Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bonne Bouche

Image from their website: Allison and Bob, founders of Vermont Creamery.

With over 100 awards received, Vermont Creamery in Webstervill, Vermont has made its mark both nationally and internationally. Though Allison Hooper and Bob Reese started small, their business has grown to a recognizable force in the cheese-making world without losing its dedication to promoting quality and sustainability. Allison and Bob's success story all started with some delicious goat cheese, but today the company produces butter, aged and fresh cheeses produced from both cow and goat's milk, and creme fraiche. With a team of dedicated individuals, Vermont Creamery continues to amaze cheese lovers around the globe.

Many times I had seen Bonne Bouche sitting in the cheese case at Whole Foods Market. It's a cheese I knew I wanted to try, but it can be on the intimidating side. This interesting little pasteurized goat's milk product looks like a small creature from another planet: wrinkled, pale, slightly fuzzy and speckled with ash. Though geotrichum-rinded cheeses can sometimes look a little funky, they usually offer some rich flavors. Some cheeses inoculated with the geotrichum fungus include: Camembert, Saint-Marcellin, Saint-Nectaire, Reblochon and many French goat cheeses.

It's not alive, but it looks like a small alien.

Bonne Bouche is lightly sprinkled with ash. Today's ash is often not real ash but a mixture of powdered charcoal and salt. Whichever is used, the real ash or the charcoal mixture, the light coating is designed to protect the surface of the cheese, add color to wash and bloomy rinds and encourage the growth of the lovely bacteria that gives cheese a richer, more robust taste. It's true that as Bonne Bouche ages, the flavors become more pronounced and pungent. The surface also looks less tame the longer it's left unattended. 

At the suggestion of someone who claimed Bonne Bouche is her favorite cheese, I took the plunge and bought one of the small wheels that sits inside a miniature wooden crate.

Wow this cheese is salty. People talk about the similarities between Bonne Bouche and French cheeses made in the Loire Valley, but I don't think I have ever encountered such a salty-tasting French cheese. I don't want to deter people from trying this wild creation, but be prepared for a salt explosion that becomes oddly addicting after several tires. Once you get past the quick burst of sodium chloride, some intriguing flavors emerge.

The texture of this odd little dairy product is remarkable. The cheese just oozes out of its rind in pure liquid pleasure. Here's where you want to close your eyes, feel the velvety interior coat your tongue and experience the full complexity of the Bonne Bouche, which translates to "good bite" or "good mouthful" but really means anything that tastes really wonderful. The rich, gooey insides of this cheese certainly do. You will notice mushroomy, earthy notes and a slight piquant bite, just enough to make your taste buds pay attention. With age, the more sour, pungent flavors come out of hiding, but it's actually a mild cheese overall with just enough of a tang to remind you that it is a goat cheese.

Look at the beautiful white interior as it escapes the confines of the rind.

People often suggest pairing this cheese with honey or something sweet, but I found it too salty for that. I prefer it with a crisp green apple or with slices of avocado on rye crackers. As far as wine, try serving Bonne Bouche with a Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre or a nice rose.

Sancerre pairs well with Bonne Bouche.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Field Trip to Longmont's Cheese Importers

The Cheese Importers in Longmont, Colorado.

My mom and I took a trip to Longmont where we visited the renowned cheese shop and bistro known as Cheese Importers. We decided to have lunch at the bistro before touring the extra large walk-in refrigerator where all the cheeses and pates are stored.

I felt let down when I discovered that the restaurant's online menu had changed, and they no longer offer a French cheese plate. Instead, all the cheese plates contain only Italian cheeses. I ended up putting my biases aside and tried what they had to offer, the Italian cheese plate, a salad and a glass of Pinot noir. My mom ordered the soup of the day and a pain au chocolate. We shared the basket of bread, the wine and the cheeses. My disappointment soon faded, not just because the wine gave me a rush of comfort and warmth. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how nice the cheeses were.

A pretty cheese plate served with fresh fruit.

Verde Capra
The first cheese I sampled was the Verde Capra. This one was calling my name right away. It had the air of a stinky cheese, but there were some nice blue veins running through it. This interesting cheese comes from the Lombardy region. It's classified as a blue cheese, but it's one of the few that's made entirely with pasteurized goat's milk. "Verde Capra" translates as "Green Goat". Reminiscent of Tallegio, it's tangy and pungent without being overwhelming. The texture is moist and creamy, perfect for any cheese plate. Slices of crusty baguette were the perfect accompaniment, and I loved how the Pino noir I ordered paired with it.

Verde Capra is a goat's milk blue cheese.

This pasteurized cow's milk cheese from the Piedmont region surprised me. It tastes almost like a very, very mild goat cheese without the intense tangy notes. The cheese is aged 4-6 months, giving it a flaky, dry texture that verges on gritty the more it ages, but there's enough moisture retained to keep a lovely creamy and milky consistency. The rind is intensely earthy, and the ivory interior is filled with notes of citrus and cream with just a tiny little nip of tang and salt. This cheese pairs wonderfully with berries and fruit. As mild as this cheese is, it lingered on my brain more than the others. I want to go back to this one and eat a large chunk while I imagine myself on a romantic picnic on a beautiful spring day.

Castelrosso is a lovely cow's milk cheese that's milk and milky.

