May 2010

After nine months of abstaining from wine, it was only appropriate that I select a boozy washed-rind cheese for my first post-partum review. Like the wine in which it is bathed, L’Affiné au Chablis is made in the Burgundy region of France, which is also home to the notorious stinker Epoisses. But if you have a stinky-cheese-phobic spouse like mine, you don’t have to worry about this cheese causing him to hide in the basement for the better part of the evening – L’Affiné au Chablis is much milder than Epoisses and lacks its odorous punch.

So what makes this cheese worth seeking? Its creaminess, of course – as with many soft-ripened cow’s-milk cheeses, L’Affiné au Chablis has a luxurious mouthfeel that’s hard to resist. I let my wheel sit on the counter for a couple of hours and then dug into it with a spoon. My mom was a little weirded out by this gesture, but I found it to be a perfectly appropriate way to consume the cheese. (It was delicious on a cracker, too, in case you agree with my mom.) The flavor of the Chablis is definitely present with each bite, but it was subtle enough to allow the creamy richness of the cheese to take center stage. The wine pairing should be pretty obvious.

Keswick Creamery is well-known among DC farmers market goers for their wonderful cheeses, yogurt and more. Located in Newberg, Pennsylvania, the small family dairy has been making cheese from their grassfed Jersey cows since 2001. Their ricotta is some of the best I’ve tasted, and local foodies rave about their creamy quark. So when I heard they had introduced some new cheeses, beer-washed raw milk tommes, I was eager to try them out.

I visited co-cheesemaker Mark Cochran at Sunday’s Bloomingdale Farmers Market, and he filled me in on two of the new additions: Mad Tomme and the Tommenator, both washed in craft beers from Pennsylvania’s Troegs Brewing Company.

Both begin with raw milk from the farm’s Jersey cows, which is turned into Alpine-style pressed cheese and aged 3-4 months. The Mad Tomme is washed with Troegs’ Mad Elf holiday brew, made with honey and cherries that impart a light sweetness to the finished cheese. The Tommenator is washed with the Double Bock, and has a stronger, maltier flavor. Both cheeses still retain that unmistakable grassy sweetness and yellow color of Jersey milk cheeses, and a dense but creamy paste.

It goes without saying that these are well suited for pairing with beer, especially Troegs. They are perfect for summer entertaining, either before, during or after dinner. I’d try the Tommenator on a burger, and perhaps save the Mad Tomme for dessert with a side of fresh cherries (or cherry pie!).

Keswick has recently pulled out of the Saturday farmers markets, but can still be found at the Dupont Circle and Bloomingdale markets on Sunday. Their cheeses are also available at Cheesetique and Cowgirl Creamery. Visit their website to learn more.

This event recently came across my email and was too delicious not to pass on to those of you in the DC area. You know we love beer and cheese, and this upcoming beer dinner at Birch & Barley features three gouda-beer pairings, with Mikkeller beer from Denmark. Birch & Barley is the newest member of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, whose local restaurants boast a strong cheese program across the board. See the full menu for the May 17 dinner below, and contact Birch & Barley at 202.567.2576 to make reservations.

The Mikkeller Beer Dinner
With Special Guest Mikkel Borg Bjergsø
Monday, May 17 | 5 Courses + 8 Beers | $76

Details: Mikkeller Beer Dinner at Birch & Barley on Monday, May 17 at 7:00 PM. $76 Per Person + Tax & Gratuity.

The Menu

Mikkeller Drink in the Sun

Barley Salad Pickled Cucumbers, Golden Raisins, Almonds & Crawfish
Mikkeller Funky (e) | [fung’ke e’st r]

“Smørrebrød” Pan Seared Trout, Lovage, Housemade Brioche & Pumpernickel Spread
Mikkeller 10

Veal Rump Roast, Scandinavian Spices & Minted Potatoes
Mikkeller Freiser

Young Gouda
Mikkeller Barrel-Aged Black Hole: Rum

Smoked Gouda
Mikkeller Barrel-Aged Black Hole: Peat Whisky

Aged Goat Goud
Mikkeller Barrel-Aged Black Hole: Red Wine

Maple Mousse, Lingonberry Sorbet & Apricot-Elderflower Syrup
Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

Amarelo da Beira Baixa has been one of the more elusive cheeses on the “100 Great Cheeses” list. Unfortunately, Portuguese cheeses are hard to come by here in the DC area, and we didn’t spot this one on our cheese tour of NYC this past summer either. It was listed on Artisanal’s website, but hadn’t been in stock on previous searches. When I checked two months ago it appeared available to order, so I did — only to get a phone call that it was on back order. I declined the option to replace it with another cheese and waited … and waited … and waited. Finally I got the call that it had arrived and would be shipping out. And I have to say it was worth the wait.

Amarelo is a D.O.P. cheese from central Portugal. A raw sheep/goat milk blend, it has a firm, spongy paste that softens to a spreadable consistency as it warms to room temperature. It has the sour, yeasty taste of a washed rind but still preserves that fresh goats-milk flavor at the same time. It is lighter than I expected, as the goats’ milk cuts some of the traditional oiliness of sheeps-milk cheese, but still delightfully creamy and full-flavored. Artisanal suggests pairing Amarelo with Pinot Noir, which sounds heavenly. I can only hope Amarelo will still be in stock when I can drink wine again!