Bon Bouche

A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the category “Things I’ve Eaten”

Long Time No Cheese

Writing my first blog post in a really long time feels a little bit like showing up to a party empty-handed. I’m excited, and certainly happy to be here, but also feeling a bit sheepish. And, as when I show up to a party without anything to offer, I know that guests aren’t interested in excuses. What do you really want? Cheese. So, I won’t bother with justifications or explanations. Instead, I’ll get to the good stuff: A long & detailed history of what I’ve been up to since last I wrote. Ha! Kidding.

But, briefly: About one year ago, I left my job at Cowgirl Creamery’s Ferry Building shop. In my time there I learned so much about cheese, how best to serve and care for it, made a handful of incredibly inspiring friends,  and grew my passion for education and customer service. If I could live in San Francisco on that wage (and maybe get a Saturday off every now and again), I might still be there. But, in May of 2014, it was time to move on. I jumped to the wholesale & distribution side of things, briefly working for a small company that imports and sells Italian and other European delicacies before settling in comfortably at GreenLeaf, a powerhouse in the world of Bay Area Food Distribution. Best known for our amazing produce, GreenLeaf recognizes the innovation and excitement happening in the world of cheese, and hired me to join a team of smart and enthusiastic curd nerds to grow the line and the program. These days, I spend my time helping to source and sell high quality cheeses from all kinds of producers, sharing my knowledge and recommendations with chefs, caterers, and really anyone who will listen. It is challenging and enlightening and rewarding and it keeps me very busy!

So busy, in fact, that I have little time for actual cheese eating. Sure, I do tastings with customers for work and quite regularly I’ll get to sample something we’re thinking of bringing in to sell, but it’s been a long time since I sat down to eat cheese like the consumer I am at heart. Or, it had been a long time, until last night.

Mission Cheese, my favorite neighbor, is celebrating their 4th Birthday this week with a string of events and offers that are hard to resist. Tomorrow there will be goats! Last night they had $4 beers, which was enough to get The Noodle off the couch and out into the daunting world of a Valencia Friday Night. Me? I was looking for cheese, and specifically some that I’d never had before. I found three. These are their stories.

(DUN DUN)

Aged Chelsea – Pasteurized Goat’s Milk,  Zingerman’s Creamery, Michigan

AgedChelsea

This cheese could, quite literally, be the icing on a cake. Inspired by the classic cheeses of France’s Loire River Valley, the straight-up geniuses at Zingerman’s Creamery created Aged Chelsea, a bloomy-rinded goat log coated in edible vegetable ash. Oh, ash-ripening, you are one of my favorite things! This centuries-old tradition comes with a number of benefits. Want to keep the surface of your aging cheese free from microbes and mold spores? Add some ash! Worried your lactic beauty will become overly acidic? Add some ash! (When it comes to cheese, it’s not always bad to be basic). Ash-ripening also brings a lot to the table, aesthetically-speaking. Usually utilized with a bright white goat cheese, the stark contrast between rind and paste is strikingly lovely, and Aged Chelsea is no exception. The round discs presented on our cheese board looked like fat, snowy coins, and the taste was money also. This cheese is light and luscious, letting the subtle flavor of the goat’s milk do all the talking. It’s tangy, bright, and yeasty, calling out for a sweet supplement. I like to play with my food, so I crushed up a few dried cranberries and smushed them right in there. Just as I suspected, it was a perfect pairing.

Battenkill Brebis – Raw Sheep’s Milk, 3 Corner Field Farm, New York

3-Corner Field Farm, Shushan, NY

Mike thinks that all sheep’s milk cheese “tastes like an eraser” and, for this reason, I force him to try new ones whenever they present themselves. I wish I could say that this one changed his mind (honestly, I wish I could say anything had changed his mind), but what I can say is that I happily ate both of our portions. While I had not previously heard of 3 Corner Field Farm, I now know that it is a sheep dairy and farmstead creamery in the Battenkill Valley of New York (which is basically New Hampshire). Former Manhattanites Karen Weinberg and Paul Borghard bought the farm in 1990, and they’ve been doing some serious sheep work since then. Their East Friesian tenants are grazed on fresh pasture every 24 hours, exposing the sheep (and, hence, the milk) to a wide variety of forage like clover, trefoil, and wild oregano. These flavors are then reflected in the finished product, especially considering that the cheese is made from raw milk. Battenkill Brebis is a tomme-style aged cheese with stunning complexity. The milk’s savory vegetal flavors are paired with a damp stone quality imparted by 4 to 6 months of cave-aging. Despite what others may think, this delight will not soon be erased from my memory.

