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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sparkenhoe Red Leicester

David and Joe Clarke with their pedigree Holsetn-Friesian cows.

Whenever I sample English cheeses, I can't help but think of Wallace and Gromit. Unlike the wild adventures of this claymation duo, however, many English cheeses are predictably mild and simple. You won't get huge complexities in flavor, but that's not to say English cheeses are bland, far from it. They are simply more subtle than the other, more robust cheeses of the world. 

Eating cheese on the moon.

Even if you haven't tried English cheeses before, you will find something familiar about them. For example. Red Leicester is not a cheddar, though it's similar to a very young one. It's not American cheese either, but the flavor will ignite a sense of remembrance for those who grew up eating American cheese. 

A Leicester is the type of product most people imagine when they think of cheese, a generic, mild-tasting but delicious hard cheese that nearly everyone can appreciate. Leicester is the essence of cheese and has a long history that dates back to the 1700's, though this particular Red Leichester has only been made since 2005, created by David and Jo Clarke on their dairy farm called Sparkenhoe in Leicestershire.

Sparkenhoe Red Leicester wheels are hand made and cloth bound with a little lard to age. The natural rind that develops is musty, earthy, salty and has notes of wild mushrooms. Inside the thin rind that shows a bit of blue and white mold on it lies an eye-catching cheese. Added annatto, a natural food coloring derived from plants, gives Red Leicester its beautiful orange hue. 

Red Leicester has a beautiful orange hue.

Made with traditional rennet, Sparkenhoe Red Leicester is a raw milk cheese that has a lovely fragrant smell. The first bite will tease your taste buds with just a dash of sweetness, but the brief gentle sweetness is replaced by a smooth, milk and nut flavor with just a hint of light, fruity tang. There's far less tang than in a cheddar cheese. This is a very mild flavor, one that's more sophisticated than an American cheese but has similar flavor notes. It's the ideal cheese for casseroles, sandwiches, mac and cheese and even for snacking. Serving it with crackers and chutney or fruit is ideal. 

The texture is slightly crumbly but still moist enough to hold together well. You might notice some cracks in the cheese, especially on the sides near the rind. Occasionally some very light mold will develop here, but do not fear. This only enhances the flavor. Sparkenhoe Red Leicester is a hard, somewhat dry cheese that's aged 18 months, but it's not like any of the hard Italian grating cheeses. Oddly, with a lower fat content, it feels slightly creamier in your mouth than any grating cheeses, and the flavor isn't as tangy or pronounced. 

In its subtlety, Red Leicester ends up being an intriguing cheese. You can bet that pretty much everyone will enjoy this cheese, even kids, though it has enough fineness to appeal to adult cheese connoisseurs too. 

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:

For this cheese, if I was to do a red, I'd do a fruity Cabernet Sauvignon, one that isn't too tannic or heavy. South America would be a could choice, such as Loscano Grand Reserve from Argentina, $18.. From California, Wyatt ($16.99) or J Lohr ($15.99) would work well and from Washingtom, try Ex Libris ($21.99). Other reds that would be good choice would be Syrah ( Jim Barry's Lodge Hill Reserve Shiraz would be perfect at $16) and Rioja, such as Arnegui Crianza ($12.99) or Lan Crianza at $13.99. These wines are medium in body and tannins and would stand up to the mild to moderate nuttiness of the cheese without overpowering it.

For white, a Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect choice, especially form New Zealand, with the racy flavors of gooseberry and grapefruit working well. Ana is a great choice, at $15.99, as well as Dog Point and Starborough. A chardonnay that is not heavily oaked would also work very well such as Latour's Grande Ardeche from France, at only $14.99. From California, Lioco, at $19.99, would be perfect.

Lastly, bubbles work well with this cheese. Something between a brut and an extra dry comes to mind, so Prosecco is a good choice, such as Lamarca ($12.49). Elegance Blanquet de Limoux (Limoux is the birthplace of sparkling wine) is another good match for $12.99

Prosecco, Lamarca is a good choice to pair with this cheese.