vegan cheese.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pave du Nord

Cap Gris Nez: The town of Calais is near Cap Gris Nez cape in the Pas-de-Calais region.
Calais is a town and ferry port in northern France. It has a long and variable history with ownership changing hands many times before finally ending up in the hands of the French. Due to its location, it's no surprise that it was once a territorial possession of England. It is said that on a clear day, one can even see Dover from Calais, and the nicely positioned plot of land served as a major trading center between the two countries. Today, the Chunnel Tunnel lands right near Calais on the French side. Long before Wold war II, Calais was also briefly in Spain's possession before being handed over to the French again. During the war, the little jewel of a city was nearly destroyed when German troops invaded and attempted to use the prime location to attack England.

Being so close to England, it makes sense that some of the more well-known cheeses in and around the area are reminiscent of cheddar cheese. Like the region it comes from, Pave du Nord is a complicated and hard to describe cheese. Pave du Nord gets its name, because the cheese is shaped like the classic French cobblestones, Pave. It seems to mimic the rugged land it hails from in terms of its appearance and texture. Keep in mind that cheeses made in the far northern regions of France are not made from milk coming from the Normandy cows that feast on lush grasses. It's a little colder and not as comfortable for dairy animals up north.

French cobblestones.

Pave du Nord may be France's answer to cheddar cheese, but it's not quite the same. The French version is milder, smoother, a tad more curious and much harder and drier than most cheddar cheeses. The cheese is hard to cut, so when I say hard, I don't just mean it's in the hard cheese category; it's also literally hard. It's startlingly orange, like normal cheddar went tanning in Jersey. That's due to the added annatto, a natural coloring derived from achiote seeds. I believe the annatto is what creates some of the very faint spicy, floral and savory notes in the cheese as well. 

Pave du Nord is bright orange.
The rind is super tough and probably best if it's not eaten, even though the flavor is earthy. Not to gross anyone out, but there are microscopic cheese mites that are intentionally introduced to the rind. These critters burrow into the rind and supposedly give it flavor. People use the rind in cooking, but it's not the best eating rind. If you do eat it, you might want to scrape off the outermost part, unless you are one of those adventurous eaters or are training for a spot on Fear Factor. Actually, since you can't actually see the mites, approaching the rind isn't too scary. Just don't think about it too deeply. 

If you are underwhelmed with the first bite, wait and let the flavors develop on your palette. It's not a shockingly flavorful cheese, but Pave du Nord has a nice milky taste with slight notes of raw hazelnuts. There's a slight sweetness to it. If you concentrate, you can detect a very light creamy caramel taste. Something about it suggests the slightest hint of something that resembles Parmesan too, but it's closer to cheddar than any Italian cheeses. This one isn't as zesty and doesn't crumble either. You could think of it as a wild country cheddar going off to finishing school and coming back more refined, sophisticated and tame.   

Pave du Nord cheese.

This is a pressed raw milk cheese, but it's not overly sharp or tangy. There's a tenderness about it, despite being on the rustic-looking side. People compare it to Mimolette, which is richer and more complex. Pave du Nord is more like a younger, less potent version of the Mimolette cheese. 

People say Pave du Nord is a good melting cheese, but it doesn't really melt all that well on its own. It's too hard for that. Unlike a true cheddar, this cheese isn't going to get all oooey gooey when it's faced with heat. Instead, it will end up in a contained, hard clump. It's like trying to melt an aged Manchego, about the furthest thing from melting Mozzarella. It's better shaved on salads, grated with other cheeses to enrich the flavors or served as a snacking cheese. It works well in dishes like mac and cheese or potatoes au gratin that have added milk or cream. If you serve it on crusty bread, consider adding a pat of butter to counter the dry and salty characteristics of this cheese.

Use Pave du Nord in your potatoes au gratin recipe.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

If one is going to properly match this cheese with wine, it is probably best to not eat the rind as it is extremely difficult to find a wine that goes well with cheese mites.

