February 2009

My cheese this week is one of the oldest artisanal American cheeses, from Vella Cheese Company which was founded in Sonoma in 1931. Tom Vella began aging his Monterey Jack cheeses to produce an alternative to parmigiano and pecorino during World War II, when Italian imports became unavailable. Tom’s son Ig took over the business in 1981, and has earned an “Ark of Taste” designation from Slow Food International as well as recognition for sustainability efforts such as installing solar panels on their historic creamery building. 

Dry Jack is aged 7 to 10 months, developing a smooth flavor and hard, flaky texture. It is creamy and a little sweet, slightly nutty like pecorino. While it is coated in cocoa and black pepper, giving it a unique brown exterior, those flavors are undetectable in the cheese. It would pair nicely with dark chocolate for dessert, though. It is also ideal for grating over pasta, in alfredo sauce or just snacking on its own. I enjoyed it with a Dashe 2006 Zinfandel from nearby Dry Creek Valley

Little Darling certainly lives up to its name – it’s a cute little cheese! Hailing from my home state of Wisconsin, this cow’s-milk cheese may be pasteurized, but it has all the spunk and tang of a raw-milk cheese. And unlike Lou Grant from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I like spunk!

Little Darling is made by Brunkow Cheese, an artisan cheesemaker that makes a full line of Old World-inspired cheeses. The cheese is aged for six weeks and has a firm, crumbly texture that makes it an excellent snacking cheese. As usual, I enjoyed mine with apples. Its flavor, however, reminded me of Parmigiano-Reggiano – it had the same salty bite. Like Parm, Little Darling could be shaved onto a green salad or served atop a pile of pasta. It definitely has the strength to stand up a tomato sauce or vinaigrette.

I neglected to ask my friend Ken at Premier Cheese Market about wine pairings (I know, my bad), but I could see myself enjoying Little Darling with a big Italian red. Being a Wisconsin cheese, Little Darling is likely compatible with beer, but since I’m not a beer drinker I couldn’t tell you which kind. Feel free to send in your suggestions!

I thought Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar would be a slam-dunk. I love cheddar, I love raw-milk cheeses, I love aged cheeses. But I didn’t love this raw-milk, aged cheddar.

A disappointing cheddar

A disappointing cheddar

The Quicke family has been farming in southwest England for more than 450 years, and the dairy has been in operation for 25. Its cheeses and butters have brought in accolades from all over the world. So I was surprised to find my slice of Farmhouse Cheddar to be bland and chalky. No cheddary tang, no pleasing mouthfeel. After tasting the cheese on its own, my husband and I sliced it for grilled-cheese sandwiches, but it didn’t improve by melting. I’m hoping that it’s just that I got an abnormally bad piece (if so, Surdyk’s, I expect more from you!) and Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar isn’t a lost cause.

Don’t let my experience turn you away – give it a try yourself! Serve the cheese with a big glass of red wine and some crackers. And be sure to let us know how it tasted.

Wow, were we impressed with the poetic talents of our loyal and new readers! Thanks to all of you for entering our “Ode to Roqeufort” cheesy love poem contest. With no further ado, we are pleased to announce our winners:

3 – In third place, was MNCruncher‘s  emotional “O’ Roquefort, how I loathe thee for thy haunting beauty…”

2 – In second place, the laudatory “Ode to Roquefort” by DanG.

1 – And for the rather unconventional Roquefort rap, we award the first-place “Free Roquefort!” t-shirt to Cool Dude for the following:

Yo son, get on your salt tang
Get the hook up with this cheesy blue thang
France’s second most popular cheese
Go and get it for me please
It’s the roq to the fort
Enjoy it with some port
It won’t make you snort

We also have to extend an honorable mention to ohcassis for the bold, anti-Roquefort entry in our contest. We believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions on cheeses, after all. Be sure to read all the entries, if you haven’t yet.

Our second and third-place finishers will be receiving a stylish “Free Roquefort!” mini-button to help spread the word about the plight of our beloved cheese.  (Winners, please send your mailing address to dccheese at foodietots dot com to claim your prize!)

Garrotxa is a lovely blue-gray round of aged goats’ milk cheese from the Catalan region of Spain. It is mild, creamy yet flaky with a very subtle herbal flavor and mushroom aroma. It is similar in flavor to manchego, though without manchego’s oiliness. The paste is pure white, making it difficult to capture in its glamour shot!

Garrotxa is delightful on its own, and would be great shaved over a simple green salad or even pasta. Artisanal suggests pairing it with champagne, and of course it would go well with Spanish cava or tempranilla. Read more about the Catalan food scene at the Humble Gourmand.

Have you had enough French blue cheeses this week? I hope not because we’ve got one more – Fourme d’Ambert – and it’s an oldie but goodie.

Production of this raw, cow’s-milk cheese reportedly dates back to Roman times, and its appearance does bring about a vision of ancient, craggy rocks, I suppose. Fourme d’Ambert’s crumbly texture and blue molding make look unappealing to non-blue lovers, but it’s a fantastic cheese to try even if blue isn’t your thing. It has a distinctively blue taste but is still easy on the palate, and I love the way the cheese coats the mouth without becoming too overwhelming. Fourme d’Ambert would be wonderful crumbled on a salad, but try it as part of your dessert course with some dark chocolates.

You won’t go wrong pairing Forume d’Ambert with a port, but other wines are just as suitable. Artisanal Cheese recommends a sweet Sauternes if the cheese is serving as your dessert. Other suggestions (fr0m Fromages.com) include Vouvray, Côte d’Auvergne or Banyuls.

Still unsure about playing matchmaker with cheese and chocolate? Check out the great article on cheese and chocolate pairings in this week’s Serious Cheese column.

free roquefort button“Roses are red,

Roquefort is blue…”

Alright, cheese aficianados. You’ve signed the petition, you’ve stocked up on Roquefort while you can, what’s left but to enjoy it in every conceivable way until it’s yanked from our shores on March 23? Why not profess your love for the stinky French blue to the world, and submit your best sonnet, rhyme or haiku for the Cheese & Champagne “Ode to Roquefort” Valentine’s Poetry Contest!

Share your best cheesy lines in the comments below, before midnight Sunday, February 15. We’ll select our favorite on Monday … and ship the lucky Poet Roquefort a first edition C&C “Free Roquefort!” t-shirt!

Give us your cheesiest lines, rhymed or otherwise!

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