Spirits


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

Before we begin with our latest cheese – an apology. The holidays were a busy time for the C+C families, and combined with our long-awaited reunion last week in Washington, D.C., this blog got the shaft. So sorry! But we’ve got a full slate of cheeses coming down the pike and are ready to keep rolling in 2010 – just about three weeks behind schedule.

The cheese to put us back on track is Lincolnshire Poacher, a British Cheddar-like confection that you may find in your local cheese shop this time of year (I got mine at Surdyk’s). A raw cow’s-milk cheese that has been aged up to two years, Lincolnshire Poacher is made by the Jones family –  brothers Simon and Tim – who use the milk from their own Holstein cows to produce the cheese. Check out the family’s excellent Web site to learn more about the cheese-making process and watch videos of their self-proclaimed “happy cows.” (Hopefully, the California Milk Marketing Board won’t put up a fight for that slogan.)

Though you may frequently hear Lincolnshire Poacher described as a Cheddar, it’s not a true version of America’s favorite cheese. The recipe is loosely based on Cheddar, but the Jones boys say their modifications give their cheese a taste that’s a cross between Cheddar and Comté, and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Perhaps I’m biased based on my recent experience with Hook’s 15-Year Cheddar, but this cheese had a lighter, more subtle taste and lack of crystals, so my taste buds didn’t scream “Cheddar!” upon sampling. But could you use it in a recipe calling for Cheddar or slide it into Cheddar’s space on your cheeseboard? Absolutely.

One of the good things about a lighter-tasting cheese like Lincolnshire Poacher is that it is relatively easy to pair with drinks. Beer, of course, would be a no-brainer, and I could see it enjoyed with both red and white wines as long as they’re full-bodied. A sweet, fruity accompaniment greatly enhances the cheese’s flavor – I nibbled on some dried mango with my Lincolnshire Poacher last night and loved how the sugar content of the mango brought out the cheese’s underlying sweetness.

And if my words don’t convince you to try this cheese, maybe you’ll listen to one of our cheese-blogging colleagues, Kirstin, at It’s Not You, It’s Brie, who also recently posted about Lincolnshire Poacher.

The thought of reviewing the “Best of Show” winner from the American Cheese Society awards is, honestly, a little daunting. After all, you’ve surely already read all about this seasonally-produced, leaf-wrapped, buttery blue from central Oregon. You probably have heard of Rogue Creamery, one of the West Coast’s most celebrated cheese producers. (Did you know they were the first to export American raw-milk cheese to Europe? That they test every batch of milk to ensure it’s antibiotic and growth-hormone free? That the founder, Tom Vella, spent three months studying blue cheese making in Roquefort, France?) Honestly, I could describe Rogue River Blue in one word: yum. But perhaps you’d like a little more description.

This particular cheese is a testament to Oregon’s terroir.  It is made only for a short window in the fall (during the autumnal equinox and winter solstice) when the milk is at its highest butterfat content. The cheese is wrapped in Syrah grape leaves from nearby Carpenter Hill Vineyards; the leaves are first macerated in locally-made Clear Creek Pear Brandy. The cheese is aged in caves built to resemble the famed caves of Roquefort, allowing natural molds of the Rogue River Valley to ripen the cheese. The resulting cheese develops a wonderful, complex flavor. It is buttery, silky and rich, sweet with soft fruit flavors and a slight smokiness.

Not having any Clear Creek on hand, I tasted this with a sip of my post-dinner Dark n’ Stormy. Maybe not a perfect pairing, but the ginger was an interesting match. Of course it goes without saying that a fresh pear will make a lovely companion for a hunk of this blue.

By the way, Rogue River Blue’s 2009 release started shipping yesterday, so head to your favorite local cheesemonger … right now!

When Americans hear “the Colonel,” KFC’s Col. Sanders is probably the first figure to come to mind, but the French think Livarot. This soft cow’s-milk cheese gets its nickname from the five strands of red raffia that are always tied around the cheese before packaging. The resulting stripes mirror the markings on the clothing of a French colonel, and Livarot has been sporting its military-inspired moniker for the past 200 years.

Livarot’s washed rind gives it the yeasty smell cheese lovers come to crave, though upon tasting it doesn’t have a strong stinky mouthfeel like other washed-rind cheeses. Its paste often sports tiny holes, and its exterior will have a crumbly, brownish-orange appearance that develops during its two-month aging process. I can’t say it’s among the top 10 cheeses I’ve tasted to date, but I appreciated its beefy flavor and smooth texture. With some crusty bread and apples or grapes, Livarot would make a hearty snack or light lunch.

Livarot comes from Normandy, a part of northern France known for its apple orchards, which produce many ciders and the apple brandy known as Calvados. It’s no surprise then that both are fine matches for Livarot. Wine suggestions seem to run the gamut from big reds to fruity wines. Artisanal Cheese recommends a Viognier, while Steven Jenkins points his readers toward Burgundy, Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Beer lovers can pair Livarot with English ale or Irish stout.

Y’all know that I started writing for the Heavy Table, right? It’s the new online food magazine covering the upper Midwest. If you haven’t already, check it today – you’ll find my story about Ken Liss of the Premier Cheese Market in Minneapolis. Ken, photographer Becca Dilley and I spent a couple of hours last week trying out interesting cheese/beverage/condiment pairings, and the results may surprise you!