Cheesemongers & Shops


Is there another champagne-friendly cheese more appropriate to follow Green Hill than the one called “Green Hill on steroids“? We think not.

You’ll definitely like Moses Sleeper if you’re a Green Hill fan, but the two cheeses aren’t totally similar. Both have the thick texture of a triple-cream cow’s-milk cheese, but whereas Green Hill tastes warm and buttery in your mouth, Moses Sleeper feels more subtle and cool. Read more.

Stumped for what to get your favorite cheese lover this Christmas? Here are our top five picks.

5. Cheese Ornaments. Every cheese lover needs a little mountain of goat cheese or funky blue hanging on their Christmas tree. Available at Sur La Table. (And thanks to Jill, who supplied this one for my tree last year.)

4. Cheese Lit — We particularly enjoyed Cheesemonger: Life on the Wedge, The Cheese Chronicles, and Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin this year – or a subscription to Culture the magazine.

3. Cheese Boards. One can never have too many surfaces on which to display and serve cheese. These slate boards from Brooklyn Slate are all the rage this holiday.

2. Cheese Condiments. A selection of jams, honey, mustards, pickles and crackers will make any cheese lover swoon. Madame Fromage has some excellent suggestions.

1. Gift Certificate to a local cheese shop. That’s right – there’s not a single cheese on this list. Unless you have access to a rare and in demand cheese (like Rush Creek), you’re better off letting your cheese loving friend select their own cheese gift. Not only does it give them the chance to get a favorite or try something new, but it brings your local cheesemonger business after the holiday rush has passed by. A win-win for all involved. (Find a cheese shop near you with this handy directory from Culture.)

(Photo credits: Sur La Table, Barnes & Noble, Brooklyn Slate and yours truly.)

If you’ve been following Cheese + Champagne for the past two years, you’ve read our musings on cheeses from all over Europe – France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Greece and Portugal. And while there are many, many European cheeses that Colleen and I love and enjoy on a regular basis, we’ve taken special notice of the newer artisanal cheeses that are made right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Many are so new that they didn’t make the Wine Spectator 100 Great Cheeses list that sparked this blog, and now through we’re practically done with the list, we decided it was time to turn our focus exclusively on America. We won’t give up eating our beloved Chaources, Roqueforts and Manchegos, of course, but you’ll be reading more about the exciting newcomers and rediscovered favorites from our own shores.

I can’t think of a better cheese to start with than one hailing from my home state of Wisconsin. Uplands Cheese Company of Dodgeville is making it a very merry holiday for all of us cheese fanatics with the release of its first batch of Rush Creek Reserve. Inspired by the Swiss Vacherin d’Or, which isn’t available in the United States due to FDA regulations on imported raw-milk cheeses, this dreamy, drippy cheese is carefully made with autumnal raw cow’s milk and aged for just 60 days. Each 12-oz. wheel is bound with spruce bark and washed with various bacteria that give the rind its orange color. You’ll want to avoid tasting that rind, though – its grittiness mars the creamy goodness that lies underneath. Rather than cutting wedges from the side, run your knife along the cheese’s circumference on top, peel off the rind and dig in with a spoon.

I first heard about Rush Creek Reserve this spring, when Uplands cheesemaker Andy Hatch visited the Cheese Shop at France 44 with a huge wheel of his award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve. After swooning over the Pleasant Ridge Reserve for several minutes (and scoring a complimentary wedge in the process), I asked Andy if he was working on anything new, and he said, “Yeah, I’ve got this new cheese that I think will be ready in November. It’s like Vacherin d’Or.” I was immediately intrigued and asked Andy if I could come down to Dodgeville to watch the cheesemaking process, and he said he’d be happy to welcome me. Unfortunately, the demands of a new baby and a new job didn’t allow me to visit this year, but I don’t think I’ll let another year pass before knocking on Uplands’ door…

Anyway, back to the cheese! Saying it’s good is an understatement. Saying it’s great is an understatement. This is a world-class cheese that can go against Epoisses, Langres or any other washed-rind cheese that France has to offer. The paste is so sumptuous, so sublime, that it’s a dessert, not an appetizer. Not as stinky as Epoisses, Rush Creek Reserve still has the barnyardy aroma that a cheese lover associates with spectacular cheeses, as well as a meaty, slightly smoky flavor that is easy to savor. You can protest all you want that washed-rind cheeses are too strong or stinky – I challenge you to have one spoonful of Rush Creek Reserve and not be an immediate convert to the washed-rind cause. This is a truly special cheese and the perfect gift for the caseophile in your life.

Alas, it’s not easy to find. Its seasonal nature only allows Uplands to release Rush Creek over a few short months, and not all cheese shops have received shipments yet. I was lucky to snag one at France 44 (thanks, Benjamin, for putting me on “the list”), but Colleen hasn’t been able to buy one in Northern Virginia so far this winter. If your local cheese shop hasn’t had it in stock yet, be sure to ask your cheesemonger if he or she has put in an order. This is one cheese you won’t want to miss, and it’s worth every penny (I paid $24 for my wheel). And when you do get your hands on it, pair it with a Riesling, Gewürztraminer or a malty beer, per Andy’s suggestions in his interview with The House Mouse last month.

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Last night I attended the launch party for DC’s newest cheese enterprise, The Cheese Course. Fromager Carolyn Stromberg, well known among DC cheese lovers for her work running the cheese cave at Old Hickory Steakhouse, is setting out on her own to teach cheese appreciation classes around town. At last night’s event, hosted by Cheesetique, Carolyn led guests through a guided tasting of several wines and cheeses, beginning with a sparkling wine and triple-cream L’Explorateur. “I always like to start a tasting with sparkling wine,” explained Carolyn, “because it’s festive.” It’s also hard to go wrong in matching a sparkling wine with cheese, which makes it an easy choice for beginners.