Cheddar and cheddar like cheeses go very well with red wines. Well aged stronger versions go well with bigger tannic reds like a tannic mountain Cabernet or a Barolo, and a classic is Port with Stilton. However, this cheese is more subtle, so we need wines that are less overpowering.  More fruity, lighter Cabernets would work here, such as those from Chile, like Mont Gras or Casa Lapostolle, both around $12. One of my first choices would be a Cabernet Franc from the Loire (Coincidently not too far from Calais) such as Chais St Laurent Bourgueil ($12.99) or  Domaine Filliatreau Saumur ($15.99). Both of these are medium body with just the right amount of fruit and acidity to balance the mild nuttiness and earthiness of the cheese. The other great choice here would be a Langhe Nebbiolo. This beautiful medium bodied wine has wonderful red fruit and just the right amount of tannin to work perfectly and not overpower like their cousins Barolos or Barbarescos. Rivetto makes a good one at $17.99, and I love Eugenio Bocchino’s Roccabella at $20.99.

If you have to do white, do a crisp flavorful New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Ana is my new favorite at $11.99), and bubbles work too. Whatever wine you choose, enjoy this wonderful cheese from the north of France. Cheers!

Eugenio Bocchino Roccabella pairs well with Pave du Nord.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Brebis Fougere

Lately I've been getting lost in the magnificent cheese section at Whole Foods on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado. Not only do they carry one of the best selections of cheeses I have ever seen, but the people who work there are extraordinarily knowledgeable and kind. It's no wonder why I'm always stumbling upon new and wonderful cheeses to sample. My biggest concern is how to pace myself with all these tempting dairy products!

Corsica, the birth place of Napoleon, is a mountainous island just west of Italy and southeast of France.

Whenever I see a cheese with a label that's marked with Herve Mons as the affineur, I assume it will be superb. Herve Mons has a way of aging cheeses that elevates them. He's a perfectionist, and all his cheeses, even the more rustic ones, have an elegance that similar cheeses lack. Such is the case with Brebis Fougere, a cheese with origins in Corsica but aged in the famous maturing cellars of Herve Mons in France. It's no wonder Herve holds many cheesemonger titles. He can take nearly any cheese and age it to perfection.

Brebis Fougere, a semi-soft, wash-rind sheep's milk cheese with an elegant little fern sprig on top as decoration, is a stinky little thing. Don't let the pretty appearance fool you, because this petite bundle of fromage will make you gasp. It is funky. If you were a cat, you'd probably arch your back and let out a low screech after the first bite, but once the initial shock is over, the nicer qualities of the Brebis Fougere emerge and get you purring. 

The first bite of Brebis Fougere might be shocking, but give the cheese a chance.

Inside the tacky orange rind is a creamy, slightly sticky but soft cheese. If you get some of the rind on your hands, the stinky aroma will cling to you for a long time! Despite the texture of the wash-rind, it's not as rustic looking as other cheeses in this category. Any ridges or crannies on the surface are evenly spaced, making the cheese seem elegant, and the fern leaf embedded on top adds to its overall charm. The fern also adds a tiny bit of fragrant herb and spiciness to the mushroomy flavor of the rind, even though you're supposed to remove the leaf before consuming. There's a very, very slight grainy texture on the rind that quickly dissipates in your mouth. It's not at all unpleasant and adds to the coarser qualities of the cheese. 

Brebis Fougere "Ewe Fern" with embedded fern leaf.

Fern on one slice of Brebis Fougere.

The texture of the interior is nice and smooth. It's definitely in the category of the stinky cheeses, but the flavor is even and regular, no ups and downs with it. The funkiness, while never overbearing, holds strong and steady from start to finish. Brebis Fougere has an earthy, wild flavor. Funkiness aside, the creamy cheese is mild compared to some of the kings of stink like Pont L'Eveque or Limburger, but it still packs a punch. It has an interesting flavor with notes of raw hazelnuts and almonds. 

Despite a faint ammonia flavor that's constantly demanding attention, there's a definite sweetness to this cheese with an occasional French bread or yeasty taste that emerges. It's tart and pungent but not overly sharp. Because the cheese is made with pasteurized sheep's milk, the bite isn't as strong as a goat's milk cheese, but you will still notice the tang.  

A smooth and creamy interior sits inside the wash rind.

The fern is embedded in the rind.

This cheeses served on crusty French bread is the way to go. It pairs well with grapes or other fruits, and some people even serve it with honey on crackers or Melba toast.
Melba toast goes well with Brebis Fougere.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Finding the right wine to go with so called stinky cheese is tougher than one might think. It needs to have enough aromatic character to not be overpowered, yet needs to compliment rather than compete. It also has to have flavors that can stand up to the fat and the strong earthy flavors of the cheese. I think whites are a better choice here, and my first choice would be an Alsatian Gewurztraminer.

