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Monday, October 2, 2017

Buying Things For the Cuteness Factor

I have a hard time resisting cute items in small packages. I once bought a container of three baby cauliflower heads, one purple, one white, and one yellow, for five times what they should have cost simply because they were so little and adorable. They tasted exactly the same as adult cauliflower, which I knew would be the case, but they were so darn cute. I couldn't resist. The same urge to buy overcame me when I saw the mini Ile de France Brie cheese in the to-go case at Lucky's Market. Fortunately, this little fromage won't drain your pocketbook.

Ile de France mini Brie
Ile de France Brie comes in a colorful package.

Ile de France mini brie comes in a 25-gram serving in a plastic container. That's just under one ounce, and it's just about the cutest round of cheese you can imagine. Unlike many individually wrapped cheeses, this is real cheese. It's truly a scaled-down version of Brie, not a cheese-like product. That said, the flavor and texture aren't exactly like a classic, normal-sized Brie.


Ile de France mini Brie
Even a mini Brie has a bloomy rind.

Ile de France
Ile de France Brie has a nice thickness.

This mini Brie has a soft interior, much softer than one would expect. You won't find a firm paste with a creamline under the bloomy rind that's not as moldy as the larger version. In fact, the interior is a lot like the creamline of a regular Brie, only a bit firmer. The flavor is not as intense, but there are a slight earthy note and the typical mushroomy flavor of the rind that emerges once you bite into the tiny wheel.

Don't buy Ile de France mini Brie expecting a brilliant cheese; buy it because it's charming and easy to pack in your lunch box. Serve this little gem with a French roll or any way you would normally serve Brie. It pairs well with fruit, chutney, crackers, figs, or toasted nuts. 

Chardonnay is probably the more sensible wine choice when it comes to pairing Ile de France mini Brie cheese. Reisling, Viognier or Marsanne also go well with this cheese. For reds, try a Pinot Noir or other fruity selection. If you prefer beer, go with a Pilsner or a light beer. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

Oh, the world of cheddar. There are so many varieties and flavors. Sharp, mild, medium or smoked, there's a cheddar for everyone. The English made them famous, but cheddars are produced all over the world now. Unlike Roquefort, cheddar cheese has no protected designation of origin, but there's a distinct label in the European Union for West County Farmhouse Cheddar that specifies this cheddar must be made using traditional methods with milk that's local to the regions of Somerset, Dorset, Cornwall and Devon. Outside of Europe, however, cheddar and cheddar-like cheeses can all be classified as cheddar.  

Cheddar cheese starts with a process of heating the milk and adding rennet, an enzyme that helps form the curd. After the whey is poured off, the curds are left to drain and eventually knit together in a cheesecloth. The mass is removed from the cloth and sliced into small loaves that are stacked on top of each other, allowing more moisture to drain. This process of stacking the loaves is called cheddaring, and it affects both the texture and the flavor of the cheese. Cheeses created using this method tend to be dry and layered in their texture, and the flavor is usually less acidic than cheeses with more moisture. 

The story goes that in 2003, Cabot creamery partnered with Jasper Hill to create a particular cloth-bound cheddar. Developing cheese flavor doesn't depend solely on the age of the cheese; it also depends on how the cheese is aged. That's where Jasper Hill steps in and shines. Wrapping a wheel of cheese in cloth as it ages reduces the loss of moisture and helps to develop a hard, natural rind that protects the interior. These days, many companies use wax, which works well to keep the innards moist but prevents mold and, as a result, more subtle flavors from developing. In fact, the good folks at Jasper Hill rub lard on the young cheddar from Cabot Creamery in order to support mold growth as the cheese ages for about a year on spruce shelves. There's no lack of complexity in this cheese. 


Cabot Clothbound
Cabot Clothbound has a natural rind.


When you think of cheddar cheese in the United States, you often think of the classic yellow, oily dairy product that has a slightly sharp tang but is more often than not one-dimensional. Cabot's white clothbound cheddar is wax-covered, yellow cheddar's sophisticated and more mature cousin. It's understated but intriguing and, despite its straight-laced first impression, attractive in its covert complexity. 

 


Jasper Hill cheddar
The slightly dry interior is pale but flavorful. 


Cabot Clothbound is an award-winning cheese with a dry, slightly crumbly texture. Its aroma is beautifully balanced, not too funky and not too bland. It's milky and inviting. The natural rind offers earthy notes, but the overall flavor is light and well balanced with a nutty, sweet, caramel finish. The classic cheddar tang is bright, tart and apparent, but there are subtle milky undertones that make this cheese a winner. The savory-sweet combination makes this cheddar the perfect cheese to pair with nearly any dish, hot or cold. Cheese straws made with Cabot Clothbound are divine.

Serve Cabot Clothbound cheddar with crisp apple slices, on a cheese and charcuterie board, or by itself with a side of homemade potato or sweet potato chips. Though it's not the best slicing cheese, it still goes well on sandwiches, grilled or cold. Use this cheese in any recipe that calls or cheddar or a mixture of cheeses. Don't forget to add a piece to a slice of warm apple pie for dessert.




Cider pairs well with Cabot Clothbound. 


