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A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the category “Blue”

Making Waves: Bay Blue

My roller-coaster of a relationship with blue cheese has been well-documented on this blog, but that love/hate dynamic has recently reached new heights. I have found my cheese crack…and it comes from a very unexpected place.

Have you guys heard of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.? If you’re reading this from California, my guess is that you have. Throughout the country, really, these guys are a big deal. The creamery was founded in 2000 by Bob Giacomini, his wife, and their four daughters, on the family dairy farm in beautiful Marin County, California. There’s a lot to like about Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.: A true family-run operation, the Giacominis are dedicated to preserving the area’s natural environment, serving as stewards of the land (check out this great write-up about their compost company & super-cool methane converter) and very active members of Marin Agricultural Land Trust. Plus, they raise hella-cuta (that’s Northern Californian for ‘very’) pasture-based cows! With all this going for them, and considering their popularity here in San Francisco, you can imagine the weight of my secret shame: I don’t like their flagship cheese. There! I said it!

Point Reyes Blue Wedges

Point Reyes Blue Wedges

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. filled a huge gap in the market when they popped on the scene in 2000 with the first-ever California-made blue cheese. Point Reyes Original Blue is famous, in-demand, and highly regarded…just not by me. I’m picky with blues! You already know that. The sharp, metallic, and persistent push of Original Blue is just too much for me. Amazing and mysterious cheese-blogger J ( Straight Outta Comte) perfectly described this flavor as ‘steely‘, an apt characterization that I recall every time we receive a new case of crinkly, pre-wrapped silver wedges. While that guy likes this cheese, I don’t. I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried (often unintentionally, that cheese is so ubiquitous around here), and I just can’t get into it.

Sidenote: For those of you who love Point Reyes Original Blue, please don’t feel bad. By all accounts, I seem to be in the minority here, even in my own household. A certain boyfriend of mine maintains that this is the PERFECT cheese for a bacon burger, but we’ve managed to make things work despite our differences.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been looking for another California blue alternative and, in the meantime, put on my best poker face while talking with customers. So, you can imagine my mixed feelings upon learning that there was another local blue about to hit the market…from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. I heard rumblings and rumors about Bay Blue for months before I ever encountered it in the wild. It was on it’s way…and then it wasn’t. It was out, but impossible to find. And then one day I was out shopping, putting together a cheese plate for a friend’s visit. I had everything I needed, minus a nice, taste-ending blue. I asked one of the cheesemongers at my local little grocery for a suggestion and she pointed to a few small pieces of something tucked away in the corner of the case. And there it was: Bay Blue.

I have to admit, I felt chills. At the time, I thought I was nervous, but in retrospect I recognize that feeling as love-at-first-sight. I told her of my apprehensions and confessed my opinion of Bay Blue’s precursor, but she assured me that this cheese is almost that cheese’s opposite. If I was looking for a dessert cheese, this was IT, and she wouldn’t let me walk away without it. What a saint. That night, I ate Bay Blue for the first time…and I haven’t stopped eating it since.

Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.’s Bay Blue (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk from Marin County, CA)

Bay Blue

The love that I have for Bay Blue is without parallel. It’s crazy to imagine the old me, ardently declaring myself anti-blue, when you see me now, happily spooning Bay Blue into my mouth (small, taster spoons, mind you). I have found my blue and, like I said, from an entirely unexpected source.

Where Point Reyes Original Blue is creamy, tangy, and intense, Bay Blue is dense, fudgy, crumbly, sweet, and mellow. This natural-rinded wheel is slightly yellow and jam-packed with little bits of crunchy blue mold. It looks killer, but it only kills you with kindness. Bay Blue is modeled after Stilton, but its salted caramel taste and slightly chocolatey finish remind me more of warped aged Gouda…gone buttery and blue. SF Gate cheese expert Janet Fletcher calls the flavor “a blend of toasted walnut, praline, caramel, brown butter, and saltine cracker.” Yes! That saltine bit is spot on and something I never could have pinpointed myself. Ms. Fletcher and I aren’t this cheese’s only fans. Only months after its debut, Bay Blue was named a 2013 Good Food Awards winner. I like to say that I knew it before it was famous.

Now go get yourselves some Bay Blue! I’ve been fantasizing about turning this cheese into a flavor of ice cream or gelato (especially if sandwiched between two gingersnap cookies) but, until that dream becomes a reality, simply smear some on a cracker (Effies Oatcakes, if you can find ’em) and drizzle with a little bit of honey. Feeling savory? A few weeks ago, I put some Bay Blue in a salad of Romaine, Arugula, cherry tomatoes and red onion with a simple dressing of balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious!

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Bonnie Blue?