Gewurztraminer is a member of the so called “aromatic whites”, and this wine has beautiful aromatics of lychee and white flowers. On the palate, it literally is like spice cake in a glass, off dry and delicious and is wonderful with the earthy, mushroomy and raw nut flavors of this cheese. Trimbach makes a wonderful Gewurztraminer for $23.99, and if you want to spend a little less, Ziegler’s version is quite good for $14.99.

Riesling, another aromatic white, is a good choice for this cheese as well. Off dry is best as the touch of sweetness works well with the earth and fat from the cheese, and the acidity of Riesling works very well here. Gessinger Zeltinger Schlossberg Kabinett is awesome for $17.99. If pronouncing German labels is a traumatic experience for you, Charles Smith’s Kung Fu Girl (named in honor of Uma Thurman) from Washington at $10.99 will work. Viognier, a medium bodied wonderfully aromatic white originating in the Northern Rhone in France, will work well too. It is unoaked, has wonderful floral aromatics and flavors of stone fruits and tropical fruits. Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier from Australia is wonderful at $18.99, but their entry level Y Series for $10.99 is a good value.

If you must have a red, I would go with a big full flavored one with medium tannins such as a California or Washington Syrah (Sticky Beak at $14.99) or a big Zinfandel like the Earthquake ($25.99) or the Predator ($15.99). Whatever your choice of wine, you will enjoy this awesome cheese.

Trimbach Gewurztraminer
Gewurztraminer pairs well with Brebis Fougere.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Raw Milk Manchego, DOP Mitica One Year

Sheep grazing in La Mancha, Spain. 
Manchago is a dairy delicacy that dates back to the early 17th century and is one of Spain's most popular cheeses. 

Raw milk Manchego is far more outstanding in taste but harder to find than pasteurized versions, even where it's made in Spain but especially in the United States where increased restrictions on importing raw milk cheeses have been put into place. Since Manchego is typically aged at least 60 days, it's one of the raw milk cheeses that's accepted as safe to import by the FDA. Still, raw milk cheeses are generally harder to make and require more attention to detail, so many cheese makers are turning to pasteurized milk. Fortunately, a few master cheese producers take the extra time to create Manchego made from raw milk. They and their clients will be happy to know that the extra effort is worth it when it comes to the more pronounced flavors that emerge in their products. 

Raw sheeps's milk contains folate, B12 and other nutrients.

Like many cheeses with a long history, there are strict rules about how and where Manchego is produced. In order to be classified as Manchego, the cheese must be made from whole milk that comes from the Manchega sheep. These sheep are raised and bred on registered farms in designated areas. Cheese makers must also entirely produce their product in the La Mancha region of Spain. This includes the provinces of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca and Toledo. The cheese must be aged a minimum of 60 days but not more than two years, and it must be pressed into cylindrical molds that are no more than 12 cm high and 22 cm in diameter. In the past, Manchego cheeses were wrapped in grass baskets, creating zig-zag lines on the aging rind, but these days those lines can be and often are made by machine. 

Inside the inedible wax rind, Manchego has a powerful aroma, but it's not like traditional stinky cheeses. The potent smell is sharp, but not offensive. If anything, it's inviting despite coming on strong. Think more an exuberant Trent Lane over Pepe Le Pew. It's intriguing but laid back and unassuming. This raw-milk version is aged one year, which allows the color of the interior to deepen to a light caramel color. On the outside, it looks a lot like many other Manchego cheeses, but don't let its common appearance fool you.

Raw milk manchego aged for a year has a beautiful caramel color.

Even if you are not a Manchego fan, be sure to try this one that's produced in the Cuenca region by Estanislao, a cheese maker whose family has been producing raw milk varieties for over half a century. While most Manchego cheeses are nice, this one stands out among the rest, mostly because the use of the raw milk enhances the flavors tremendously. 

When first tasting this beautiful cheese, be prepared, because your eyebrows might unexpectedly rise, and you might feel compelled to exclaim, "Ooooo!" out loud. Raw milk Manchego wakes up all your senses. 