Vermilion River Blue – Raw Cow’s Milk, Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, Illinois

VermillionBlue

Remember when I said that I sat down to eat cheese “like the consumer I am at heart”? Well, you can take the girl out from behind the cheese counter, but you can’t take the ‘monger out of the girl. One taste of Vermilion Blue, and I was overcome by the urge to just sell the hell out of it. Memorable name? Check. Semi-soft kid-friendly texture? Check. Little-to-no evident blue veining and a flavor mild enough to trick unsuspecting blue-phobics? Check and check! Damn, I want to throw on that apron and sling this stuff all day. The cheesemakers at Ludwig Farmstead Creamery have a money-maker on their hands with this raw Holstein cow’s milk “triple creme” but…do I like it? That is, quite honestly, hard to say. At the risk of sounding like a total jerk, the qualities that make this cheese so easy to sell are the same qualities that give me pause. Shouldn’t a self-described triple creme actually be creamy? Shouldn’t a raw milk blue be absolutely bursting with flavor? I didn’t get any of that with this cheese, but I did get to try a new (to me) crowd-pleaser. And, for the record, Mikey liked it.

More than Manchego: Otros Quesos de Espana

Hold up — is it really 80 degrees and sunny here in San Francisco? It is…and it has been for the past few days. What? Suddenly it feels like we skipped right over spring and in to high summer, and all this direct heat is making me…groggy. Seriously, I’m nearly asleep on my feet, dazed, and I’m daydreaming of Spain. Have I ever been there? No, which makes it that much easier to imagine it as romantically as possible, all sunshine, siestas, sangria and, por supuesto, queso.*

When I say that, I bet you think of Manchego, no? Not I. While the sheep’s milk wheel from La Mancha might be even more well known than Don Quixote, I’m not sure it has quite as much to offer. Don’t get me wrong: Spain’s most popular cheese is a great and simple staple, one which is particularly good at complementing and enhancing the flavors of its accompaniments. But Spain is a big place — covering an area of over 195,000 square miles — with a cheesemaking history that dates back to the second century. As such, it’s safe to assume that the Spanish have a slightly larger selection to offer. So, when looking for a slice of Espana, try some of these instead.

Mahon Reserva – Raw Cow’s Milk from Minorca, Spain

Mahon Reserva

This Spanish cow’s milk cheese is almost as popular as Manchego and only slightly stronger in flavor. If you want to branch out, but not go too far, Mahon is the cheese for you. Is it fairly mild? Yes. Is it also beautiful and delicious? Yes and Yes. Hailing from the island of Minorca, a jewel of the Mediterranean, how could it be anything but? Seriously, look at this photo. This is a cheese that is made in paradise.

I just stared at this picture for 20 minutes.

I just stared at this picture for 20 minutes.

Mahon is the capital and port of Minorca and, as you may have surmised, also the name of the island’s most famous export. All of the cow’s milk cheeses produced on the island are actually called Mahon, all of which are built tough to withstand long-term storage and transportation by sea. This reminds me of Madeira, the second most delicious beverage in the world (after Dr. Pepper, of course), but that’s subject matter for a different post.  On Minorca, the dairy industry is second only to the tourism industry, and the final product is undoubtedly a result of the local terroir (or whatever that word is in Spanish). The island has a mild climate and gets lots of rainfall which, in combination with sea winds and humidity, give the milk — and later the cheese — high acidity and saltiness.

The Mahon most common here in the states is Mahon Reserva, a firm, square, orange block. To protect the cheese, the rind is rubbed with paprika and oil, then aged for 10 to 12 months. The spicy bite of the paprika certainly makes its way into the taste the of the cheese, preparing the palate  for what’s to come. With a dense, hard texture that breaks down almost instantly when popped in your mouth, Mahon Reserva is all slowly unfolding and lingering flavor. Equal parts sweet and sharp, this cheese is beautifully balanced and consistently good. I sometimes get a smoky, caramel flavor (almost like a muted aged Gouda), but I’m most partial to the wheels that read as a little bit sour. Every now and then, a bite will remind me of my favorite cocktail, an Old Fashioned, bursting with the taste of bourbon and bitter orange peel, and I instantly get a little buzz.

Ombra – Pasteurized Sheep’s Milk from Catalonia, Spain

Ombra

Oh Ombra, one of my favorite cheeses to share with customers. Not only does this cheese bring me joy by reminding me of Joey’s duel with the Hombre Cowboy on Friends but, when sampled, it can always be trusted to sell itself. It’s that good. As fellow cheese blogger Kirstin Jackson says, Ombra is a cheese “that helps to explain why people fall in love with sheep’s milk.” Like many ewe-phoric delights (get it?), Ombra is at once both mild and full-flavored, with a firm texture that melts beautifully in your mouth. Much like Pringles, once you start popping Ombra, you just can’t stop.

