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.

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.

My cheese of the week also hails from the mountains, but from the range on the opposite side of France – the Pyrenees. Ossau-Iraty is an raw, AOC sheep’s-milk cheese made in French Basque country, and its mellow, slighty oily flavor has become one of my favorites. Aged for 8-9 months, the cheese has a moldy rind that some eat, though I prefer to trim it away. I’d rather concentrate on the beige-colored paste inside the rind, which has a pleasing texture and firm bite.

My friend Ariela and I once included Ossau-Iraty as one of three cheeses in our picnic lunch, and it’s really the ideal picnic cheese because it can be paired with so many foods – fruit (especially apples), olives, cured meats, nuts and crusty bread. Bring along a bottle of a big red wine, like a Bordeaux or Zinfandel, and you’re all set for a lovely meal.

If you thought La Mancha was only the setting for my father’s favorite musical, “The Man of La Mancha,” you’re wrong! It’s also the birthplace of Spain’s best-known and universally loved Manchego cheese. This fertile area of central Spain brings us many of my favorite things: wine, saffron and (wait for it) cheese! Lots of sheep = lots of delicious sheep’s-milk cheeses, and Manchego is a great introduction to the genre for those who have shied away from sheep’s-milk cheeses out of fear of a strong “sheepy” smell or taste.

Why do I like Manchego so much? It’s the perfect table cheese. Its mild, slightly sweet and wee-bit nutty taste make it a good match for almost any meal. (Consider it the O-negative of cheeses.) Last night my husband, friend Ariela and I enjoyed it with salad, corn and roasted red pepper soup and some crusty rolls, and it complemented the other foods quite nicely. Its semi-firm texture makes Manchego easy to slice, and the cheese lends itself well to snacking. Manchego is often paired with other Spanish specialties, like almonds or dulce de membrillo (quince paste), but it also goes well with apples and other fruits for snacking. One of my favorite dishes at my all-time favorite restaurant, Jaleo, pairs Manchego with green apples and a light vinaigrette in a simple salad. (Alas, the restaurant has altered the salad by adding fennel and walnuts – I prefer the classic.)

Spains best-known cheese gets some love from fragrant rosemary.

Spain's best-known cheese gets some love from fragrant rosemary.

For wine pairings with Manchego, stick with Spain! Tempranillo is the obvious choice, both for drinking straight and as the base of sangria (best beverage ever!). Other suggestions are Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage, two moderately aged red wines that, according to, “balance the sheepy, oily qualities of the cheese.” But not to worry, it’s really not that sheepy!

Vino Tinto con Manchego y Romero

Vino Tinto con Manchego y Romero

As I mentioned yesterday, you can sometimes find Manchego dressed up with rosemary. If you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, stocks it. And while most Manchegos you’ll encounter in the United States are pasteurized, Colleen and I once had a raw-milk Manchego at a Cheesetique tasting cheese and loved the heightened flavors of the cheese. It’s also available at, along with some other great Spanish cheeses. One of my sisters sent me the four-cheese sampler for my birthday this year (thanks, Mandy!). It’s always great to get cheese by mail.

Many thanks to Ariela for her cheese-styling assistance!