August 2009


As you might expect, it’s Vermont Cheese Week here on Cheese + Champagne, and the first virtual postcard from Vermont comes from Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, in the southern end of the Champlain Valley. We drove through the valley en route to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and it was breathtakingly beautiful even with the on-and-off rain showers.

This was one of the last cheeses I sampled at the festival, and I was delighted to find Hannah Sessions of Blue Ledge Farm tucked into the back corner as their Lake’s Edge is on our Wine Spectator list and had proven hard to find further south. This cheese is similar to Humboldt Fog, in that it is an aged goats-milk cheese with an ash layer and bloomy rind, but its taste is markedly distinct. It is fresher, with that sweet, clean taste of fresh chevre; the jet-black line of ash adds an earthy tang that awakens the palate. The pure milk taste distinguishes Lake’s Edge from more sour goats-milk cheeses, making this cheese approachable without compromising on flavor.

Blue Ledge Farm has a mixed herd of Alpine, Nubian and Lamancha goats, milked in season (February through November) and rotationally grazed on organically-maintained farmland. In keeping with the cheese’s name, we ate this cheese for lunch on the shores of Lake Champlain — by hand, improvising with dried banana chips as knives. My sister-in-law and I literally had to fight my 3-year-old for the last bites.

Chocolate-goat-cheese-on-shortbread

In honor of National Goat Cheese Month, I sampled a chocolate goat cheese spread available at my local Whole Foods and reviewed it for Heavy Table. If you haven’t already, check it out! The goat cheese is from Wisconsin’s MontChevre and is mixed in store with cocoa butter and cocoa liquor. Paired with a shortbread cookie, it’s a divine dessert.

Just a teaser. More to come when (if) I get back from Vermont. (Click for slideshow.)

A cheese that comes snuggly tucked in its own crock has to be good, right? That was my assumption when I picked up this cute little cow’s-milk cheese at Surdyk’s last week. Though St. Marcellin doens’t fit into our goat-cheese theme, it is a fine cheese to include on your cheeseboard any time of the year.

St. Marcellin is produced in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, which is in the southeastern part of the country – an area known for fabulous food. If you travel there, you’d likely find a raw-milk version of St. Marcellin, but here in the United States, we have to make do with the pasteurized variety, which isn’t really a sacrifice because the cheese is so damn good. Ignoring the rule that you should let a cheese sit at room temperature for one hour before eating it, I let my St. Marcellin sit out for three hours (a.k.a. dinnertime and two episodes of “Mad Men”). By then, the paste was a puddle of ooey-gooey deliciousness, just the way I like it. It was more practical to eat it with a spoon than with a knife at that point.

The taste wasn’t unlike Chaource – a creamy, slightly mushroomy blend of flavors. It had the decadence of a special-occasion cheese, but I never save cheese for special occasions – a Tuesday night is a good enough reason for me! And the three-ounce size almost makes it guilt-free – you know you can’t overdo it because it’s not a large wedge of cheese. If you enjoy St. Marcellin with a glass of a heart-friendly red wine, like a Syrah or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, you could even consider it a healthy snack.

Continuing with the National Goat Cheese Month theme here at C+C, today we venture to Italy to sample one of its most delicious cheeses, Caprino. Based on the Italian word capra, which means goat, caprini are delectable little goat’s-milk cheeses from the country’s Piedmont region, which borders France and Switzerland. It’s not surprising then that caprini resemble French chevres in shape and texture, but the sumptuous Caprino Tartufo I sampled is in a class all of its own.

Though it’s actually a Caprino Stagionato on the Wine Spectator list, I couldn’t find that cheese (often aged and seasoned) anywhere in the Twin Cities, and the Caprino Tartufo is a worthy substitute. Left to sit on the counter for just an hour, the cheese oozed runny paste when I cut into it. It lacked a strong goat odor and taste; instead, the clean creaminess made it a refreshing start to my dinner. The truffle (tartufo) added an earthy touch but didn’t overwhelm the cheese’s smooth flavor.

In his “Cheese Primer,” Steven Jenkins notes that Italians often eat their caprini with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked black pepper, so I got out my special bottle of Israeli extra-virgin olive oil and poured a dab onto the cheese, topping it with pepper. I tasted each ingredient separately upon taking my first bite – the fruity splash of the olive oil stands out at the beginning, then you get a smooth swallow of the cheese, and finally the spiciness of the pepper bursts through at the end. It would be a stand-out appetizer at a summer dinner party, provided you buy enough caprini to keep your goat-cheese-loving guests sated. Sommelier Mauro Cirilli recommends serving caprini with a light-bodied white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc from Italy’s Fruili-Venezia region.

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