Produced in the Catalonia region of Spain — right next to some other makers of lovely cheese, The French — Ombra is aged for 6-8 months, resulting in a cheese that is firm but still soft, dense but still porous, sweet and buttery, yet sharp like dry grass. I prefer the more aged rounds, when the paste gets really firm and flaky, chunking off the wheel in shards that remind me of pale stained glass. These old wheels are peppered throughout with crunchy tyrosine crystals, giving the illusion that there are actual nuts hidden in this nutty-tasting treat. I dream of Ombra paired with a spicy red wine and some hearty, crunchy, fruit & nut crostini.

Oh, and did I mention that it tastes like chocolate? Nutty, sharp, grassy, sheepy, melty chocolate. Like I said, it sells itself.

Veigadarte -Pasteurized Goat’s Milk from Castilla-Leon, Spain

Veigadarte

Veigadarte: Hard to pronounce (say vague-uh-dart-ay), easy to eat. This is a relatively new cheese in my life, but it has made a very strong first impression. Anyone who has recently come in to the shop looking for a soft goat cheese — especially those particular enough to ask for a French Bucheron — has been met with a sample of Veigadarte. And you know what? They leave with some, too. Every. Single. Time. It’s so delicious, I think I sample it out frequently just so I can sneak a taste, as well.

Hacemos queso muy delicioso!

Nosotros hacemos queso muy delicioso!

Made from the fatty milk of Spain’s scrappy Murciano-Granadina goats, Veigadarte is a goat cheese log on butterfat steroids. Cheesemaker Joaquin Villanueva Casado, who operates in the small and picturesque town of Ambasmestas, dusts each 1-pound log with vegetable ash then allows an edible, bloomy rind to form while the cheese ages for one month. The bloomy rind on Veigadarte helps to create this cheese’s treasured texture: Because it ripens from the outside in, the layer of cheese directly under the rind becomes extra ripe and creamy (and a little bit beige), while the inner paste remains bone white, fluffy, and freshly tangy. When tasting Veigadarte, really let it sit and form a paste in your mouth. The smooth texture is divine, but the flavor is even better. I taste salt (my favorite!), garlic, peppery greens, fresh lemon juice, and a delightful dash of beety dirt.

It’s been many years since I enjoyed a good salami sandwich (there’s no soy product that quite compares, is there?), but I imagine a thick smear of Veigadarte would pair insanely well with the fat peppery taste of that particular meat. However, veggies like me can let the cheese wow on it’s own: Spread on some bread with a side of salty, oily Marcona almonds, tart fresh berries, and a glass of fruity, floral, white wine (think Riesling, Viognier, or Albarino). I may have to treat myself to this very feast later tonight. It is the weekend, after all.

Torta de Trujillo (Mini) – Raw Sheep’s Milk from Extremadura, Spain

Torta de Trujillo

Torta de Trujillo reminds me of that scene in There’s Something About Mary where, just before being violently attacked, Ben Stiller coos to Mary’s terrier, “Are you the little guy making all that big noise?”  Not that this cheese will attempt to kill you, by any means, but it packs a serious punch for something that looks so cute and perfectly packaged.

The makers of this petite powerhouse are Finca Pascualete, a cheesemaking operation in the Extremadura region of Spain. I don’t know much about this area, other than the fact that it sounds magical and it looks even more magical than it sounds.

We interrupt this broadcast to share a mindblowingly beautiful image from Extremadura, Spain.

We interrupt this broadcast to share a mindblowingly beautiful image from Extremadura, Spain.

Back to it: Just like the lovely gentlemen at Quattro Portoni, the team at Finca Pascualete are focused on honoring traditional cheesemaking practices while, at the same time, creating new and marketable cheeses. A big part of their strategy is the use of thistle (i.e. cardoon) rennet as a coagulant (as opposed to an animal-based or microbial rennet), which is a time-honored tradition in Iberian cheesemaking.

This little Torta is a washed-rind  squishy puck of 2-month old sheep’s milk. While the cheese is covered in a slightly sandpaper-y and sticky orange rind, the pale pink paste contained within is silky, unctuous, and so creamy that it’s basically a liquid. The idea is to cut the top rind off , let it get to room temperature, and then dip in to the sweet, wooly, funky goop within. This is strong cheese, but it’s not  harsh or offensive. Where other washed rind cheeses can bring salt and bitterness to the table, Torta de Trujillo is completely round (i.e. not sharp) in flavor: the yeastyness of fresh baked bread, the sweet & savory comfort of Honeybaked Ham (again, if I’m remembering correctly), and the cozy Nutella-meets-wool-sweater taste of all good sheep’s milk cheeses. If there’s a heaven, I’m pretty sure it’s full of Nutella and wool sweaters.