Let’s take a minute to talk about soup, shall we? It may sound crazy to you, but until 2012 (yep, this year), I didn’t like soup. “What?,” you’re probably saying. “Who doesn’t like soup?” Now, don’t get me wrong: Like all sane humans, I enjoy a grilled cheese dunked in tomato soup from time to time and, before I went veg, I frequently fed a cold with some chicken noodle (I have tendency to get sick). But…that’s about it. To me, soup was always just an excuse to eat something else: a delicious bread bowl or croutons and cheese. I would proudly proclaim that “I like to chew” and end any discussion. That makes it sound like I lead an exciting life full of soup discourse but, really, it’s only come up from time to time. Anyhow, this year, something changed. I don’t know what prompted the decision but, at a local salad and sandwich spot, I ordered the soup. It was carrot dill, and it changed my life. Dramatic language aside, it was so delicious, I can’t even tell you. The ingredients tasted so wonderfully fresh and the soup was so flavorful, I didn’t dunk anything in it! Since then, my eyes have been opened to the world of soup. Potato leek, lentil, minestrone, corn chowder, and on and on and on. My point is: There’s a whole world of soup out there, and to think that I didn’t like all soup, just because I didn’t like some soup, was crazy! And, if you think there’s a wide variety of soup out there, just wait until you start to learn about cheese.

Ah, yes, cheese. Back to the point. I have a coworker who is a self-professed cheese lover. There’s only one problem: According to him, he doesn’t like goat’s milk cheese. He insists and, still, I refuse to believe it. “I didn’t like soup,” I say. “Now, I love it.” Is this making sense? What I’m trying to say is that there are literally thousands of different kinds of goat’s milk cheese. My coworker has had some he doesn’t like, that’s all. One day, with my help, he’ll find the ones that he does! It’s not like he’s lactose intolerant. This guy eats brie almost every day. And if you think that I don’t know what I’m talking about, let my own story be a lesson.

Before about, oh, 6 months ago, I would have sworn to you that I don’t like blue cheese. If I saw anything on the menu that came with blue cheese, I automatically passed. If I saw blue cheese at the grocery, I grimaced. Just the thought of “blue cheese” offended me. Now, I realize that I was wrong. I didn’t like some blue cheeses, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like any of them. My limited experiences with French Roquefort and salads decorated with Gorgonzola had misinformed me! While I appreciate these cheeses and what they (pun intended) bring to the table, I’m still not a fan of that peppery cheese taste and I prefer not to have rich goop weighing down my lettuce (unless, of course, that goop is Ranch dressing). The difference is that now I know there’s a whole world of blue cheese out there, and I’m basically determined to try every one. In fact, my past ‘distaste’ makes each new delicious discovery even more amazing, and it’s taken less than a year to realize that I’ve been a blue lover this whole time!

First, I found the delightfully sweet and sour Bohemian Blue. Then, I became quite fond of the rich and tangy Colston Bassett Stilton. I realized I’d been converted when I tried the smooth & savory Fourme d’Ambert and, when I had that washed rind Tilston Point, I briefly considered never eating anything else. Well, there’s another breathtaking blue to add to that list.

Strachitunt Val Taleggio (raw cow’s milk from Lombardy, Italy)

The first class I worked at The Cheese School last week was ‘Cheese & Wine of Lombardy’ with Italian cheese expert Andy Lax and wine aficionado Naomi Smith. We tasted an incredible variety of Lombardy’s delicacies (one ticket to Italy, please!*), but nothing stunned the crowd (or my senses) like the Strachitunt. This cheese is often called “The Jewel of the Val Taleggio” and it’s not hard to see why.

Where to start? Well, Italy! And the alpine valley of Val Taleggio, to be exact. Strachitunt has been made in this part of Lombardy since the late 1800’s using raw local milk taken only from the Bruna Alpina cows that live at an altitude of nearly 3,000ft. (or, as they say there, 900 meters).

This guy’s just chillin.

Strachitunt is the product of a unique making process: The cheese is made with the combining of two different curds, worked (i.e. produced) 12 hours apart. Meaning, una Bruna Alpina is milked once in the morning and then again that night. The curds from these two milkings are then combined to make this treat. But, first, it’s aged in limestone caves for over two months. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!

As you can maybe see in the picture above, the Strachitunt doesn’t even look that blue. There are some eyes and clustered pockets, but not too many. The piece that I had was completely cream colored! If it weren’t for the appearance of the rind, I wouldn’t have known that it was a blue…until I tasted it. Oh, that taste! This is an aromatic cheese, and you get a good informative whiff right before you pop it in your mouth. The texture is a delightfully confusing mesh of soft and firm (perhaps as a result of the mixed curds?) with an insanely wonderful creaminess on the palate. Known as a ‘dolce-amaro’ (sweet & sour), I found it to be more of a sweet & salty cheese, but in a very delicate and balanced way. Does that make sense? This cheese is hard to describe, it’s magic is so elusive. Here’s an idea: Get some for yourself and let me know what you think. I bet it would be great for dessert, paired with port or some fruit and honey.

*I’m sure my father is ready to kill me at this point. We took a family trip to Italy in 2005 or 2006, which marked my last summer as a meat-eater. I spent the whole trip downing steaks. Now, I’m a vegetarian cheese enthusiast – I should have been eating formaggio instead!

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