Brews


Happy New Year! While Jill’s beloved Badgers may not have been victorious in last weekend’s Rose Bowl, Wisconsin can take solace in knowing its cheeses are still tops.  We look forward to bringing you many more cheese winners in 2011. But first, while we’re detoxing from our holiday cheese (over)consumption — and working on a fresh new look for 2011 — we’re going to bring you a few of our favorite winter snacking cheeses from years past. After all, it’s January. It’s cold, and all we want to do is curl up in front of the tv and watch some football…

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I know that the Scots probably don’t care much about American football, but it seems to me that their Isle of Mull Cheddar was made for the Super Bowl. A cheddar with flavors of mustard and malt? Score.

The mustardy flavor of Isle of Mull Cheddar makes it an ideal match for pretzels - and football.
The mustardy flavor of Isle of Mull Cheddar makes it an ideal match for pretzels – and football.

What gives Isle of Mull Cheddar its distinctive flavor? The cheese’s island namesake, located off the western coast of Scotland, is home to the Tobermory malt whiskey distillery. The cows that supply the milk for this aged raw-milk cheese feast on the distillery’s leftover fermented barley, which in turn give the cheese a Scotchy taste. Once brought to room temperature, the Isle of Mull Cheddar has a mustardy aroma that intensifies with each bite. Bring on the pretzels!

As you might expect, Isle of Mull Cheddar is a natural match for Tobermory Scotch, but for those of you who aren’t planning on breaking out the hard stuff during the game, consider serving the cheese with a Pinot Noir or, as Jamie Forrest of Curd Nerds suggests, a California Chardonnay. But let’s be realistic – you’ll be serving it with beer for the Super Bowl. In that case, DiBruno Bros. suggests an ale.

Special note: Isle of Mull Cheddar has also been toddler-approved. My 1-year-old son couldn’t get enough when he spotted some on the counter yesterday.

— originally posted by Jill, 01/23/09

Happy new year, cheese lovers! The start of a new year is always exciting, but Jan. 1, 2011 is particularly thrilling for me since my beloved Wisconsin Badger football team is facing Texas Christian University in the Rose Bowl this afternoon. Of course, it won’t really be a contest – Wisconsin is known for kicking major booty during previous Rose Bowl games – but it’s a great excuse to get together with fellow Badgers and cheer on our team. While eating cheese, of course.

In honor of this year’s Rose Bowl competitors, I’ll be serving a cheeseboard with two regional favorites. Wisconsin will be represented by Hook’s 7-Year Cheddar, and since I couldn’t find any Texas cheese at my local shop, Green Hill will stand in for the South. (And I really wanted an excuse to buy a fresh wheel of Green Hill, anyway.) We’ll have my favorite Carr’s whole wheat crackers on hand, as well as gluten-free rice crackers, and lots of beer and other appropriate beverages.

Since both cheeses are amazing, our taste buds will win no matter which team comes out victorious, but you all know my bias. Go Badgers!

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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Okay, part of the reason we’re so mad about cheese balls is their retro, kitschy fun. And while you can class them up into more sophisticated versions, sometimes you just wanna have fun. I may live in Virginia now, but I’m not a native Southerner. So the first time I spotted pimento cheese on a menu, I skipped over it. Eventually, I caved and sampled the pimento grilled cheese at Cheesetique. Holy yum. Suddenly I understood why pimento cheese was suddenly popping up on respected food blogs. (Pimentos are even starring in the signature mac-n-cheese served on CapMacDC — DC’s new pasta food truck. Yes, you heard me — we have a pasta truck. But we’ll talk more about that later.)

Naturally I just had to had to try pimento cheese in ball form. The best part is that to reach the right consistency, you replace the mayonnaise with cream cheese — perfect for mayo-haters like yours truly. I debated rolling it in chopped pecans, but didn’t want to add the competing flavor. Plus, the red flecks of peppers are like Christmas confetti.

Pimento Cheese Ball

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated smoked gouda
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped pimento peppers
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Instructions: Let grated cheeses and cream cheese come to room temperature. Place in a medium-sized mixing bowl, add pimentos, salt, and pepper(s), and mix well with a spatula to combine. (You can also mix the ingredients in a food processor if you prefer.) Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Enjoy with crackers and celery sticks.

Before I begin singing the praises of this lovely blue cheese – an apology. C+C has been woefully neglected this summer, mostly due to the newborn craziness that Colleen and I are both experiencing at our homes, and also due to the fact that I had to abstain from all dairy for almost two months to see if it would improve my little guy’s disposition. When my son’s pediatrician suggested I try a dairy-free diet, I sputtered, “But, but, I’m a cheese blogger!” But I knew it would give us the best shot at figuring out if he had food sensitivities, so good-bye ice cream, cheese, yogurt and other treats. It sucked. Thankfully, my recent trial back on dairy hasn’t given him any problems and he is a much happier baby overall, so bring on the cheese again!

I finally made it back to the Cheese Shop at France 44, and after getting my hands on a wedge of Kunik (oh, how I missed you, Kunik!), I scanned the counter for newcomers and set my sights on Sweet Grass Dairy’s Asher Blue. Regular C+C readers know that I’m a big fan of this Georgia cheesemaker’s Green Hill, so I figured Asher Blue would be equally delicious. I was right! (I love it when that happens.) This raw cow’s-milk cheese comes across as both creamy and spicy, thanks to the thick veins of blue running through it. It’s a little too sophisticated to be called a beginner’s blue, but the creaminess of the paste prevents it from being overwhelming.

The Sweet Grass Dairy website suggests using Asher Blue as the basis of a blue cheese dressing, but rather than dilute the cheese’s flavor with herbs and liquid, I’d rather crumble it directly onto a salad with toasted nuts and sweet dried cranberries. The old cracker-and-honey-drizzle treatment would work fabulously, too. Pair with Port, Sauternes, Cabernet or a dark ale.

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

Apéritif
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

What first attracted to me to this stinky Vermont cheese is its name – Oma is German for “grandmother,” and my next-door neighbors growing up had an oma and an opa. I always thought those were funny names for grandparents (even though I had a bubbie and a zaydie), and they always stuck in my mind. So when I started hearing buzz about a cheese called Oma from the von Trapp Farmstead, I couldn’t forget about it, but I didn’t try it until this week.

Normally, one might think this would be an unusual cheese for a 39-week pregnant woman who is very sensitive to smells to choose. Of course, I am no normal 39-week pregnant woman. It’s a pretty potent one, though pleasantly so, similar to Jasper Hill Farm’s famed Winnimere, which I also bought this week. (Fun fact: Oma is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill!) I remember saying to my cheesemonger that it didn’t seem so stinky when I tasted it at the shop, but the beefiness of the cheese really comes through if you let it sit on the counter for at least two hours. The paste doesn’t ooze like a triple-cream but rather gets soft and ever-so-slightly rubbery. Though I typically eat the rind of most cheeses, I found this one to be a little too gritty for my taste. Pair with a full-bodied, dry white wine or Belgian beer (per Formaggio Kitchen’s recommendations) and get Oma’s funk on for yourself.

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