Unlike some of the big, bold, extra-sharp cheddars that can handle a powerful wine, Cabot Clothbound does better with medium-bodied wines, though there's no real bad match when it comes to this cheese. If you do go for a Cabernet, you might want to stick with a low-tannin, fruity Chilean or Australian type. Try serving this cheese with Pinot Blanc, Friulano, Nebbiolo, Syrah, Zinfandel, or a tawny or ruby Port. You won't be disappointed if you pour yourself a nice brown ale as an accompaniment, and a sparkling cider pairs exceptionally well, too. 



Monday, August 21, 2017

Tomme de Crayeuse

I spent a lot of time eyeing this cheese before I could work up the courage to buy some. I would go to the store, take a few moments to stare at it while it eyed me back and then turn around and walk away, defeated. It's the first time I've ever been afraid to try a cheese. You see, when it comes to stinky cheese, I always thought I was as brave as they come. I generally don't mind a little whiff of ammonia that occurs when cheeses go beyond the ripe stage, and readers probably know that I'm down with the funk. The smell of a good stinky cheese intrigues me rather than repels me. Tomme de Cayeuse is something else, though. It's only for the truly brave of heart.

While deciding whether or not I wanted to try this rustic fromage, I did some research. I read reviews and couldn't understand why I was seeing descriptions of the aroma it emits being "strong" or "earthy". Nowhere did I read what people should have been saying, that this cheese stinks. It smells like the aftermath of a sinister event hidden behind a dumpster. It smells like death, a rotting corpse or trash that has been left outside in the sun too long. Am I exaggerating? I don't think so. People describe the smell of the durian fruit as pineapple sitting in an outhouse and still want to try it. Well, despite the aroma of this cheese causing alarm, I figured I would at least sample it if I could bring myself to buy some. I imagined sealing the wedge I would purchase in a container to prevent the entire refrigerator from smelling like a food experiment gone wrong, very wrong. With a plan in mind, I finally grabbed a sizeable wedge, plugged my nose and headed to the checkout lane hoping anyone around me wouldn't be offended.

Tomme de Cayeuse



Before I get to the flavor, let me tell you about the name. Tomme or Tome refers to a type of cheese usually produced in the Alps of France or Switzerland. These cheeses are often made with skim milk or leftover milk and are usually earthy and reminiscent of other alpine cheeses. Different types of Tomme cheeses are identified by the regions where they are made. Tomme de Savoie is one of the more famous tomme-style cheeses, and Tomme de Crayeuse is also made in the Savoie region. Tomme de Crayeuse was actually first created somewhat by accident when an affineur, Max Schmidhauser, was trying to find a way to improve a Tomme de Savoie recipe in 1997. Like Tomme de Savoie, Tomme de Crayeuse is made with cow's milk, and it shares many of the same characteristics.

Tomme de Cayeuse


Crayeuse means "chalky" in French. I can't say that this cheese is really chalky, but it's not oily or soft and is somewhat dry without being crumbly. Some claim that the name is a play on words, a way for people to remember its name by associating it with Tom Cruise. It's a bit of a stretch, but now that I know this, I can't help but think of the Scientology activist and American actor every time I see this cheese. Unlike the clean-cut movie star, Tomme de Crayeuse is on the dungy side. The rind is brownish and moldy looking with patches of white and gray. It looks a bit scary, not like something anyone would immediately think of consuming. The mold develops during the ripening stage that takes place in a cave.

As far as the flavor, it's dank, earthy and mushroomy with hints of the barnyard and hay, which is no surprise when you think about the cheese aging in a warm, moist grotto. In the case of this cheese, it's the one time I will say that's it's really OK to skip consuming the rind, though some people like the taste of deep earth and dirt. The more this cheese ages, the scarier the natural rind becomes. That's where you will find strong ammonia flavors after it ages past its prime. The interior also changes as it ages, becoming gummier and the flavor woodier. Where this odd creation succeeds is in the very inner paste. Here you will find a very lovely and nutty, mild cheese that has faint notes of toast and straw. You might even detect a very slight hint of citrus. Heat the cheese and any bitterness or strong lingering flavors soften, creating a wonderfully flavorful gooey mass.

Serve this cheese with selected charcuterie, sausages, fresh fruit, rustic breads or whole-grain crackers. Sneak it in baked dished for an extra bite or serve at room temperature on a cheese board.


Pinot Noir or Pinot Nero pairs well with Tomme style cheeses.

Tomme de Crayeuse can take a big bold wine with lots of tannins like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. It also pairs well with something more subtle like a Cote de Rhône or Pinot Noir. Gigondas is an excellent choice. You can also try it with an Alsace Riesling, Chardonnay or a Rousette de Savoie. Surprisingly, slightly sweeter wines are a great accompaniment. Give a Tawny Port, Madeira or a Sherry a try. A cheese like this pairs exceptionally well with beer. Try it with Gueuze Girardin or your favorite lager.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tomme de Chambrille


Sometimes a cheese is so outstanding, it leaves me temporarily speechless. Such is the case with Tomme de Chambrille. This cheese is one you have to experience and savor. It's only after I have had time to recover from my pleasant cheese-induced stupor that I can finally write about how incredible this goat cheese is. If it were a horse, Tomme de Chambrille would be a Friesian: unique, mesmerizing, and bold but still beautiful looking. Overall, it's incredible. Leave it to the French to create such a masterpiece. Am I biased? A little bit, but those French cheeses sing to my soul.