Cacio de Roma
The last cheese on the plate was nothing extraordinary, but I say this only because I was so happy with the other two. Cacio de Roma is a nice cheese that pairs well with many foods and wines. This is a pasteurized sheep's milk cheese that has flavors and aromas similar to some alpine cheeses. It's smooth and even with a bit of a salty bite to it. I found it best paired with other foods rather than consumed by itself. On my salad, for example, it was very good, perfect, in fact. The flavors are light with some grass and straw notes shining through. Overall, it's a simple cheese that's not overly memorable, but it's one that will do well for snacking and in cooking, especially as a topping for pizza.

Cacio de Roma is a good snacking cheese that can be used in cooking.

Once my mom and I finished our meal, we went to explore the shop with its many imports and also spent time in the refrigerated section with its many cheeses. I could have spent days in the shop looking at all the imported goods from French soaps and perfumes to Italian pastas and vinegar to Swiss chocolates and candies. Of course, I couldn't pass up a chocolate almond bar sitting there waiting for me to pass by.

The cheeses were less exciting. I helped my mom put on one of the big coats for customers hanging by the door, and off we went into the cold to look at shelves full of cheeses, olives, pate, butter and cheese spreads. The French section looked a little bit sparse. There were no big stinky cheeses, no Roquefort, and I didn't see an abundance of the small, artisanal cheeses I love so much. I did, however, find another Italian treasure that I am looking forward to trying. As the goosebumps on my bare legs stood up hard, and I got to the point where I knew I needed to get to warmer places, I decided to make one more quick round. My mom and I had already spent quite a bit of time wandering around without finding any dairy products that looked outrageous, but right before we decided to head for the cashier with our array of goodies, an interesting little cheese stuffed into a plastic container caught my eye. I knew this was the one I had to try. Jackpot!

In the end we purchased some country pate, chocolates, a pastry, the Italian cheese and a container of green olives.

Keep checking back for the details and review on the Italian cheese. It might take me a few weeks, because I have a few other cheeses already lined up to review, but I will eventually get to it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jasper Hill Harbison

Every now and then I stumble upon a cheese that everyone loves. There's no controversy around it. It's unique in its field, and people can happily agree that the taste, texture and appearance are exceptional. Such is the case with Jasper Hill's Harbison.

Vermont pasture.

Jasper Hill farm is located in Greensboro,Vermont. An underground aging facility hosts cheeses made on the premises as well as some made by other producers in the area. The milk used in Jasper Hill cheeses is gathered from pasture-raised Ayrshire cows that feed primarily on fresh grasses during the warm months and hay supplemented with a little bit of grain during the colder months. There are almost as many staff members on the farm as there are cows, and quality and cleanliness are of the utmost importance to the Jasper Hill team. Although the company is mostly known for its exceptional cheeses, it has implemented a sustainable whey-fed pork program using leftover whey from the cheese-making process to feed a small drove of pigs raised for eating purposes.

On a recent shopping trip, I became distracted by the beautiful cheeses on display at Whole Foods Market in Boulder. As I was browsing, one of the ladies working behind the counter asked me if I had tried Harbison. Another employee had mentioned this cheese to me a few weeks earlier, so it was already on my rapidly growing list of cheeses to try. I was intrigued and asked her to describe it. Even though she had trouble putting together a vivid description, her eyes lit up when she mentioned how good it is, so much so that I felt compelled to buy some based solely on her facial expressions and overall excitement. I could see that this was a cheese that had impressed her and put a smile on her face. I had high expectations, but I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew was that it was bound to be good.

Young Harbison holds its shape but still oozes slightly at room temperature when not constrained. 

It was. It blew me away. Did Christmas just explode in my mouth?

I can see why describing this cheese is difficult. It stands alone in a unique category. While it's described as a semi soft cheese, it's much smoother than most other semi soft cheeses, more like a creamy savory pudding that melts on your tongue. If you heat it, the cheese oozes into a rich pool of heavenly liquid. Any heat softens its more pungent notes. If you were granted a wish that any cheese could magically flow out of a fountain, this is the one you would want to choose.

According to the Jasper Hill website, "Harbison is named for Anne Harbison, affectionately known as the grandmother of Greensboro."

Unwrapping the elegant little wheel is much like uncovering a small treasure. The outer surface of the cheese is like Brie with a bloomy rind, but Harbison is artfully wrapped with strips of wood from spruce cambium, the inner bark of the tree, on the sides. Inside the spongy white exterior and firm rind sits a super soft ivory-colored paste. Grab a spoon and dig right in!

The flavor of this exquisite little gem evolves, each new taste distinct and different from the last. The mushroomy and earthy flavors of the rind give way to delicate straw and sweet citrus flavors not unlike a Camembert's, but more complex. Herb, juniper and pine flavors quickly follow, and a lovely pine-nut essence lingers on the palate long after the last bite.

Harbison can be served as is. You can also serve it with crusty bread, mini pretzels, delicate crackers or fruit, or on toasted rye bread.

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:

Harbison is a very complex, full flavored cheese so the wine should be rather big but not clash. I think reds would just not work because of the creaminess of this cheese. Whites of choice would be an off dry Riesling such as Kung Fu Girl, at $9.99 and I also think that those racy Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand would work well, with the citrusy acidity and the grassiness of the nose would mingle nicely with the earthy citrusy notes of the cheese. Try Ana ($11.99) or the sophisticated Dog Point which sells for $18.99. I would also try a flavorful and minerally Southern Franch white like Little Jame’s Basket Press from St Cosme ($16.99) or Moulin de Gassac’s Guilhem Blanc for only $10.99. Cheers!

Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with the complexity of Harbison.