Bon Bouche

A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the tag “ardi gasna”

Cheese Tasting: Birthday Beauties

Happy Easter! Since this holiday marks, among other things, the end of the fasting and sacrifice associated with Lent (thank you, Jesuit education), I thought I’d treat you to a visual feast!

Two of my best friends has birthdays in February but, due to complications and vacations in everyone’s schedules, we weren’t able to properly celebrate. But, since I wanted to do something for these special ladies, I invited them over in late March for a belated birthday cheese tasting! As is my cheese tasting custom, I woke up (relatively) early, grabbed an iced coffee (tip for SF locals: Faye’s Video on 18th street has delicious cold-brewed coffee), and headed to Bi-Rite. I had some idea of what I wanted in my spread, but I was also prepared to let the selection (and the staff) speak to me. And both did!

I was very happy to see some tried and true favorites: L’Amuse Aged Gouda (I think I am officially obsessed), Ardi Gasna, and Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere. They had a great deal on the Pt. Reyes Farmstead Toma, which I’ve heard is crowd-pleasing table cheese (a term that refers to any cheese that can be served as an accompaniment all on its own, or as part of soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.), so I snagged some of that, but I was at a loss when I discovered that they were all out of Vermont Butter & Cheese Bonne Bouche AND Cremont. What to do? Bi-Rite Wine & Cheese expert Sarah must have seen the sadness and confusion on my face, and she very patiently proceeded to describe and sample the soft goat cheeses she recommended instead. In the end, I was torn between the Italian Brunet and the Andante Dairy Vivace, a seasonal and unique mixed-milk cheese from Soyoung Scanlan. After much deliberation (did I mention Sarah’s patience?), I decided on the Vivace, which had only one downside: It’s so rare that there’s almost no information on this cheese online! So, I’ll do my best to remember what that was all about, and we’ll see how it goes. Overall, I was extremely happy with the selection. It was a chilly and overcast day, and I wanted a hearty number of comforting cheeses for us to enjoy. Not only was there plenty to eat, but there was quite a variety of milk types, textures, and strength of flavors.

The Cheeses (clockwise from top left): Andante Dairy Vivace, Pt. Reyes Farmstead Toma, Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere, Ardi Gasna, L'Amuse Aged Gouda

After my Master Class on Identifying Cheese Flavors (I am still going to write about that, I promise), I wanted to do a bit more than I have in the past to provide accompaniments that serve as flavor enhancers, not just yummy treats (ideally, both). In that aim, I picked up some dried nectarines, some dulce de membrillo (quince paste), roasted marcona almonds (my new favorite snack), dark chocolate covered rye crisps, and a sweet baguette. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (and tasting) around cheese and bread pairings and, I’ve got to say, I’m in favor of a sweet baguette. In most dining situations I’d go for sour, but as a vehicle for cheese, I just think sweet is the better option. At the end of the day, it’s cheese and bread, so you can’t really go wrong. But if you’re looking to let the cheese shine, put it on a sweet baguette…or nothing at all! I don’t know how well I did explaining just how and why to use the flavor enhancers, but it was my first try and…it’s the thought that counts?

Some Flavor Enhancers: Dried nectarines, roasted Marcona almonds, chocolate coated rye crisps, quince paste.

I’ve already written pretty extensively about two of the aforementioned cheeses: The Ardi Gasna and the L’Amuse Aged Gouda. You can read about them here. Now, on to some cheeses that are new to this blog!

Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese – Toma (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Pt. Reyes CA)

The Pt. Reyes Farmstead Toma is, as previously noted, a table cheese. A table cheese is generally a mild mannered crowd-pleaser, one that can stand on its own as a snacking cheese or that can be added, for delicious effect, to salads, sandwiches, and other meals. Given the strong flavors of some of the other cheeses, I wanted a palate cleansing table cheese, and the Pt. Reyes Toma proved to be the perfect choice. Famously known for their delicious Pt. Reyes Original Blue, the Giacomini family expanded their line of cheeses to include the Toma in 2010, “for people who don’t like blues.” Sounds like someone I know! The Toma is reminiscent of a young Asiago or a Havarti, but with a sweet, buttery flavor and tangy finish. Cheesemaker Kuba Hemerling uses a Gouda technique known as curd-washing — draining the whey from the fresh curds and adding fresh-water in its place — which limits acid development and results in a sweeter cheese. This cheese really lives up to the ‘table cheese’ moniker. It’s easy to eat, and I can’t imagine it ever going to waste. Having people over? Pick some up.