Tomme de Chambrille hails from the Poitou Charentes region in south-western France. This area sits south of the Loire Valley. It includes the communities of Cognac, Rochefort, Saintes and La Rochelle, to name a few. Some of you might be familiar with one of the more renowned castles in this area, Le Rochefoucauid. Needless to say, this part of France is incredibly beautiful and lush.


French goat cheese
Ash is used on the rind of Tomme de Chambrille. 


One of the many characteristics that sets Tomme de Chambrille apart from other goat cheeses is its slightly bumpy, bloomy, ashed rind. The coatings of goat cheeses in the Loire Valley are notorious for having ash on them, and many cheese makers in the United States and elsewhere also use ash these days. Tomme de Chambrille's coating is dark enough that it makes an impression but not threatening looking to anyone unfamiliar with these kinds of cheeses.

Ash is added to help with the aging process and to attract favorable bacteria that enhances the flavor of the cheese. It looks pretty, elegant even. It's definitely different. Coating cheese in ash also protects the surface and lengthens the aging process, preventing too much mold growth. As the affineur, Herve Mons does an excellent job of aging this cheese, which isn't surprising considering the many wonderful cheeses on which Mons has worked his magic. This particular beauty is aged on straw mats for at least one month.

French goat cheese
Tomme de Chambrille has a beautiful creamline.


The outer appearance aside, what's most intriguing about Tomme de Chambrille are the overall flavor and the texture. Its light, fluffy and pristine white interior will surely grab your attention, and there's a beautiful creamline that runs along the edge of the rind. While the creamline, which forms when bacterial activity of the rind breaks the solid cheese into a liquid, enhances the mushroomy, earthy flavor of the bloomy rind, the inner paste is noticeably tangy, fruity and light.

French goat cheese


This cheese is head and shoulders above most other cheeses in the goat cheese family. The goaty taste, while strong, isn't overwhelming or shocking. All the flavors blend perfectly and evolve on the palate. As the cheese ages, the flavors become more intense and complex. Once you try this exceptional little fromage, you will probably end up dreaming about it and longing for more. What an extraordinary and memorable product. You can find Tomme de Chambrille at Whole Foods Market in Boulder.

Serve Tomme de Chambrille with crackers or on crusty French bread. I believe this cheese can stand alone, but don't be afraid to add it to a cheese platter. Try it with dried or fresh fruits, sliced cucumbers, or roasted nuts. It pairs nicely with sweet or savory jams or preserves as well. Like Bucheron, Tomme de Chambrille can be used in main dishes and salads.

You can't go wrong pairing Tomme de Chambrille with wine, as it's a cheese that will go with many varieties. Some suggestions include Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Semillion, Viognier, Amarone, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malmsey, Champagne, Port, Pedor Ximenez, Sauternes or Dulce de Monastrell.

Tomme de Chambrille pairs well with Vioginer.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bucheron

Bucheron is a classic and classy goat milk cheese hailing from the Loire Valley. It was the first goat cheese from France to be exported to the United States. The Loire Valley is a lush area in central France, an area that's not lacking in gorgeous vineyards, beautiful gardens, bountiful orchards, working farms and majestic castles. It's no wonder some of the best goat cheeses in the world are made there. These days, however, log-shaped goat cheeses are made in many different countries, including right here in the United States.

France Boucheron cheese
Chenonceau castle in the Loire Valley, France.


If you could take the rind and inner edge of a young Brie and wrap it around a beautiful chevre, the result would be Boucheron. From its subtle, milky aroma to its lovely snow-white interior, this semi-aged goat cheese is one of the more intriguing and elegant versions of chevre available. You won't be overwhelmed by the smell or the taste, both are mild, not pungent in the least. The goaty tang is noticeable but faint, however, it provides more of a bite than cow's milk used in fresh or any other mild cheese. Still, the overall impression is that Bucheron is delicate, light and sophisticated yet curious.


Bucheron cheese review
Bucheron is a pretty goat cheese from France.



As the cheese ages, the flavor intensifies and the off-white creamline around the edge becomes runnier. More of the mushroom and earthy flavors from the rind and inner edge come out, and the tang intensifies. If you're looking to introduce someone to goat cheese for the first time, this would be a good place to start, though a fresh chevre probably wouldn't scare anyone off either. Be careful not to let Bucheron age too long, though, because you will be left with an ammonia emitting creamline that will overpower the soft flavors of the interior.

When it comes to creaminess, there are many different kinds. Boucheron is creamy like a cheesecake. It doesn't exactly melt in your mouth, but it's rich and smooth with just a hint of dryness. It's a wonderful feel in your mouth as the cheese coats your palate. The slightly sweet interior that has faint notes of citrus pairs perfectly with the more savory, somewhat chewy bloomy rind.

A pretty cheese like this looks great on a cheese board with grapes, crackers, Marcona almonds and large Sicilian green olives. This chevre is absolutely perfect on crusty French bread, but it's versatile and can be added to spinach salads, sandwiches, or placed on crostini with herbs, fig jam or a balsamic reduction. It's surprisingly good on burgers or veggie burgers. You can also put this cheese in a baking dish and let it sit in the oven at 350 for about eight minutes before serving it with honey, chutney or fruit jam, and crackers. Bucheron can also stand alone. You can simply eat it by itself and enjoy all the subtle tones that play on your tongue. 