Want more? Here are some that I didn’t have the space to include:

  • Valdeon – A noble goat’s milk blue. 
  • Roncal – The gamey Basque alternative to Manchego.
  • Montcabrer – An earthy, mild, and messy charcoal-washed goat.
  • Tetilla – A mild and zingy cow’s milk cheese, named for it’s likeness to “a small breast.”

*I’m really getting a kick out of revisiting high school Spanish right now. Lo siento.

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!

Ooey Gooey Italian Beauties

Greetings! Happy 2013! As my sister said to me when I first made the transition into cheese official, “It’s going to brie an exciting year!” My response? “It cheddar be!” Kaufman family comedic genius aside, we were right. I’ve been so busy working with cheese that I haven’t had any time to write about it. Well, that’s going to change. There’s so much I want to tell you. Things are going wonderfully for me at work — I’m learning tons, tasting pounds, making amazing new curd-nerd friends, and I’ve recently been put in charge of ordering shop supplies! Glamorous? Not quite, but I now know the praise and appreciation one receives upon the arrival of a much-needed case of paper towels. Still, my love for cheese has not been replaced by a passion for latex gloves, so this blog will remain focused on what’s important. And, right now, I’m living and loving the Dolce Vida….surrounded by ooey, gooey and amazing formaggio.

This would be a nice addition to my cheese pillow collection. No lie, that exists.

This would be a nice addition to my cheese pillow collection. No lie, that exists.

The shop where I work carries about 80% domestic cheeses. So, with an inventory that includes only about 20% imports, you know those long distance travelers have to be good. Sure, a solid Parmiggiano Reggiano or a peppery Pecorino is a perennial fave, but I’m currently all about the stuff that’s soft, salty, spreadable…and a little bit stinky.

Taleggio

Taleggio

When it comes to stinky Italian cheese, Taleggio is like the Godfather. No offense to my Italian readers. I’m sure you’re kind of over all the mafia stuff but, this time, it fits. You do not tell Taleggio what to do — it tells you. As a cheesemonger, there are some cheeses you can push around…but not this one. If Taleggio wants to ooze, it’ll ooze. If Taleggio wants to stick, it’ll stick. You get the idea. There’s just no arguing with Taleggio…and there’s no denying its greatness, either.

Taleggio is an old cheese — an iconic stinker with a long history. Made in the caves of Lombardy’s Val Taleggio since the 9th century, there is evidence that this cheese was once used as currency. Delicious, pungent currency. Taleggio is a washed rind and smear-ripened cow’s milk cheese, meaning that the young slabs are covered in brine, as well as a secret solution that most likely contains bacteria, fungi, and the leftovers of Taleggios past. It sounds gross, but the results are anything but: A thin, firm, flavorful and sticky orange rind with a pudding-like, moist, and hopefully oozy paste hidden underneath. Like most washed rind cheeses, the taste of Taleggio is mild in comparison to its funky aroma. Still, this isn’t necessarily a bite for beginners. Our Taleggio is organic, soft, and scrumptious. The flavor is rich, beefy, dirty, and delightfully salty. The paste is pliable and one bite will coat your mouth with a velvety sensation that is nothing like Velveeta. Pair some with crusty bread, an Old World Pinot, and a willingness to indulge. Evviva!

Val Taleggio: I want to go to there.

Val Taleggio: I want to go to there.

Nuvola di Pecora

Nuvola di Pecora

If Taleggio is the Godfather of stinky Italian Cheeses, then Nuvola di Pecora is like Michael Corleone — a classy & reluctant heir to the throne. However, Nuvola di Pecora can be a little bit like Fredo, as well — bold, charismatic, and entertaining. Or maybe I just don’t know The Godfather well enough to make references? I’ll stick to talking about cheese and I promise not to put any cow, sheep, goat or water buffalo heads in anyone’s bed.

The point is: Nuvola di Pecora doesn’t seem quite sure what it wants to be, and therein lies its beauty.  The name Nuvola di Pecora literally translates into “sheep clouds”, and I can’t imagine a more fitting description. A beautiful, bumpy bloomy-rinded square wheel of fluffy, velvety aged sheep’s milk made by the River Po in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, the older (and, in my opinion, better) wheels of Nuvola come decorated with splotches of beautiful neon yellow and aquamarine mold. This looks like a cheese that’s going to blast your sense of smell and taste (a la Fredo), but it’s much more mellow and refined (just like Michael). The paste is not quite creamy and not quite hard. Really, this is sheep’s milk custard, with added hints of root vegetables, steamed milk, and a pinch of toast-dipped-in-egg. Every now and then, we get a wheel that’s a little bit strong and a lot bit salty — and those are my favorite days. Either way, pair a thick slice of Nuvola with some thick fruity jam…or just a lush, fruity wine. No matter the pairing, you’ll go to bed dreaming of sheep clouds no matter what.

