February 2010


Neither snow nor rain nor hear nor gloom of night could keep me from getting my hands on a pyramid of Haystack Peak. Well, the story isn’t that dramatic. Unable to locate one of the Colorado-made goat’s-milk cheeses in Minneapolis, I called up Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy and asked if the cheesemaker could send me one mere piece. Luckily, a nice woman named Joanna tracked down one of the remaining cheeses of the season and sent it the same day. The cheese arrived, surrounded by ice packs, in perfect condition, and I’m happy to report that the Haystack Peak was worth the cost. (I paid more to ship the cheese than the cost of the cheese itself. Seriously.)

Though the Haystack Peak’s shape immediately made me think of the disaster that was Valencay, the tasting experience was not at all similar. Instead of a soury bite, I got the clean, fresh taste of goat cheese that makes me get excited for spring. Haystack Peak is made from the pasteurized milk of Nubian, Saanen and La Mancha goats, and while I’m definitely no goat expert, I’d say that blend of milks makes a pretty awesome cheese. The pyramid shape can be awkward to slice, but that didn’t stop me from plowing my knife through the snowy wedge, and atop a whole-wheat cracker it was blissful.

Wine Spectator recommends pairing Haystack Peak with an Alsatian Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer, and Haystack Mountain suggests you add some toasted almonds, quince jam or dried fruits on the side. As usual, I am perfectly content with just the cheese and a knife, but if you are able to find Haystack Peak at your local cheese shop, let us know which pairings you prefer.

*Editor’s Note: We’re coming down to the final five cheeses on the Wine Spectator list, and Colleen and I have had some trouble locating these cheeses at our local cheese shops, so we’re resorting to mail order and other methods for procuring them. While we wait for those cheeses to arrive, we’ll be writing about other interesting cheeses we’ve been enjoying.

I first read about Sweet Grass Dairy‘s Green Hill from the Washington Post All We Can Eat blog’s cheese blogger, Domenica Marchetti, and though her description of this Georgia-made, pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese made me drool, I still had a lingering doubt. Just a double-cream cheese? I’m a triple-cream snob, and I didn’t think the Green Hill could measure up to my favorite triple-cream cheeses. But then my cheesemonger friend Benjamin at the Cheese Shop at France 44/St. Paul Cheese Shop vouched for this cheese’s amazingness and offered to set aside a wheel for me, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it. A few wheels later, you could now say that I’m hooked.

Sweet Grass Dairy has only been around for 10 years, but it’s quickly establishing a reputation in the cheese world for to-die-for cow’s- and goat’s-milk cheeses. The milk from the grass-fed cows makes the Green Hill so sweet and buttery that you’d think you’re eating a rich triple-cream. It’s one of those cheeses that I must stop myself from eating because otherwise I’d eat the entire wheel in one sitting. I don’t even need a cracker – I just cut off gooey wedges and savor it without adornment. Of course, the Green Hill pairs beautifully with any kind of cracker or sweet berries, and it’s a natural companion for champagne or a Belgian ale. It was my Valentine’s Day present to myself this year, and it was even more delicious than a decadent chocolate dessert.

We may have had a whole box of cheeses waiting when Jill arrived for her visit last month, but that didn’t stop us from venturing to a cheese shop.  After all, Jill hadn’t been to La Fromagerie yet and we’re certainly not ones to miss out on visiting a new cheese shop! And of course we managed to come across something new, Bloomin’ Idiot from Hook’s Cheese Co. of Wisconsin. Yes, the same Hook’s whose 15-year cheddar has become something of an obsession around the cheese world. But that’s no reason to overlook their other fine cheeses, particularly the clever double-creme-slash-blue specimen here. In fact, prior to the cheddar craze Hook’s was known for their variety of blues. And since it’s Valentine’s week, it’s worth pointing out that Tony and Julie Hook were college sweethearts who’ve been making cheese together for over 30 years. Now that’s romance.

Bloomin’ Idiot is a cows-milk, semi-soft and creamy cheese that at first glance resembles a brie-style cheese. In fact, if you scoop out a bite from the middle and exclude the rind, it has that same mild, creamy, slightly sour milky taste you would expect. Take a bite with the bloomy, mottled rind, however, and you’ll get the tangy astringent flavor of a blue. Huh?

is it just me or is that cheese smirking?

In traditional blues, the milk is inoculated with mold and mold spores are injected into the cheese to encourage its development. By skipping the injections, this cheese develops blue only in the rind, creating a cheese with almost a split personality. We give this experiment two thumbs up, with bonus points for the amusing name.

After a year-plus of eating a new cheese almost every week, one inevitably begins to compare the fine fromages to one another. This one may be packaged like Cheese A but smell like Cheese B, or it comes from Country X but tastes like the specimens from Country Y. So when I unwrapped my 6-oz. cylinder of Langres yesterday, I couldn’t help but think, “Hey, this comes in a box like Camembert, has a similar shape to Le Chevrot and tastes like Red Hawk.” So do all those comparisons add up to a positive cheese experience? You betcha!

Langres is one of those cheeses you’ll find sold whole in most shops, thanks to its diminutive size, and it’s actually an excellent cheese when you want the funky yeastiness of Red Hawk but don’t want to purchase a large wheel. Though the Langres you’d buy in France would be made with raw cow’s milk from the Champagne region, the imported version is pasteurized since the cheese isn’t aged for very long (anywhere from 15 to 90 days). If properly handled and stored, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the raw-milk goodness – pasteurized Langres still has the kick you’d expect from a raw-milk cheese, plus the creaminess that soft-cheese lovers favor. The cheese is known for an indentation at the top in which diners traditionally poured champagne or another spirit to enrich the cheese. I prefer to have my bubbly on the side rather than on top of my cheese, but give it a try if you’re inclined. And don’t be alarmed by the cheese’s orange color – it’s supposed to look like that!

There are blue cheeses, and then there are blue cheeses, and Persille de Malzieu, from the Langeudoc-Rousillon region of France, definitely falls into the latter category. See all that marbling in the cheese’s paste? That means it doesn’t skimp on sharp, spicy blue flavor. When Colleen and I did our taste test/photo shoot with the cheese a few weeks ago, I thought it may have tasted so strong to us because our pregnancy-altered palates are a bit sensitive, but no, apparently it tastes like that to everyone!

You may not have heard about Persille de Malzieu before. I certainly hadn’t before embarking upon this project. Availability can be spotty (hence, our ordering it from Murray’s rather than buying it at a Minneapolis or D.C. area cheese shop), and it’s a raw sheep’s-milk cheese, which often results in smaller production because sheep make far less milk than cows. But if you’re a blue-cheese lover and can get your hands on it, jump at the chance. Pesille de Malzieu is very moist and salty with a fantastic tang to it. It’s not as creamy as C+C favorite Roquefort, but with a good whole wheat cracker (we love Carr’s) and something sweet on the side, like a raisin chutney or dates, it would be a very satisfying dessert. Wine pairings tend toward the sweet as well – look for a Sauternes or Port.