Bucheron France
The creamline near the outer edge is ivory and oozes.



As far as wines, one of the top choices I can suggest is a Sauvignon Blanc. Chenin Blanc, Godello, Sancerre, Vouvray, a nice pale rose, Cabernet Franc, Amarone, Malmsey, any red wine blends such as Menage a Trios, or a Ruby Port that's not overly sweet also go well with Boucheron. Lastly, if you're daring, go ahead and try it with your favorite scotch.  


Sauvignon Blanc chevre cheese
Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley pairs well with Bucheron.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hartwell

People warned me that I might be disappointed by this little Brie-like cheese. I was not. Sometimes the beauty of a cheese is in its subtlety. Perhaps because Hartwell is one of Jasper Hill's babies, those who cautioned me were expecting a jaw-dropping dairy experience with this cheese. Jasper Hill is the same company that produces the wondrous Harbison, a cheese that's unlike any other, one that leaves a definite impression. In the same way that Iggy Pop defines punk rock and you can't compare soft punk (yes, that's a thing) stars to a celebrity so legendary, don't try to compare any cheeses to Harbison. You will be disappointed if you do, but if you go into cheese sampling escapades with an open mind, you might be pleasantly surprised.


Jasper Hill Hartwell
Hartwell cheese comes in a tiny package.


Hartwell may not be the life of the party, but sometimes a wallflower is more intriguing and ends up being the one people hold dear. It's unique in its own right and comes in a downright adorable package. The milk from grass-fed cows is how the cheese gets its overall rich, buttery flavor. It has a bloomy rind that's washed with the sediment from Eden Ice Cider, which gives the soft, outer surface a unique tang. The outer surface has all the characteristics of a traditional bloomy rind, but the earthy, mushroomy flavor is amplified, on the verge of being spicy with just a hint of the country in there. Even the aroma of the cheese is mushroomy, very much like a strong and slightly edgier Brie, though it never approaches hardcore.


Hartwell Cheese Jasper Hill
A young Hartwell has a pretty outer rind.


Elegant cheeses in small packages are hard to find, but this one succeeds where others fail. Its shape, color, and overall look are classy. The inner off-white paste is smooth and even. This is a true semi-soft cheese, slightly creamy with a substantial chewy mouthfeel. The flavor intensifies as the cheese ages.

Hartwell on a whole wheat baguette or on rye crackers makes a fabulous snack. The cheese pairs well with tart apples or seasonal pears, too. You can serve it as you would a traditional Brie, even baked in a crust. Try it on plain crackers with roasted and chopped nuts sprinkled on top or in place of any cheese in your favorite sandwich.

Wines that go well with Heartwell include Chardonnay, Gamay, Zinfandel, Sauternes, Pinot Noir from Chile or even a nice champagne. If you're a beer fan, try this little treasure with a Pilsner.

Hartwell and Chardonnay
Chardonnay pairs well with Hartwell.


From the Jasper Hill website:

Jasper Hill is a working dairy farm with an on-site creamery in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. An underground aging facility maximizes the potential of cheeses made by the creamery, as well as those made by other local producers. Leftover whey from the cheesemaking process is fed to heritage breed pigs, roaming the woodlands beyond the cows' pasture.

Jasper Hill's mission is to make the highest possible quality products in a way that supports Vermont's working landscape. We are driven to be the standard bearer of quality and innovation in the artisan cheese industry while promoting our regional taste of place.


Hartwell
More information about Hartwell from the Jasper Hill website.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

1924 Bleu

Herve Mons has stepped back into the limelight as the affineur of the stellar 1924 Bleu, a blue cheese that's made with equal parts sheep and cow milk, but the true hero here is Francois Kerautret, the cheese marketer who created this charming treasure. He transitioned into a cheesemaker when he had the idea to take Roquefort back to its roots before it received the first ever appellation d'origine of any cheese in 1925 that required cheesemakers to use only sheep's milk and to make and age Roquefort using specific guidelines. Kerautret wanted to go back to using a mixture of milk instead of purely sheep's milk for his version of blue cheese. After a few years of urging, Kerautret persuaded Mons to work with him on a prototype, and, not long after, 1924 Bleu was born. If Roquefort is the bold king and Bleu D'Auvergne is the calmer prince, then 1924 Bleu is the beautiful and lively duchess in the royal blue cheese family.


1924 Bleu
1924 Bleu is rich and creamy.
1924 Bleu Herve Mons
There are a lot of blue-green veins in this cheese.



Aged in Herve Mons' caves near Roanne, almost 400 miles from Roquefort, 1924 Bleu develops a natural rind that has a nice aroma of the country. The aging process continues when the wheels are sent to the United States, and they end up being about four or five months old once the consumer digs into the wonderful, extra creamy interior. The rind adds to the overall woody, earthy, mushrooomy flavor, but the first thing you will notice is a quick burst of salt and a spicy tang that evens out quickly. Notes of straw and a sweet, nutty taste that pairs well with the traditional mold of blue cheeses follow. The longer the cheese ages, the more hints of ammonia emerge, but even when this little blue is past its prime, it's still tasty. But, oh, that rich creaminess! That's what will stick with you. I do suggest that you eat this while it's younger, but if you're not afraid to take a walk on the wild side, go ahead and let it age.