The Brothers di Bufala – Quadrello & Casatica

Let's make some cheese!

Let’s make some cheese!

Running the mafia isn’t the only way to get into a family business. Just ask Alfio & Bruno Gritti of Caseificio Quattro Portoni, the makers of two of my new favorite cheeses: Quadrello di Bufala and Casatica di Bufala. The Quattro Portoni farm was founded in Bergamo, Italy in 1968 by Renato Gritti, father of Alfio & Bruno. Dairy farming started in 1970, but with one big different from the way they do it today: They were milking cows. In 1982 the operation was taken over by Alfio (who had received a degree in Veterinary Farming) and Bruno (a specialist in agronomic land management) and, in 2000, they made the decision to try their luck farming and milking Mediterranean water buffalo. How’d it go? Well, by 2003 they had decided they would only work with water buffalo and, in 2005, they began making and selling rich, delicious, water buffalo’s milk cheeses. I love these brothers, and not just because their products make my taste buds sing. These guys have some good ideas, and they describe their mission like this (roughly translated from Italian to English): “To combine the ancient Lombardy tradition of cheesemaking with the exceptional characteristics of buffalo milk…to suggest a novelty capable of stimulating the interests of experts in high quality products.” I like the way the Gritti brothers mix old-world tradition with innovation and I admire the way they boldly aim to please. It’s true that water buffalo’s milk is exceptionally rich and wonderful, and there’s no better place to see it at work than in these two cheeses.

Quadrello di Bufala

Quadrello di Bufala

Remember Taleggio? Well, this is its buffalo’s milk counterpart (don’t worry, I’m done with the Godfather comparisons). Raw milk is formed into square slabs, washed in brine, and then aged for 2-3 months. The thin, slightly sticky rind varies in color: some wheels are light and pink like the one shown above, and some are dark and tough, an almost-gray or brown brick. No matter the exterior, the paste is always a treat: soft, fudgy, and crisply white, Quadrello di Bufala is a mild, milky, sweet, and sometimes fruity play on the classic Taleggio recipe. Want an Italian cheese that looks awesome and will appeal to every palate? Go for Quadrello….or Casatica.

Casatica di Bufala

Casatica di Bufala

Oh Casatica di Bufala, my newest creamy obsession. While Quadrello is inspired by Taleggio, Casatica di Bufala is a more traditional stracchino (or ‘stretched curd’) style of cheese. Water buffalo’s milk contains about twice the fat content of cow’s milk, and this luscious decadence is on full display in Casatica. The intact wheel looks like a squat, fat, snow-covered log, due to its thick and bloomy rind. Cut this cheese into chunky slices and let the paste take center stage. Soft-ripened and aged for only a few weeks, Casatica is much creamier than Quadrello, extremely spreadable and delicately sweet, salty, and a little bit savory. I’m not usually a fan of bloomy rinds (yep, I’m that person who tunnels into the Brie), but for Casatica I make an exception. Instead of something limp and bitter, you get a nice crunch and roasted garlic-y bite from Casatica’s rind, the perfect complement to its sweet and creamy paste. Put this on some toasted foccacia and it’s the most buttery garlic bread you’ve ever had. Or just eat it off the knife. No judgment here.

No Fault in San Andreas

“Go West. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat, milk and honey over there.”

As a cheesemonger-in-training, part of my job at Cowgirl Creamery is to familiarize myself with cheese. Cheese in general and, in particular, the cheeses that we sell. To do this, I look, feel, listen (to coworkers & customers…I’m not yet doing any direct cheese whispering), and taste. Taste, taste, taste. On my own, with the other cheesemongers, and with the people to whom I’m selling. The best way to talk to a customer about what they’re trying is to try it right there with them. And the way to sell what’s best is to know what’s best — for any and every occasion. While I have a list of favorites about a mile long (we sell a lot of cheeses!), the current apple of my eye is a native Californian — just like me!

Bellwether Farms San Andreas (Raw Sheep’s Milk from Valley Ford, CA)

One bite of San Andreas puts a song in my heart…and one in my head! I don’t think my love of this cheese is entirely due to the fact that it reminds me of a favorite Natalie Merchant song, but it doesn’t hurt.