Andante Dairy – Vivace (Goat’s Milk, Petaluma CA)

So, remember when I said that it’s nearly impossible to find information on Vivace online? Well, I was wrong…about the ‘nearly’ part. It’s just plain impossible! So, instead, I’ll share some information on Andante Dairy and cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan, pictured above. I first learned about Soyoung and Andante during my Desert Island Cheeses class, when we tasted the Crottin, and Anthea raved about Scanlan. Soyoung Scanlan started Andante Dairy in Petaluma, CA in 2009. The dairy is named after a musical term (as are many of her cheeses) as a reflection of the tempo and harmonious nature of cheesemaking. Scanlan was first a biochemist, then a dairy scientist, and now a cheesemaker. It was on a trip to France that she first became hooked on cheese, and she has continued to travel to France throughout her career. One result of these travels is now a major part of her business: Scanlan imports cheeses from France and ages them in Petaluma. Those that she makes on-site in Petaluma contain only Jersey Cow’s Milk and goat’s milk from the dairy farm on which her plant is operated. As it says on the Andante website, “All of her cheese is designed to bring out the magical property of milk and to reveal the essence of terroirs with which the milk and cheese are produced.”

So, that’s that. I’ve searched high and low for a shred of information on the vivace, and I can’t find a thing! All I can remember is that it was good: A bit more crumbly and more tart than what Vermont Butter & Cheese has to offer, and aged with a little bit of ash. I would have liked something just the teensiest bit creamier, but I think that both of my friends picked it as their favorite of the day.

Update: Bi-Rite Cheese Buyer Anthea Stolz was kind enough to answer my “HELP! WHAT IS VIVACE?” email, and here’s what she had to say. “Glad to hear that you enjoyed the Vivace.  This is a new favorite of mine, and a relatively new cheese for Soyoung.  A few months ago, she found a source of local ewes milk that she liked well enough to start using for cheesemaking and we’ve had two new cheeses from this exploration, one being Vivace.  You remembered correctly that the Vivace is mixed milk (sheep and goat).  I love the bright lemony quality of the Vivace that is balanced with that tell-tale roundness of sheep’s milk cheese. In my experience so far, the geotrichum rind is developed, yet thin, and the paste dominates the flavor.” Thanks, Anthea! This is yet another example of just how wonderfully helpful everyone at Bi-Rite is. I’m a real fan!

Jasper Hill Farm – Winnimere (Raw Cow’s Milk, Greensboro, Vermont)

Well well well, let’s talk about Jasper Hill Farm’s Winnimere. I first had Winnimere on a cheese flight at Mission Cheese, while I was still daydreaming about making my way into the cheese world and not really believing it was an actual option. The truth? This cheese played a critical role in making me change my mind. Which is not to say that I automatically loved the taste of it, because that’s not quite how it went down. Winnimere is a….strong cheese. It’s a seasonal cheese only available from November to April, made from raw Ayrshire cow’s milk that’s washed with lambic-style beer and wrapped for aging in spruce bark. That’s right, lambic and spruce bark, both of which infuse the cheese with some pretty full flavors, to say the least. Over it’s two-month maturation, Winnimere develops a thin and slightly crunchy surface, and a supple, creamy, and runny interior. Given enough time, the paste breaks down, and goes from ‘runny’ to ‘oozy.’ I’ve heard that, at that point, you’d best cut the top off entirely and scoop the paste out with a spoon, but I’ve never done so myself. The smells and tastes of this cheese are pretty similar: woodsy, musty, mushroomy, with notes of garlic, mustard, and..meat. See what I mean by full-flavored? When I first had this cheese, I didn’t think it was delicious. But I did think it was interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I looked it up when I got home, and learned all about Jasper Hill Farm and their jazz-listening Ayrshire cows and their farm, and their cellar, and the beer that is brewed on site, and much much more. And, in learning about that one farm, I came closer to the realization that there is a lot that goes in to cheese and that, as such, there are a lot of ways in which people can be involved. And I want to be one of those people.