As I often suggest, a nice crusty French bread goes well with 1924 Bleu. Try it with some wildflower honey or on a spinach salad. You can use it in a stuffed chicken or in stuffed mushroom caps, and it also adds flavor to any cheese dip recipe.

I served this blue with Two Rivers Vintner's Blend, but it's an elegant cheese that will pair well with many wines including Arneis, Muscat, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, Sauternes or even a sherry or, for you beer fans, a porter or stout.


Vintner's Blend
Two Rivers Vintner's Blend pairs well with this cheese.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Funkmeister


                                                  


Didn't I recently say I was looking for a cheese with some funk? Well, I found it. Hold onto your extra tall and slightly outlandish Godfather hats. This is Funkmeister, a cheese named for that stinky, pungent odor that comes from a good washed-rind cheese. It's exciting and cool and slightly out there and maybe just a little bit dirty, but man, like those bad boys that are oh so good, you will want to keep coming back to this one.

Haystack Mountain in Longmont, Colorado is known for its goat milk cheeses, but they carry an excellent selection of cow milk cheeses as well. The company has been creating award-winning products since 1989. Jackie Chang is the lead cheesemaker at Haystack Mountain. She grew up in Taiwan and Korea and moved to Boulder in the late 80s. Her cheeses are designed to be flavorful but not overpowering. Such is the case with Funkmeister.



Funkmeister is a double cream, washed-rind cheese, washed in a cultured brine. This process encourages bacteria to spread and grow on the surface of the rind, enhancing the aroma, flavor and aging of the cheese. The cow's milk and cream used are organic. A vegetable rennet is used in the cheese-making process, so vegetarians can dig in without worry.

Inside the ochre rind that's ever so slightly sandy is a rich ivory paste. To say it's creamy is an understatement. The inner texture is divine and practically melts on your tongue. The complex flavor is equally magnificent. It consists primarily of a cream taste with strong notes of raw hazelnuts and softer undertones of straw, mushrooms and earth with a gentle but noticeable tang that goes right to your nose, not unlike the little zing associated with yogurt. This cheese is spicy and sharp without being obnoxious. There's a good dose of salt that hits your palate after the initial flavor has subsided and a very, very slight bitterness at the finish that's not at all unpleasant. The flavors intensify as the cheese ages. Oddly, despite the very obvious pungent and spicy flavor, my overall impression is that this is a delicate, fruity cheese. Sure, it's showy and outrageous on the surface and maybe a little bit offensive to the nose, but there's a refinement about Funkmeister that puts it up close in ranking to cheeses such as Epoisse and Pont l'Eveque.


Funkmeister
Funkmeister has an interesting looking rind.


Funkmeister
Saving room for some crusty bread on this plate.


The best way to serve this cheese is at room temperature straight up on some crusty French bread. It's a great cheese to put on sandwiches, too. Serve it on a cheese board with sliced tart apples, grapes, celery sticks and dried meats. Try Funkmeister in baked dishes as well. Heat softens and tames the flavor while allowing it to retain its depth. Any harsher notes disappear when it's cooked in pasta, eggs, or even when it's simply melted on toast. You can also serve it as suggested on the Haystack Mountain website, with savory preserves.

Funkmeister pairs well with Pinot Gris, Condrieu, Riesling, Gamay, Malbec, Blanc de Noir, Chenin Blanc or Jurancon. Haystack Mountain also suggests serving it with a floral, piney IPA.

Oh yes, we want the funk.

Try Funkmeister with a nice IPA.






Monday, April 10, 2017

Petit Munster - A Tale of Two Cheeses

When I was in France on a three-week whirlwind trip in the 90s, one of my favorite things to do after seeing the sights in Paris was to go to the fromagerie located near the hotel where I was staying. There, I found some of the most incredible cheeses imaginable. I fell in love with both the Petit Munster and the Petit Pont L'Eveque. Both of these cheeses are of the wash-rind variety, and the flavor of each is bold, funky and not for the meek. I smuggled some into the United States on my way home. Since the gentleman in customs acknowledged both the cheese and the beautiful Poilane boule I was carrying and let me go with nothing more than a joke about people not being fed this kind of food in the United States, getting the goodies into this country was not as dangerous as it sounds, though it probably wouldn't be so easy now. Whenever I asked about Petit Munster here in the United States, I was directed to sliced muenster cheese, a different animal altogether. Petit Munster is a semi-soft, wash-rind cheese that has a strong aroma and a slightly sticky outer surface.

After many years of searching for the Petit Munster here, I found some at a local supermarket. It's not cheap, but I decided to splurge and try it. It was very good, but this was nothing like what I had in France, not even close. All of a sudden, I was on a mad quest. There had to be a way to find this cheese, the one I remembered so well.


Petit Munster
This pale-looking Petite Munster cheese has a mild flavor.