Seriously though, this cheese stands on its own. Bellwether Farms makes a number of great cheeses (check out their lovely website), many of which we sell at the shop. Family owned & operated by the Callahan family, this mostly-sheep farm is located in picturesque Sonoma County, a few short miles from the tang & fog of the Pacific Ocean. The sheep at Bellwether Farm are mostly East Friesian Ewes, the most Lambchop-looking cuties that you’ve ever seen. The ewes graze freely year round (yay! run free!) and, in addition, are given grain and alfalfa as necessary.

Just standing around, being cute.

This might seem like a lot of sheep-related info, but it’s not for nothing. I firmly believe that good cheese comes from good milk and, as you may have heard, good milk comes from happy cows — or sheep (in this case), goats, and water buffalo. What the sheep eat will also come through in the taste of the cheese, so knowing about their dietary habits can shed some light when it comes to talking about flavor. Let’s do that!

San Andreas is made from raw milk. Though it’s made in the style of a Tuscan Pecorino, it’s a true Bellwether original. The interior paste is smooth, pale and straw-like in color, and dotted with some nice eyes (little holes) throughout. And that taste! The flavors of this cheese are rich and, like any good and oily sheep’s milk cheese, they linger in your mouth. I get notes of butterscotch, lots of nuts, and some hay — or maybe that’s alfalfa! — with a delightfully sour finish. This is a semi-firm cheese, but with enough moisture that it really melts in your mouth. A little bite goes a long way.

San Andreas might be named for the famous California fault line that runs past the Bellwether property, but I can’t find any fault with this cheese. I’m recommending it to all of my customers!

You Can’t Write on an Empty Stomach

Or, at least, I can’t. And definitely not when I’m writing about cheese! As such, while I wrote yesterday about the blues, I snacked on a few pieces of a Pacific Northwest classic!

Beecher’s Flagship Handmade Cheese (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Seatlle WA)

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese really is a part of the Seattle scene. Located right in the historic and tourist-attracting Pike Place Market, Beecher’s is the only artisanal cheesemaker in the entire city. I have a coworker who’s a Seattle transplant (yep, the same guy that loves the brie and hates the goat’s milk), and he has been raving about Beecher’s Flagship ever since my turophilia became public knowledge. His love for this cheese is so strong, that we actually considered ordering some and having it shipped to the office…until we realized that would cost close to $100. Publishers don’t make that kind of money! Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye out for it locally, and I was finally able to track some down with the help of cheesemonger Mike at Little Vine in North Beach. And, let me tell you…it is worth the hype!

Beecher’s Flagship is a unique cheese. I would definitely say that it’s a ‘Cheddar’, but…it doesn’t taste like your average cheddar. It’s a semi-hard pasteurized cow’s milk cheese (with a vegetarian rennet!) that’s been aged for 18 months. And boy, when you finally get your hands on a piece, you can tell that it’s been aged…and lovingly! Unlike a really firm cheddar, Beecher’s walks the line between semi-firm and crumbly. That’s great for snacking (perfect little small pieces), but we had a hell of a time trying to grate some for a mac n’ cheese. This cheese melts slowly in your mouth, unfolding an incredible and lingering flavor. “Flavor of what?,” you might ask. Well, Beecher’s starts out with a smooth sweet taste – fruit and caramel. After a bit, you start to notice bursts of acidity, which keep your mouth watering (something about histamine-triggering, if I remember correctly…but don’t quote me on that). The finish is long and mellow, creamy and yeasty (like buttered toast), and it stays in your mouth even after all the cheese is gone.

Now that I’ve had Beecher’s, I can’t wait to tell my coworker, and I’m really looking forward to a TBD Seattle trip. I have some great friends who live up there, but now there’s an added incentive: a visit to Beecher’s! Situated amongst the various food stalls of the Pike Place Market, Beecher’s makes cheese production a spectator sport. Visitors can look into the windowed cheesemaking kitchen and see milk being turned into curds and, after that, whole wheels of delicious cows milk cheese! Now that’s what I call dinner and a show.

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!

Bought Right at Bi-Rite

I bet nobody’s ever said that before, right?

Moving on: Early last week I attended another delightful class at The Cheese School, Old World vs. New World with Juliana Uruburu. I’ll write more about that later (there is so much to say!), but one of the highlights of the class was my introduction to an incredible ‘New World’ Parmesan, Sartori SarVecchio. As soon as I had a taste of this cheese, I knew that I wanted more! But…that’s not quite where this post is going. The following evening I was riding the 33 bus back home from my pilates class in the Inner Richmond and, not having had any dinner, I was growing quite hungry.  I fondly recalled the taste of SarVecchio and remembered Juliana telling the class that many long-distance runners and cyclists carry a hunk of parmesan or other hard, protein-packed cheese in their pocket for an on-the-go energizing snack. Now, I’m no long-distance runner or cyclist, but anyone familiar with the 33 bus knows that it can be just as trying. Anyone familiar with the 33 bus also knows that it goes right past Bi-Rite Market on my way home, and these facts all resulted in me getting off the bus two stops early in search of some SarVecchio!