Putting Winnimere on the menu that day was a brave but risky choice (a sentiment echoed by Bi-Rite’s Sarah when she saw it in my basket) and, luckily, one that paid off. Grace and Suzie LOVED it, and I loved that they loved it. Now I know that I’ll have those two by my side whenever a bold tasting opportunity presents itself! Mike? Not so much. He detested the smell so much that he implored me to throw the leftovers away. Instead, I ate them.

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Back to School

This past Thursday, I went back to school for the first time in more than four years! I have to say, it was much yummier this time around. But, that isn’t too surprising, given the educational institution: The Cheese School of San Francisco.

The Cheese School of San Francisco is an independent institution dedicated entirely to helping people maximize their enjoyment and appreciation of cheese through tasting and education. They offer tasting classes for cheese enthusiasts, master classes for cheese and other food industry professionals, and a 3-day intensive Cheesemonger’s Program (on my wish-list for the future). I wasn’t sure if I had enough knowledge to take a Master Class, so I signed up for one of the tasting courses: Desert Island Cheeses, taught by Anthea Stolz.

Anthea Stolz is the cheese buyer at Bi-Rite Market, the amazing-but-fancy grocery store around the corner from my apartment where I like to go and spend too much money on cheese. Considering that Anthea’s buying choices have been the basis for much of my previous cheese consumption, I figured I could trust her picks. She’s also been friendly and helpful whenever I’ve had a cheese-related question, so I knew she would be a great instructor — informative and insightful, but also totally approachable. The concept behind the course is pretty simple: You’re stuck on a desert island, and all you can take with you are 9 different cheeses. What would you pick? Anthea took the challenge pretty seriously, picking a variety of cheeses based not only on taste, but also considering what would last and sustain her the longest. I think this made for a fun and extra informative lesson, and I admire her dedication to survival!

Overall, the class was great. The space at The Cheese School is really beautiful, and the classroom contained a lovely and large horseshoe-shaped table with a place set for each of the approximately 15 students. Each place setting had a glass of wine, a glass of sparkling wine, a glass of water, a paper handout with a list of the cheeses and space for notes and, of course, an enticing plate containing 9 generous bites of mouthwatering cheeses and an assortment of dried fruit & marcona almonds (my new favorite snack).

Once all of the students were seated, Anthea took a moment to introduce herself , and then we went right into the tasting! For each cheese, Anthea discussed why she chose it, spoke about where the cheese comes from, the cheese-maker and the specific cheese-making process, and walked/talked us through the flavors and textures of what we were tasting. Maybe it was just the wine kicking in, but I found the class really starting to come together around the third cheese (I’ll get to all that in a minute), when Anthea seemed to get more comfortable being in the spotlight and the students started speaking up with opinions (lots of ooh’s and aah’s) and asking more questions.

While I learned A LOT and had a really wonderful time, I did find the class to be more of a social event/setting (and less like a classroom) than I had anticipated. (Note to Bay Area Romantics: If your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/partner of any kind is even remotely into cheese, you could score major points doing date night at The Cheese School.) I mentioned this impression to one of The Cheese School employees on my way out, and she suggested that I try a master class for a more ‘serious’ session. So, I am now signed up to take the ‘Identifying Cheese Flavors Master Class’ on March 13th, and I will be seriously studying  my Cheese Primer (aka Cheese Bible) until then!

Okay, okay, I won’t make you wait any longer. I now present to you what we ate in class, i.e. ‘Anthea’s Desert Island Cheeses.’

Cowgirl Creamery – Clabbered Cottage Cheese (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Pt. Reyes Station, CA)

I have to admit, I was quite surprised to look at the plate and see a Cottage Cheese, but once I had a taste I could understand what it was doing there. The Cowgirl Creamery Clabbered Cottage Cheese is made with organic non-fat milk from the Straus Family Creamery and is dressed with additional clabbered (i.e. curdled) cream. This is, without a doubt, more rich and creamy than any cottage cheese you’ve had in the past, but what surprised me the most was the tangy, sour taste (which makes sense when you consider the clabbered cream). To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this cheese, but that’s not surprising consider that I HATE yogurt. The tang of this cheese was very much like the taste of a high-quality yogurt so, if that’s your thing, you’ll probably fall head over heels for the Cowgirl Creamery Clabbered Cottage Cheese. Anthea made this her first choice because, for her, it’s just that: her first choice. This is her comfort cheese, what she wants to eat whenever she first gets home from vacation or a rough day.

