September 2009


You’ve got to be tickled by this cheese’s name – L’Amuse. It’s almost as if it were created just to tease and entice us. I’m not sure if this was the cheesemaker’s intention, but I’ll tell you one thing – only one taste would definitely be a tease.

A cow’s-milk Gouda, L’Amuse is aged for at least two years on a small family farm in Holland, which gives it a few crunchy crystals and its wonderfully caramel-like taste. It’s sweeter than your typical supermarket Gouda and while its texture can’t accurately be called buttery since the cheese is fairly firm, it has a richness that any cheese lover would appreciate. L’Amuse is a perfect cheese for your autumnal cheeseboard. It’s hearty enough to stand up to the stronger flavors of fall and would be delightful when paired with pumpkin treats, like my favorite pumpkin muffin recipe from Cooking Light.

A rich, fruity red would be a fine match for L’Amuse – Wine Spectator recommends a Zinfandel or Amarone. Janet Fletcher, who writes the fabulous Cheese Course column for SFGate.com, suggests a Dios Baco Oloroso.

On Wisconsin! Yes, it’s the state song, but it’s the also the attitude I hold toward Wisconsin’s blue cheeses. Though blues may not be the first cheeses you think about when you think of America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin is proving itself to be a champion blue-cheese-producing state. I picked up a couple of blues during my jaunt to Madison late last month at the fantastic cheese shop Fromagination (wow, the weight I would have gained in college if this store existed then!) and hope I’ll be able to find them here in Minnesota once my stash runs out.

The first cheese, Ader Käse Reserve from Seymour Dairy Crest, is a particularly creamy and salty blue that takes it cue from German blues by going through an intensive aging process. This pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese is carefully monitored for six months, and the result is a fragrant but not overpowering blue. Port is the no-brainer pairing, and you could echo the cheese’s saltiness by serving it with cured meats or mitigate the tang with a handful of unseasoned nuts and dried fruit.

When my Ader Käse Reserve was being cut and wrapped, the cheesemonger offered me a sample of another local blue, Moody Blue from Roth Käse, and I almost fell over from the sumptuous smoky flavor. Made from local cow’s milk and aged for a minimum of four months, this cheese is smoked over fruit wood, which makes it smell like a campfire and taste like no other blue I’ve had before. It has a much stronger flavor than the Ader Käse Reserve but offers a similar level of saltiness and creaminess. Dark chocolate would be a decadent pairing, while fruit compotes or chutneys would provide a lighter touch. Roth Käse recommends serving Moody Blue with Côtes du Rhône red wines or – if you prefer beer – stout, porter or Belgian Lambic.

The thought of reviewing the “Best of Show” winner from the American Cheese Society awards is, honestly, a little daunting. After all, you’ve surely already read all about this seasonally-produced, leaf-wrapped, buttery blue from central Oregon. You probably have heard of Rogue Creamery, one of the West Coast’s most celebrated cheese producers. (Did you know they were the first to export American raw-milk cheese to Europe? That they test every batch of milk to ensure it’s antibiotic and growth-hormone free? That the founder, Tom Vella, spent three months studying blue cheese making in Roquefort, France?) Honestly, I could describe Rogue River Blue in one word: yum. But perhaps you’d like a little more description.

This particular cheese is a testament to Oregon’s terroir.  It is made only for a short window in the fall (during the autumnal equinox and winter solstice) when the milk is at its highest butterfat content. The cheese is wrapped in Syrah grape leaves from nearby Carpenter Hill Vineyards; the leaves are first macerated in locally-made Clear Creek Pear Brandy. The cheese is aged in caves built to resemble the famed caves of Roquefort, allowing natural molds of the Rogue River Valley to ripen the cheese. The resulting cheese develops a wonderful, complex flavor. It is buttery, silky and rich, sweet with soft fruit flavors and a slight smokiness.

Not having any Clear Creek on hand, I tasted this with a sip of my post-dinner Dark n’ Stormy. Maybe not a perfect pairing, but the ginger was an interesting match. Of course it goes without saying that a fresh pear will make a lovely companion for a hunk of this blue.

By the way, Rogue River Blue’s 2009 release started shipping yesterday, so head to your favorite local cheesemonger … right now!

It’s the last day of summer and fall is definitely in the air… and at the cheese counters, with cheddar, gouda and washed-rind cheeses settling in. Here’s what we’ve noted recently in the cheeseosphere.

* American cheeses made their first trip to Slow Food Cheese 2009, the biennial celebration of the world’s finest cheeses in Bra, Italy, this past weekend. According to the reports, the Americans were greeted with much enthusiasm and sold out early. Congrats to Rogue Creamery, Cowgirl Creamery, Vermont Butter & Cheese, Uplands Cheese Company (and others?) who were represented. You can see gorgeous cheese pics galore here (though the text is in Italian) or review the full cheese participant list here

* Not Eating Out in New York provides a recap of the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment and includes the recipe for the judges’ first place pick, Bonnie Suarez’s Spicy 3-Cheese Crackers.

* On the Cheese Blogs: The Cheesewench over at Cheese Is Alive recently spent a day at Jasper Hill Farms; check out all that sexy cheese goodness in their cellars! I can almost smell the Constant Bliss through my monitor…

* Fall Cheese Festivals coming up include October 3, The Wedge: Pacific NW Regional Artisan Cheesemakers Festival, in Portland, Oregon; and October 1-3 in the Canary Islands! (Who’s going? We’ll accept guest posts/cheese samples ;-).)