Carolyn Stromberg at The Cheese Course launch

Carolyn went on to lead us through a white, two reds and on to the dessert course, Sauternes with Sweet Grass Dairy‘s Asher Blue from Georgia. The Sauternes was a little sweet for my liking, but well suited for the assertive blue. My favorite pairing of the night was the California Queen of Hearts pinot noir with Abbaye de Belloc. (I’m a bit of an Oregon pinot snob, but this was a really delightful and fruity California rendition that would go well with a variety of cheeses.) I was also delighted to try the Cinerino, a mild, almost floral tasting, ash-rubbed sheeps-milk cheese from Casa Madaio in Campania, Italy.

DC has a wealth of fabulous cheesemongers and shops, but too few opportunities for the cheese curious to study the subject matter more in depth. Carolyn’s passion for cheese is evident, and her casual approach will put even novices at ease as she leads them through a guided pairing. Visit her website and contact her today to schedule a cheese tasting for your holiday party. Plans to host public classes around town are in the works, so stay tuned and we’ll be sure to give you a heads up when they’re scheduled.

The Cheese Course
www.cheese-course.com
p: 202.236.3044
@cheesecoursedc

Happy National Cheese Day, y’all! Regular readers of Cheese + Champagne know that Colleen and I never need a holiday to serve as an excuse to eat cheese, but we’re happy to mark the occasion all the same.

If you’re looking for something different to try for Cheese Day 2010, consider Corsu Vecchiu, a sheep’s-milk cheese from the island of Corsica. I hadn’t noticed this cheese before Monday, when I went to Surdyk’s for its cheese sale, and it was on the list of top 20 staff picks. One taste and I was ready to buy a wedge – despite being a sheep’s-milk cheese, Corsu Vecchiu doesn’t carry the oiliness that characterizes so many of its ovine counterparts. I was surprised and delighted with its lightness both in flavor and in texture and the subtle saltiness that comes through at the end of each bite. I would have eaten my entire wedge in one sitting if I hadn’t stopped myself, but I managed to make the cheese last for two sittings. Surdyk’s recommends a medium red wine on the side, like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. I had neither in the house (I’m still rebuilding my wine supply after nine months of abstaining), so I enjoyed the Corsu Vecchiu with some fruit for a very satisfying snack.

Which cheese(s) will be enjoying for National Cheese Day this year? Share your picks with us!

“Cheese is a food, not a status symbol. Push your boundaries, but buy the cheese that makes you happy.”

This sentiment doesn’t appear until the very end of Gordon Edgar‘s new book, “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge,” but its importance can’t be overstated. In our modern foodie culture, it’s easy to become a snob about the types of food you enjoy, but Gordon, the cheese buyer at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, takes the snobbiness out of cheese with his really enjoyable memoir/cheese manifesto. Colleen had the pleasure of meeting Gordon when she visited San Francisco last October, and now I am totally jealous because after reading this book he seems like he’d be a fun conversationalist.

I’m not going to write a book report here because I’m 31 years old and stopped writing book reports in middle school, but I will urge you to pick up a copy of “Cheesemonger” at the book store or library. You don’t have to be a cheese lover to read it, though it’s fun if you are because you can knowledgeably nod your head when Gordon talks about the virtues or pitfalls of specific cheeses, but it’s accessible enough for anyone who enjoys an intelligent discussion about food. It’s fascinating to read how Gordon’s background in the Bay Area’s punk activist scene actually prepared him well for his unintended but ultimately successful career as a cheesemonger, and he does an excellent job of educating readers about the basic components of cheese (i.e. milk, rennet, mold, salt, bacteria) while weaving in colorful stories from his travels to domestic and foreign cheesemakers, cheese conferences and trade shows, and days behind the cheese counter at Rainbow. For those of us who romanticize the life of the cheesemonger, the book will leave you with a better impression of the work that goes into building and maintaining retail cheese department or store and make you appreciate your local cheesemonger even more!

If nothing else, read this book to get gems like this line: “A good cheese person can steer you to the right gateway goat cheese that won’t make you feel like you stuck your nose in a goat’s crotch.” If only we could all be so eloquent!

If there’s one cheese that I’ve been craving more than any other during the past eight months of pregnancy, it would be Kunik. This triple-cream cheese from New York’s Nettle Meadow Farm is made from 75 percent goat’s milk and 25 percent cow’s milk, and the result is 150 percent spectacular. Thank the Lord that the Cheese Shop at France 44 usually has a button or two in stock when I stop in after yoga on Saturday mornings. A week without my Kunik fix is a bad week, indeed.

As lucky as I am to find Kunik here in Minnesota, I can’t help but wish I lived close to the Nettle Meadow Farm in the Adirondacks. The cheesemakers, Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan, make a variety of small-batch, hand-crafted goat cheeses mixed with yummy ingredients like herbs, olive oil, garlic, maple syrup and honey. You really can’t beat fresh chevre when it comes to cheese – the flavor is so rich and pure that you can eat it straight with a spoon. But since I’m not close to Nettle Meadow – and I have delicious Minnesota and Wisconsin chevres to devour – I will definitely take the Kunik when I can get it. Though it’s been slightly aged, it still carries the freshness of a chevre with the luxurious creaminess of cow’s milk. If you can find a button, buy it and eat it in small wedges on a cracker or by itself. I’d be surprised if you can stop yourself before the entire cheese is gone!

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