I scoured online cheese websites, made calls, sent emails, and asked local cheese mongers where I could find this cheese, all to no avail. The only one out there seemed to be the one produced by Haxaire. That was the same one I found at the supermarket. Finally, I found a description on Igormet that seemed different. Could it be? It sounded like it was the very cheese I wanted, but I had to make sure. In a chat with an Igormet representative, I explained that I had purchased the Haxaire producer's version, which was nice but not what I consider true Petit Munster, and I was hoping to find and purchase the Jean Roussey version or something similar. The lady offered me a more detailed description, and it sounded exactly like what I wanted. I ordered some despite it being an even larger splurge.

The days seemed to take weeks to pass as I waited impatiently for my cheese to arrive, but eventually, it showed up at my doorstep. When I tore into the package, I was not happy to find the exact same Haxaire produced Petit Munster I had purchased (for half the price!) earlier. Fortunately, after I explained the situation to the Igourmet representative, I was refunded, but the whole experience left me disappointed. The search continues, only less enthusiastically now that I know it's unlikely I will ever find what I'm looking for. I haven't given up completely, though. Also, it was nice of Igourmet to let me keep what they had sent, even though it wasn't what I wanted.

A darker Petite Munster tasted about the same as the lighter one.


Below is my review of the Haxaire Petite Munster.

I could very simply state that this cheese tastes like Camembert, but I think my readers want more information than that. It's similar to Camembert, but it's not exactly the same, of course. Despite receiving two cheeses with the same label, you will notice that the second cheese is distinctly more orange in color. One might guess that the first is a younger cheese, but it's more likely that the rind on the second developed more bacteria during the aging process. Still, the flavor of both was almost identical, though the smell of the second was a wee bit funkier, and the rind was also stickier.

Traditional Petit Munster is made with a high-protein, unpasteurized milk from the Vosges, an area near Alsace, and it's aged, often in caves or cellars owned by monasteries and abbeys, in the town of Munster. The cheese is protected by an Appellation d'Origine Controlee that ensures producers rigorously observe various steps in the cheesemaking process. Inside the wash rind that tastes more like a bloomy rind than the familiar pungent ones associated with most cheeses in this genre is a beautiful ivory paste. The texture is fat and beefy. The first cheese I bought was like ambrosia, delicate with a light, flavorful taste. The second was just a little bit more pungent, and the texture was heavier. Both are mild with notes of button mushrooms, milk and butter and a faint taste of Brazil nut. As the cheese ages, its flavor becomes more pronounced.

Petit Munster can be served hot or at room temperature. Bake it and serve it with crusty bread, slice it onto salads, serve it with fresh fruit, try it with boiled potatoes and sesame and cumin seeds, or place a wedge on a cracker or apple slice topped with honey. This cheese with pairs well with Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Sauternes or Jurancon.

Pair Petite Munster with Gewurztraminer.





Monday, March 27, 2017

Uniekaas Gouda Truffle

I have a new addiction. Actually, it's an old one, but when I started this post, it was fairly new. I took a break from writing cheese reviews and only recently started up again, but I didn't stop sampling great cheeses. I kept telling myself I would write a review of the Uniekaas Gouda Truffle cheese, but I got too lost in the sampling part to bother writing anything. This is a cheese with that WOW factor, and sometimes writing about these kinds of impressive products can be intimidating. It's a sign of a good cheese, though. I wanted to do it justice.

It's true that I occasionally get stuck in a pleasant rut buying the same cheese time after time if it's good enough, but I took this one a bit far and refused to buy anything else for months. Conveniently forgetting to write up a review worked as a great excuse to continue buying more and more of this particular, delightful cheese, though I was limited by my finances, of course. The intention to write was there, but I didn't follow through until now. I think there was a part of me that wanted to keep buying this and only this cheese, but the spell was broken recently when I stumbled upon Cypress Grove's Purple Haze, which I reviewed here.


Truffles

Truffles are among the best gourmet foods in the world. Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the famed French epicure and gastronome, is quoted as saying: “Truffle. As soon as the word is spoken, it awakens lustful and erotic memories among the skirt-wearing sex and erotic and lustful memories among the beard-wearing sex. This honorable parallelism comes not only from the fact that this esteemed tuber is delicious, but also because it is still believed to bring about potency, the exercise of which brings sweet pleasure.”  Unfortunately, many cheeses with added truffles also have an overpowering flavored truffle oil mixed in, making the final taste shockingly garlicky. Others don't add nearly enough truffle, making the flavor too subtle. Fortunately, with this Gouda truffle cheese, there is a nice but faint garlic flavor, and the true flavor of the actual truffle shines. This is how truffles done right taste. 

I often think of Peter Mayle and his description of pigs finding truffles in the woods in France, a scene in his book "Toujours Provence". He explains that the scent of truffles to a pig is sexual, and the animal sometimes has trouble containing itself. It gets excited and roots around more vigorously when the truffle aroma is unearthed. That's why some truffle searchers have taught dogs how to sniff out the treasured fungus. Truffles are known to be an aphrodisiac to humans as well, though few people have to be held back upon seeing or smelling the sacred mushroom. Dogs, on the other hand, wait patiently after pointing out the truffle. A canine's lack of enthusiasm regarding mushrooms is why it's perfect for the job: no destroyed truffles on this four-legged friend's shift. Now pair this beautiful black treasure with a fine Gouda, and you have yourself one hell of a cheese.


Uniekaas Gouda Truffle
Uniekaas Gouda Truffle cheese can stand on its own.