Andante Dairy – Crottin (Pasteurized Goat’s Milk, Petaluma, CA)

Soyoung Scanlan is the cheesemaker at Andante Dairy, and Anthea could not stop talking about how incredible she is. After studying life & dairy science and working as a biochemist, Soyoung decided to become a cheesemaker. Soyoung exclusively uses Jersey Cow’s milk, which is known as the best cow’s milk for cheese making, and she uses goat milk from the dairy farm on which her plant is operated. The Crottin is one of those goat milk cheeses, and is the only cheese that Andante makes that is a direct replica of a traditional variety. Crottin is a french-style, Loire Valley goat’s milk cheese. When the Crottin is young, it is soft and simple, moist and milky. As it ages, it becomes a little bit more complex — it gets firmer, more tangy, and finishes with a nutty taste. I liked this cheese a lot, and it’s one I that I think new cheese-eaters would really enjoy, especially as a introduction to goat cheeses. I’ll definitely buy this cheese, and I’d like to taste it when it’s very young, moist, and room temperature!

Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery – Double Cream Cremont (Pasteurized cow & goat’s milk, Websterville VT)

Well, well, well, if it isn’t my old friend the Double Cream Cremont! When I saw this little guy on the plate, I recognized it immediately, and I couldn’t help but feel so excited for any of my fellow students who were about to try this cheese for the first time. As I knew would happen, just about everyone fawned over the deliciousness of this cheese after they put it into their mouth. I’ve already written about the Double Cream Cremont multiple times, so I won’t go back into detail, but I will say that it just never gets old. I did learn that the difference between a double cream and a triple cream cheese has to do with the butterfat content. Double cream cheese has to have a butterfat content of 60% and triple cream cheese has to have a butterfat content of at least 75%. Considering that actual butter has a butterfat content of 80-85%, a triple cream (which the cremont is NOT) is pretty close to the real deal. So, my previous comment about the Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam tasting like delicious butter makes perfect sense!

Ardi Gasna – Imported by Andante Dairy (Raw Sheep’s Milk, Pyrenees, France)

Anthea first fell in love with cheese when she studied abroad in Provence, France. She says that eating this cheese is like being transported to that amazing place, and I really don’t doubt that that’s true. I have a confession: Before I tasted this cheese, I thought that I wasn’t really a fan of sheep’s milk cheeses. While I did enjoy the Bohemian Blue, all the other sheep cheeses that I’ve eaten have been too hard or too sour, and I just figured that they just weren’t for me. Well, consider me a changed woman. If I can eat sheep’s milk cheeses as delicious as the Ardi Gasna, then I’m going to become a sheep’s milk devotee! Ardi Gasna means “sheep’s cheese” in Basque, and it is a traditional hard sheep’s milk cheese. The Ardi Gasna may have a hard texture, but it’s soft and rich once it’s in your mouth. The flavor is clean, and you can really taste what the animal has eaten: Grass and flowers, nuts, and a sharp finish. I was really blown away by how quickly this cheese grew on me; I loved it more with every bite. Based on what I know of his tastes, I think this is a cheese that Mike would love, and I look forward to buying some for him to taste soon. Also: If you know anyone who lives for Pecorino Romano or other sharp/salty and hard cheeses, they should try this. It’s different, but similar, and just amazingly edible.

Keen’s Cheddar (Raw Cow’s Milk, Somerset UK)

Wow. Forget what you think you know about Cheddar. THIS is cheddar, and it’s better than what you (and I) have been buying at the supermarket. Keen’s Cheddar is a farmstead raw milk cheddar (meaning the cheese is made on site, where the cows graze and are milked) which has been artisanally made since 1899.  It’s cloth bound and matured for 12 months in a cave. Keen’s looks like your average cheddar, but the taste is anything but average. The texture is as you would expect — firm, but not hard — but the aging leaves the cheese with were some surprising and delicious crystals. The taste was mouth-wateringly sharp, but really complex and savory at the same time. An added bonus: Anthea told us all about the cheddaring process, which is quite interesting!