Well…Bi-Rite didn’t have any SarVecchio. So, I went home empty-handed. Pshaw! No way. Bi-Rite did have some impressive looking Parms, but I figured that since I had covered that territory in class the night before (again, more to come on that soon), I should strike out in search of something new. I had something my heart set on something hard and salty, and one of Bi-Rite’s friendly cheese specialists suggested Spanish Roncal. A name-controlled classic that I’d never tried? Sold! Of course, once I’d spent about 5 seconds in the cheese section I just knew I’d have to go home with a few treats, so I let this same lovely lady give me two more recommendations, and I went home with the Roncal, a Dutch Remeker, and an Italian Toma Della Rocca — around the world, and only two blocks from home!

Roncal – Raw Sheep’s Milk from Valle de Roncal, Navarra, Spain


 

This traditional Spanish cheese is produced in the Navarra province from the milk of Latxa and Aragonesa breeds of sheep. Roncal gets it’s name from the Roncal Valley in the Pyrenees mountains, which is home to seven villages that work cooperatively to make the cheese. Roncal is an uncooked, pressed, natural rind cheese, aged between 4 and 8 months. The aging process creates a cheeses with firm beige or  brown rinds that are sometimes covered with spots of gray mold. The paste is light yellow and has small holes and the appearance of little cracks. When cut and allowed to stand for a bit, the cheese can start to look sweaty. This isn’t bad, though! It’s a sign of the butterfat weeping out, which indicates the richness of the cheese (George Harrison should have written about that)! How does it taste? Great! I had what I’m assuming was a younger Roncal. It had a decent amount of moisture (which I’m into) with a somewhat nutty but more citrus & olive-y flavor. As the cheese ages, it gets drier, darker, and that nutty flavor will get meatier. Maybe if I had let mine sit around for awhile I’d experience some of that, but polished it off pretty quickly for lunch the next day. Yum!

 

Remeker – Raw Cow’s Milk from Lunteren, Holland

It was decidedly easy to eat this delicious cheese, but I had a hell of a time trying to learn about it! I’ve got some stuff, but my resources were limited AND questionable, so take all of this information with a grain of salt. According to my research, Remeker cheese is made in Lunteren, Holland by the Van de Voort family, using raw Jersey cow’s milk. The cheese is sold at two ages — Young and Old. The more aged cheese is Old Remeker and the younger is just…Remeker. Or, at least, that’s what it said on the label of the one I purchased! The (Young) Remeker is aged for 6 months, while Old Remeker is aged for 16 months! I can’t speak to the taste of  Old Remeker (which I’ve read is ‘deep and complex’), but the Remeker we had (Mike had his fair share) was a delight! Dense & moist for a firm cheese, it was rich and creamy with some nice hints of fruit and hay. With the Remeker, I was again confronted by a cheese that I would describe as ‘fudge-y’, which is just…lots of fun!

 

Toma della Rocca – Pasteurized Cow, Sheep, and Goat’s Milk from Piedmont, Italy

Oh, Toma della Rocca. Just one taste of this bad boy and I was ready to run away to Italy forever. He might look all nice and neat in this portrait, but once you get your hands on him it gets messy real fast. Even this picture doesn’t do him justice (I don’t know why I’ve turned this cheese into a man — very weird, me), but this experience is worth the mess!  Toma della Rocca hails from the Alta Langa region of  Italy (right on the border of Piedmont & Lombardy), where soft mixed-milk cheeses are the norm. The cheese is ripened for about 10 days, and tastes and acts more like a goat’s milk than a mixed-milk cheese (based on my experience, at least). It has a nice bit of salt & runniness under it’s thin Geotrichum rind (that’s the brainy kind), but the majority of the paste is thick, chalky, and slightly sour. Because of the goat’s milk, you get a lot of tang and lemony flavor, but the cow’s milk contributes a lot in terms of thickness and a hint of sour cream. The sheep’s milk? That just makes the flavor linger in your mouth, which was a-okay by me. I enjoyed this cheese for a few days in various ways, but my favorite was actually as a breakfast to-go. One day I went to the gym before work (which, wow, never happens) and by the time I was heading out the door I was both running late and very hungry. I sliced off a thick piece of sweet batard, grabbed some Toma della Rocca from the fridge, slapped it together, and walked out the door. And it was amazing! Because the cheese was so cold, it was very firm and the tang was really pronounced. Paired with the sweetness and density of the bread, it was just an amazing (and amazingly filling) treat. I felt like I was eating a very classy version of a bagel and cream cheese!