Uniekaas Gouda Truffle cheese is rich and buttery with hints of walnuts and a very slight tang that's true of all Goudas. It's not sweet but there are very subtle notes of butterscotch. It's the Italian black truffle flavor that stands out. The sharpness of the semi-soft, pliant but not sticky Gouda is matched by the truffles, and the whole cheese becomes balanced while still retaining its character. This is a showstopper, something that will grab people's attention. 

From the Uniekaas website:

Made on small farms using raw milk from the farm's herd of cows, Uniekaas Raw Milk Farmer Gouda with Truffles starts as a traditional "Boerenkaas" or Farmer Cheese. However, just prior to pressing and shaping of the cheese, shavings of Italian Black Truffles are generously sprinkled throughout the curd.
Considered "black gold" in Italy, black truffles are a rare delicacy with a strong earthy aroma and umami flavor — or the "fifth taste." After nine weeks of aging, these flavors are infused throughout the cheese along with notes of walnuts. (from Uniekaas)
The Uniekaas Gouda Truffle is a cheese you can eat by itself. It also pairs well with tart apples or light rye crackers. Add it with a blend of cheeses into some mac and cheese or make fancy cheese sandwiches with it. Because of its robust flavor, Truffle Gouda doesn't require any accessories, just the cheese by itself piled into some crusty bread and sauteed in a pan with some butter or oil makes an outstanding grilled cheese sandwich. Simple perfection.

Serve this outstanding cheese with Janasse Chateauneuf-du-pape, Chardonnay, Montepulciano D'abruzzo, Pino Gris, Sangiovese, Riesling or Jurancon. 


Montepulciano D'abruzzo pairs well with this gouda truffle cheese.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Red Hawk

Red Hawk cheese is the legitimate (it plays too much by the rules to be illegitimate) lovechild of a triple-cream Brie and Taleggio. In the same way a pony is not quite a horse but everyone knows they are both in the equine family, Red Hawk is technically a washed-rind cheese. It's just a very mild wash rind, a less hardcore stinky cheese. It's like when Metallica decided to throw everyone a curve ball and release Nothing Else Matters. Is it heavy metal if it's soft? Possibly not, but everyone still loved the song. Such is the case with Red Hawk. It doesn't quite fit in with traditional heavy-hitting washed-rind cheeses, but it's a fun little cheese that people can't resist.

Cowgirl Creamery is responsible for making and aging Red Hawk and several other cheeses. One thing to note is that the Cowgirl Creamery cheeses are Marin Organic Certified. It's not surprising that Red Hawk won Best-In-Show in 2003 at the American Cheese Society's annual conference. It also nabbed a 2nd place award in the Best-In-Show category six years later. Those aren't the only awards this stellar cheese has won, though. It took gold at the 2014 and 2013 State Fair and secured a second place at the American Cheese Society in 2012. Be sure to check out the entire "about us" section on the Cowgirl Creamery website. You will learn not only about Red Hawk and its many awards but about how the company started and even how cheese is made. It's worth it to explore each category, from the cheeses to the recipes.

What struck me most about Red Hawk is the fresh smell that rose up when I opened the package. It was almost like sticking my nose into a container of beautifully prepared cottage cheese, buttermilky and mild with just a hint of yeasty stink if you get your nose up close. This is the perfect cheese to use if you want to introduce someone to the world of washed-rind cheeses but don't want to traumatize anyone. This wash rind is sticky to the touch but not so much that it gets embedded and lingers on your fingers the entire day, though the smell will stick with you somewhat.

Everything is mild with this cheese. Even the color isn't as robust an orange as most other washed-rind cheeses. It's pale with just a hint of an orange hue.

The interior is a paste you can cut into, not something you want to eat with a spoon like Epoisse; it's a semi-firm consistency. Despite a bit of a funky aroma, the flavor is mild with hints of milk and cashews. An unexpected, slightly sweet, fruity tang that's reminiscent of a goat milk cheese hits your palate as an afterthought. It makes this little treasure intriguing and more complex that the traditional mild, nutty-flavored wash rinds. Heated, the flavor evens out nicely. Can you imagine this in a mac and cheese dish? Swoon! I love this kind of cheese with corn chips or crackers with some texture, but it pairs well with a crusty baguette, of course. Try it with quince paste or serve it with slices of tart apples for dessert.


Red Hawk
Red Hawk cheese, side and rind view.

Red Hawk cheese up close. Too bad the aroma can't be sensed in this image.


As far as the details, they are as follows:

Farm / Company: Cowgirl Creamery
Cheesemaker: Point Reyes Team
Proprietor: Sue Conley & Peggy Smith
Affineur:
City, State: Pt Reyes Station, CA
Region: West
Country: USA
Milk Type: Cow
Milk Treatment: Pasteurized
Rennet: Vegetarian  (Vegetarians rejoice!) 
Rind: Washed
Texture: Soft
Aging: 4 weeks


For wine pairings, I suggest Chardonnay, Torrontes, Pinot Blanc or Chenin Blanc for the white wines. A Tempranillo Blends, Sangiovese, Malbec or Lagrein would do well, too. For dessert, try either a Jurancon dessert wine or a Blanc de Noir sparkling wine. 






Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bayley Hazen Blue

Jasper Hill is quickly becoming a favorite American cheese company among cheese aficionados. One of their more notable cheeses is Harbison , but the team at Jasper Hill makes many outstanding cheeses including a remarkable blue cheese called Bayley Hazen Blue.

Cheese making involves several steps, each with a separate team to oversee the process. It all starts with the milk. Many cheese companies outsource their milk, but Jasper Hill has its own creamery and is also part of a shared space facility called the Vermont Food Venture Center. The motto at Jasper Hill Farm is quality over quantity, so they push for excellence over mass production. They milk about 45 cows that are pasture-fed during the warm months and fed dry hay the remaining months. Each style of cheese is made from a single herd of cows. Once the cows are milked, the cheeses can be made, and once they are ready, the cheeses must be aged in their unique climates. Jasper Hill has its own aging facility that is separated into seven specially calibrated vaults. In addition to the recipe of the cheese, the aging process is what makes each cheese different.

After the products have been packaged, selling the cheese is the last step in the process unless you count eating, which is where I come in. A cheese monger is the one who does the selling, and I am the customer or the cheese eater.

Bayley Hazen Blue is a surprisingly well balanced raw milk cheese that is reminiscent of the English blue cheeses. Think of a dense, intriguing and more rock and roll version of a Stilton. It's drier than the American blues or the famous French Roquefort, but I wouldn't say it's a very crumbly blue. Some say it has a fudge-like texture, but it's not as chewy or sweet, of course, though there is a nice sweetness about this cheese. This dairy product does have a nice mouthfeel, and the finishing texture is soothing and creamy on the palate. The natural rind provides a wee bit of an earthy, mushroom flavor that's not unlike that of a bloomy rind cheese, but the texture and look are nothing like the rind you would see on a Brie. The outer grayish crust is thin, dry and almost sandy.

This is a bold cheese that has an immediate salty kick. The tang that eventually hits the back of your throat is balanced by a traditional spicy blue cheese flavor with a trace of licorice. Light nutty notes, such as toasted hazelnuts or Brazil nuts, are present, and these undertones are complemented by an overall earthy, straw-like taste. Primarily, there's a wonderful milky flavor that stands out. Some describe this as buttery, but it's really a pure, fresh milk taste. The more the cheese ages, the more a barnyard characteristic emerges. When heated, the total flavor of this blue cheese mellows and becomes quite mild and lovely.

At Jasper Hill, here is how they suggest pairing the cheese:

"The texture and flavor make Bayley an ideal choice for any lover of blue cheese, but with a balance of flavors that renders it accessible to those new to the style. Try pairing with a fruity red dessert wine, toasty Imperial Stout, or a hunk of dark chocolate. Bayley is also ideal for crumbling over a juicy burger or adding to a salad with spinach, walnuts, and dried tart cherries."


Some other suggestions are:
Riesling or Chardonnay, Grenache, shiraz or Sangiovese.
Try Champagne or even a Tawny port for dessert.

  Bayley Hazen Blue
Beautiful blue veins are abundant in this cheese. 

Bayley Hazen Blue
The cheese is dense enough that it doesn't crumble completely.



Monday, February 13, 2017

Purple Haze

It's no surprise that my new favorite cheese, Purple Haze, comes from one of my all time favorite cheese companies, Cypress Grove. What is surprising is just how much I love this cheese. Dare I say it's addicting? It is, even after one bite. The unexpected shower of subtle but enticing herbs combined with the sweet tang of the goat cheese makes this little beauty both puzzling and remarkable. It's one you will want to keep exploring. Each bite seems to evolve as the flavors build and change on your palate. 

Purple Haze is a brilliantly thought out product. Reading the ingredients, I wouldn't have thought it would be something this extraordinary. It contains simply pasteurized goat milk, salt, fennel pollen, lavender, cultures and enzymes. That's it. I'm not a huge lavender fan and fennel isn't a flavor I often rave about, though I don't mind either one. I just didn't realize how delightfully these flavors would pair with a fresh goat cheese. If anyone was wondering, fennel pollen comes from the flower part of the fennel plant. It's an exceptionally aromatic perennial herb, and the pollen has a nice, slightly sweet and powerful flavor. A little bit goes a long way, and there's just the right amount in this cheese. Purple Haze has won many awards for good reason. It's a unique cheese with an exceptional taste. 

The beauty of Purple Haze is that the flavors are balanced perfectly. The herbs don’t overwhelm the cheese and visa versa. The flavor is outstanding, almost otherworldly. While the flavors are subtle at first, there's no denying the lovely but unexpected lavender and fennel accents. And these flavors build to a gorgeous crescendo. This is a cheese you will want to keep coming back to. It’s incredibly memorable. This beautiful cheese transports you into a sunny, fairy tale afternoon. You can picture yourself strolling through a charming garden on a warm, spring day.

Someone suggested caramelizing the top of this cheese before serving. That sounds divine!



Purple Haze
Purple Haze on toasted rye bread.

As far as pairings, make sure whatever you put the cheese on isn't too salty, too sweet or too aromatic. You don't want anything competing with these lovely flavors. For wine, a nice Sauvignon Blanc or Reisling would do well. Most red wines will be too strong, but you could also try a light rose.  

You can read about Cypress Grove's sexy Truffle Tremor or their wonderful everyday cheese the Lamb Chopper in my other blog posts.