L’Amuse Aged Gouda (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Cono Cheesemaking Plant, Holland)

Oh, dear goodness. Just thinking of this cheese is making me nostalgic for the one time I was lucky enough to put it in my mouth. Seriously, you guys, it’s that good. There were many standouts that evening, but I have to say that the L’Amuse was my number one favorite. In an earlier post (Cheese Brunch With My Parents), I mentioned that we had some Noord Hollander Aged Gouda, which really knocked my socks off. Well, all due respect to the Noord Hollander (and I mean that), this L’Amuse Aged Gouda blows that cheese right out of the water (of course, this one is significantly harder to find and more expensive). Unlike most Dutch Goudas, L’Amuse signature Gouda is not matured in cooler temperatures. The mid-temperature affinage (cheese maturing) in the cheese cellar allows the cheese to develop a more rounded flavor. The cheeses are matured for 2 years. The paste of the cheese (and yes, it’s called paste even when it’s anything but pasty) is a dark amber color, and there are insanely flavorful protein crystals throughout. The taste is nutty, meaty, and a mix of sweet/salty. It really is like salted caramel, but…cheesy. This cheese really melts in your mouth, and the taste lingers for a long time. I wish it lingered there forever!

Adelegger (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Bavaria, Germany)

Dear Mom: I have a cheese for you! The Adelegger is a traditional Bavarian Mountain-style Cheese, and I’m pretty sure that my mother would love this more than anyone else I know. The Adelegger is named after the the alpine area on which the cows graze in Bavaria, Germany. Using organic methods of production, a cooperative of seven farmers have been supplying the milk since 1998 to master cheese maker Evelyn Wild. At the small dairy of Käskuche Isny she crafts this firm-textured cheese, which is washed multiple times in white wine infused with herbs. The cheese is then aged from fourteen to eighteen months, when it develops a fudgy texture (seriously there’s no other way to describe it) and a meaty, nutty and buttery flavor. Anthea also noted that this is a great melting cheese, which immediately made me think of a delicious grilled cheese sandwich with some mustard and arugula. I won’t rest easy until I make that dream a reality.

Parmigiano-Reggiano (Raw Cow’s Milk, Emilia-Romagna Italy)

Anthea put some Parmigiano-Reggiano on our plates to prove that it’s more than just a grating cheese. Well, that, and because a giant 80 lb. wheel of this stuff could last a long time on a desert island! And, both reasons seem sound to me. I’m going to be honest with you: I am tired of typing and I have somewhere to be, so I’m going to let you do your own research on this famous food. I will say that this, the real deal, is different than you think it’s going to be. When you grate it on pasta, you’re only getting a fraction of the flavor. The chunk of this that I put on my tongue was so intense, with a really salty and citrus-y taste. Yum!

Fourme d’Ambert (Raw Cow’s Milk Blue, Auvergne, France)

Alright everyone, the moment of truth: The Blue Cheese on the plate. As you may know, I’m not really a fan of blue cheese. Or, let me rephrase that: I was not previously a fan of blue cheese. This one cheese, the Fourme d’Ambert, has changed all of that. In the past, even when I’ve “liked” a blue cheese, that really just means that I can stand it, and that I’d rather be eating blue cheese than no cheese at all. But this: This I liked. This I would be eating right now if I had some in the house. The Fourme d’Ambert is a rich and creamy cow’s milk blue cheese from the Auvergne region of France. It has a thin, yellowish rind, spotted with sandy molds. The paste inside is very white with distinctive bluing (see picture). Although the scent is very earthy, the Fourme d’Ambert has a creamy and mild, almost mushroom-y flavor, with a slightly nutty finish. The paste is soft and smooth, and reminded me a little bit of cream cheese (in texture, not taste). I liked that this was very savory, and really had an outdoor flavor. I think Mike and I could have a pound of this and a few loaves of crusty bread and consider it one of the best meal’s we’d ever shared together. Not that we would do that, but….we might.

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