Eat This: Tilston Point

Uh oh. Move over, Mike, because I have a new love: Hook’s Cheese Tilston Point Blue.

No, no. Luckily, my man is a blue lover too, so this is a friend that we can share. Okay, this is coming out creepier than I’d imagined. Let’s get to the cheese!

Hook’s Cheese – Tilston Point Blue (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk Blue from Mineral Point, WI)

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Last night, I had the extreme pleasure of working a two hour “trial shift” at Mission Cheese, a delightful cheese shop/restaurant/bar that also happens to be my neighbor.  Everything was great: The staff, the customers, and especially the cheese. As I “studied” the menu the night before, I kept getting stuck on the Midwest Cheese Flight, which featured (at that time, the cheese flights are always changing): Zingerman’s Detroit St. Brick, Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative’s Dante, and Hook’s Tilston Point Blue. I had never tried any of these 3 cheeses, and they all sounded amazing.

Well, now that I have tried these 3 cheeses, I can confirm that they all taste amazing, too.  So why the extra love for Tilston Point? If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’m not, traditionally, a blue fan. But you guys? I think I might not be able to say that anymore. That’s how much this cheese rocked my world.

Hook’s Cheese Company’s Tony Hook and wife Julie have been handcrafting cheese like cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack for more than 30 years. In 1997, they began perfecting a series of blue cheeses and in 2004 created Tilston Point, their sole washed-rind cow’s milk blue, which is super-aged for 10 months to a year.  Tilston Point is made in the style of an English blue (the name is, in fact, an anagram of Stilton), but there are many ways in which this cheese differs from its namesake. This cheese is denser, and it’s washed with B. linens, surface bacteria created by whatever is used to wash the cheese (Hook’s keeps their recipe secret). Bacteria? Yum! That bacteria is also responsible for orange coloring on and around the rind, as well as Tilston’s somewhat stinky aroma (to me, the smell is mild, but I could see someone more sensitive feeling differently).

So how does it taste? I guess if I just said “incredible” that wouldn’t really be helpful. Tilston Point has the complex and luscious texture of French Roquefort, but tastes different. It’s rich & earthy, like Stilton, with some sweetness and minerality that lingers on your tongue. Spicy? Not at all, and that’s why I like it!

Added bonus: At approximately $12/lb., it’s very affordable! A little goes a long way…if you can find it.

Eat This: Rupert

Looking to try some new cheese? Well, if you aren’t, now you will be. I’ve added another cheese to my growing list of favorites.

Consider Bardwell Farm – Rupert (Raw Jersey Cow’s Milk from West Pawlet, Vermont)

A few weeks ago, some old Kaufman family friends were in town for a brief San Francisco visit. Alec and Meena both went to Miami University with Sister Bouche (Laura), and they are now a sophisticated (and decidedly gourmand-y) married couple living in Evanston, Illinois. While Alec was busy working all day, Meena enjoyed what the Ferry Building had to offer and, when we met for drinks, arrived with a turophile’s dream gift bag: a box set of cheese-serving accoutrements and 3 pieces of cheese. Two of the three were old favorites (Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam & Jasper Hill Farms Winnimere), but there was one I’d never seen or heard of before: Consider Bardwell Farm’s Rupert.

Consider Bardwell is a 300-acre cheesemaking co-op in Vermont (and it’s a beauty), first established in 1864 by a man named Consider Bardwell Stebbins. Nearly 150 years later, Consider Bardwell is owned by Angela Miller and Russel Glover. Using raw milk from their own herd of Oberhasli goats and the milk from a neighboring farm’s Jersey cows, cheesemaker Peter Dixon makes small batches of cheese by hand.

Rupert (which is named after one of the oldest towns in Vermont) is a raw Jersey cow’s milk inspired by the classic Alpine style cheeses of Europe like Gruyere and Comte. Sitting next to the Mt. Tam and the Winnimere, it didn’t look (or smell) like much, but the Rupert packs quite a punch. Aged for a minimum of six months, the thin and earthy rind gives way to a titillating paste. While the color is buttery, the flavor tastes more like cream, with sharpness, complexity, and the definite hint of onions. The texture is firm, but not hard, and there are a few pleasing chloride crystals scattered throughout. This cheese would be great on plain crackers, but I had no trouble taking it down all by itself.

 

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