While the flavor is very even and far from complex, it's also fruity, tangy, piquant and outrageously nutty with notes of mixed nuts roasted with brown butter. This cheese is dry, salty and very slightly acrid but oddly has an occasional sweet flavor that comes out of hiding. There's no doubt that this cheese packs a punch. It has a classic sheep's milk cheese taste that's not as pungent as goat's milk but stronger than cow's milk. If you let it linger in your mouth and concentrate, you will detect mild notes of hay and grass. Because it's not overly complex, it makes a great snacking cheese, even though both the flavor and aroma are strong. It has a high fat content which always seems like an odd paradox to me when it comes to harder cheeses. The oiliness doesn't come off as creaminess, though. It's more crumbly. 

Manchego is not a melting cheese, so it's not ideal as the main cheese on pizza, and it's a bit too dry and salty for a cheese sandwich. Keep in mind too that the flavors are more pronounced with this raw milk cheese, so mixing it with other cheeses will elevate the overall flavor of whatever you prepare. Serve raw milk Manchego with quince paste or fig jam and crackers. Try it with dates, olives, almonds or melons wrapped in pancetta. It even goes well with a salad served next to a lamb dish. 

Manchego on toasts with ham, fig jam and radish sprouts.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Raw Milk Manchego

Although people often think of red wine with cheese, white wine actually goes better with most cheeses, especially with soft or creamy varieties. However aged, firm cheeses often pair well with reds, and Manchego is a perfect example. The nutty, piquant flavor calls for a tannic, somewhat fruity red. Not surprisingly, since this is a cheese of Spanish origin, an ideal choice is Tempranillo. Tempranillo is the main grape found in Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines. These wines have red cherry fruit flavors with moderate tannins, and spice and vanilla from oak aging. There is also an earthiness to these wines that works well with the cheese. From Rioja, Valsacro Dioro 2005 is a spectacular choice, at $29.99, and if you want to spend less, Arnegui Crianza at $12.99 is basically a steal at this price. 

Ribera del Duoro is the other major region producing wines from this grape, and these tend to be bigger, more fruity wines. Vizcarra Senda del Oro is superb at $18.49. Other varietals that work here are Cabernet Sauvignon or Meritage wines from California that have the structure of Bordeaux but a bit more fruit. Marietta Cellars Arme, at $24.99 is an outstanding Meritage, as is My Essential Red, by Master Sommelier Richard Betts for the same price. Lyeth, at $14.99, is a good choice as well. For a Cabernet, try Wyatt or Rickshaw both under $15.00. 

If you are a white wine drinker, a nice Verdejo works well. This varietal produces fruity, minerally medium-bodied wines that work well with this cheese. Shaya, at $17.99, is outstanding, and for $10.99 both Naia and Basa are more than adequate. 

Finally, again sticking with a Spanish theme, an Oloroso sherry, with its caramel, baking spice and nutty flavor would be outrageous with this chese. Try Bodegas Dios Baco, at $24.99 Enjoy!

Oloroso sherry pairs well with raw milk manchego.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Avalanche Cabra Blanca

Avalanche Cheese Company in Colorado.

After selling her restaurant company in Houston, Texas, Windy Mitchel spent a year in Scotland traveling and learning how to make cheese. From there, she moved to Aspen, Colorado, where she noticed there wasn't a reliable source of local milk if she wanted to pursue her dream of making cheese. As a result, she and her husband bought a farm in Paonia where they could raise goats. With the help of many organic farmers in the area, Wendy got the hang of the farm side of the business and eventually opened a creamery in Basalt, Colorado. In 2008, milk from her dairy was used to make cheese in the creamery. Since then, Wendy has gone on to produce some of the finest goat cheeses in the country, winning many awards and gaining fans not just because Avalanche cheese is good, but also because she works hard and has become an integral part of the farm-to-table movement in her neck of the mountains.

Good Food Awards Winner Seal 2012
The Good Food Awards is presented to companies offering food that's tasty, authentic and responsibly produced.

Basalt, Colorado is located between Glenwood Springs and Aspen at an elevation of 6,611 feet. There are many varieties of Avalanche cheeses being made at this high elevation including traditional chevre, goat cheddar, midnight blue and the one I sampled, Cabra Blanca.