* In the Washington, DC, region — the new FreshFarms Market by the White House features *four* local cheesemakers: Everona Dairy (VA), FireFly Farm (MD), Keswick Creamery (PA) and Clear Springs Creamery (MD). The First Lady’s cheese choice? Camembert from organic-certified Clear Springs; Agriculture Secretary Vilsack opted for their chocolate milk.  The new fall class schedule is up at La Fromagerie; and CulinAerie will host a Cheese 101 class on Oct. 21. Visit our new “DC Cheese” event calendar to stay up-to-date on all the Mid-Atlantic cheese happenings.

* In the Twin Cities, MN, regionSurdyk’s cheese sale continues till Saturday; France 44/St. Paul Cheese Shop is selling Rosh Hashanah sandwiches with local apples, honey and clothbound cheddar or Stilton (yum!). Visit our new “MN Cheese” event calendar to stay up-to-date on all the upper Midwest cheese happenings.

Calling all Cheesemakers: got news to share? email dccheese @ gmail.com to be included in our weekly news highlights.

Colleen’s recent jaunt to New England for the inaugural Vermont Cheesemakers Festival made me very jealous, of course, but as the stars would have it, I was about to embark on a cheesy road trip myself later that same week. Well, really I was going to Madison, Wis., for a friend’s wedding, but I managed to put cheese-shopping on the agenda, and my home state did not disappoint me. I was able to find some cheese that have eluded me here in Minnesota and find some fabulous new cheese shops in the process.

A cranky toddler made a stop in Osseo necessary, and my lovely husband managed to find a cheese shop right off the highway where we could disembark for a short break. (How lucky am I!) I was pleasantly surprised to find that Foster Cheese Haus wasn’t your typical Wisconsin side-of-the-road shop aimed at tourists (not that I don’t love those shops, too), but it had a wide selection of artisanal Wisconsin cheeses from well-known cheesemakers like Carr Valley, Crave Brothers and Roth Kase. I was thrilled to see a wheel of Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar, a cheese that had recently come to the Twin Cities but had sold out before I could get my hands on a piece. No fear – Dean at Foster Cheese Haus was happy to share samples and wrap up a wedge for me.

Located near Blue Mounds, Wis., Bleu Mont Dairy produces excellent cheeses from the organic milk of pasture-grazed cows. Cheesemaker Willi Lehner learned to make cheese from his father, who learned to craft cheese in Switzerland. Lehner’s dad certainly taught him well – the raw-milk bandaged cheddar (left) is a delight. Almost candy-like in sweetness, this cheese has a smooth texture (no crystals, like you’ll often find in aged cheeses) and a nuttiness that comes off very cleanly. Paired with a lager or off-dry riesling (as per Wine Spectator’s recommendation), the cheese makes a wonderful addition to a salad course or even dessert.

After tasting the cheddar, Dean also introduced me to a new addition to his cheese case – an aged gouda (right) also from Bleu Mont Dairy. Since I never refuse a sample, I eagerly snacked on this 10-month gouda and liked it so much I brought home a piece, too. Fans of Prima Donna Gouda will definitely enjoy this cheese, though the flavor isn’t exactly the same. The creamy paste is both sweet and nutty, and the flavor would hold up well in fondue.

Lehner regularly sells his cheeses at Madison’s Dane County Farmers’ Market, and you can also find them at cheese shops throughout Wisconsin, such as Foster Cheese Haus and Fromagination in Madison. If you don’t make it to Wisconsin, though, don’t fret. An e-mail to Lehner can go a long way to getting these delicious cheeses into your refrigerator.

Mozzarella-and-tomatoes

Prior to last month, I thought I loved everything about cheese. Turns out I don’t love cheese-making! Curious? Go to Heavy Table to learn about my miserable attempts at making mozzarella at home. There’s a reason why you’ll see me buying my mozzarella at local cheese shops and not slaving away in my kitchen.

At the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival I set the cheese down just for a moment to test my new Flip recorder on a willing subject, Steve Getz of Dancing Cow Farmstead Cheese. He credited his wife Mary with the decision to make this particular award-winning batch of Menuet during a particularly lush few days on the couple’s farm, but she demurred to Steve to take the lead on camera.

As Steve explains, Menuet was Dancing Cow’s first cheese and has been somewhat overlooked in favor of their more well-known washed-rind Bourrée, which also ages at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. But here’s the story of Menuet, third-place finisher in the open category, cow’s milk, at the 2009 American Cheese Society awards:

Steve Getz chats about Dancing Cow Menuet from Colleen Levine on Vimeo.

Dancing Cow Farm is located in the Champlain Valley, and comprised of organically-maintained pasture on which their happy Jersey and Guernsey (and a few other breeds in the mix) dairy cows feed. Their newest cheese, Sarabande, is exquisite — a silky, pungent, washed-rind cheese made in a triangular Valencay mold (shh, don’t tell the French cheese enforcers!). In fact, the name comes from a forbidden Spanish dance. As with all Dancing Cow’s cheeses, it is made from fresh, uncooled raw milk of a single milking. You can taste the care and love in each of their cheeses, and I encourage you to seek them out at your local cheese shop.

P.S. I noticed Cheesetique has Bourée in stock right now, for all you DC/VA cheese fans.

Next Page »