Cabra Blanca is an all-around beautiful product. It's a semi-soft cheese with a thin natural rind that has all the intrigue and flavor of a cross between a bloomy and a wash rind. Perhaps this is due to the naturally occurring bacteria that develops during the aging process. Brevibacteriim Linens is the same bacteria some cheese makers add to their brine when making traditional wash-rind cheeses. Cabra Blanca cheese is shaped in a colander that ends up leaving the surface of the developing rind slightly craggy. The outer surface is also slightly sandy but not in an unappealing way. The rind looks tame compared to most wash-rind cheeses, but, in a similar fashion, there are some faint white, autumn-orange and tan spots. The overall appearance is light and angelic looking, though. As far as the taste of the slightly chewy rind, though it's mild, it's wonderfully earthy and mushroomy.

There is an obvious fresh milk smell that rises from the interior of the cheese, like when you stick your nose deep into a carton of milk and take a grand whiff. If you let your nose linger above the cheese long enough, a few very light sour notes will become apparent. The bouquet is slightly floral, but it's the milky smell that's most prominent.
Ahh, the aroma of fresh milk.

Right away I wanted to take a bite, so I did. And over the course of a few days, I suddenly became aware that I had chewed my way through an extra large wedge of cheese without realizing how quickly it was disappearing.

Cabra Blanca is a very mild cheese. Because it's not pressed, the interior is open and lacy. The texture is smooth, sticky and very slightly chewy. It has an almost squishy feel to it, and boy is is smooth, really smooth. It's also extremely well balanced with a subtle nutty flavor similar to blanched almonds. This is not like typical goat cheeses that pack a punch, but you can recognize it is a goat cheese. Cabra Blanca is super light and mellow. Even though the flavors are subtle, this little treasure is much more exciting than something like a low-moisture mozzarella, though I had visions of mild cheddar, young brie, chevre and mozzarella dancing in my head while I was sampling this one. It's far from bland is what I mean. Still, it's a very tame goat cheese.

Cabra Blanca from Avalanche Cheese Company.
Some claim there's a slight citrus flavor. I agree, but it's very faint. Since it lacks the kind of powerful tang that catches in the back of your throat that most goat cheeses offer, Cabra Blanca goes well with lighter foods, especially fruits. It's the perfect cheese to serve on an autumn afternoon with crisp, fresh apples and Stonewall Simply White crackers or 34 Degrees Natural Crispbread. Really, though, this is a cheese that is versatile, so you can do just about anything with it. Make grilled cheese sandwiches, eat it as a snack by itself or cook it in a pasta and pesto or even a tomato-based pasta dish. You can't go wrong no matter how you serve it.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Wine Pairing with Avalanche Cabra Blanca

The earthy, tangy flavor of chevre calls for a fruity, citrusy white as its perfect match. The classic match for this cheese is Sauvignon Blanc, and particularly one from the Loire Valley, e.g. Sancerre or Touraine. The Loire is home to some of the best goat cheese in the world and this is a classic example of “it goes where it grows”. Since this example of chevre is on the mellow side, I wouldn’t go with a New Zealand version of this wine because the strong flavors in the wine might overpower it. Chais St Laurent Sancerre or the Clos Roche Blanc Touraine, both around $20 are perfect matches, and for less money, try the “Les Jarriers” Touraine at $11.99.

Other whites that work quite well with this cheese are two Spanish varietals. Albarino, such as Burgans at $12.50 and Godello, such as Montenovo at $16.99, exhibit nice acidity, with wonderful floral and stone fruit notes that compliment the flavors of this cheese. A crisp dry Riesling also works well. Jim Barry’s Lodge Hill ($16.99) from Australia would be a good choice.

Rose’ is a good match, especially the delicate, dry and fruity examples from Provence. St Roche is a perfect choice at around $12.99 and Domain Salvard from (of course) the Loire Valley Appellation of Cheverny works wonderfully.

Finally if you must have red with this cheese, go with a light to medium, fruity red with light to medium tannins and a good acidity. A good Beaujolais, like the one from Kermit Lynch, works well, but my first choice would be a Caberet Franc from (where else?) the Loire Vally. Baudry Chinon ($19.99) and Domain Filliatreau Saumur ($16.99) would pair spectacularly with this cheese, the mild tang and nuttiness not being overwhelmed by the wine.

Wine and a good chevre. It doesn't get any better! Cheers!

Try Clos Roches Blanche Touraine Sauvignon Blanc with Cabra Blanca.