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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.

Psst…are you on Facebook? Who isn’t (besides my parents)? Be sure to “like” us on Facebook to keep up to date on all things C+C!

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

Summer isn’t the season I typically think about Swiss cheeses – to me, they belong in a mid-winter fondue or on a snack plate when you’re cuddling in front of a fire. But there is a Swiss for all seasons, and I found the one perfect for warm-weather days: Challerhocker.

Challer what? I don’t blame you for asking – I had never heard of this cheese until it appeared at the Cheese Shop at France 44 a couple of months ago. (The name means “sitting in the cellar,” according to Cowgirl Creamery.) It’s produced by Walter Rass, the maker of Appenzeller, which you may recognize from the Wine Spectator list. Like Appenzeller, Challerhocker is a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, but it’s smaller and aged longer (at least 10 months). In her post 19 months old, Colleen noted Appenzeller’s smooth texture, fruity flavor and spicy finish. While Challerhocker is likewise very silky, its flavor reminds me more of clean, fresh straw, with a slightly caramel-like and nutty finish. It doesn’t demand hearty accompaniments like cured meats or cornichons, though it would certainly pair well with those foods. Challerhocker would be just as pleasing with a chilled glass of white wine or, as Janet Fletcher suggests, sherry or Madeira, and a few crackers on the side.

As an interesting aside: Challerhocker also keeps in your refrigerator (well-wrapped in cheese paper, of course) exceedingly well. I bought a hunk back in June before I went dairy-free, and it was still delicious today when I nibbled it again.

What separates the cheese freaks (like myself) from mere cheese lovers or cheese admirers? A subscription to Culture magazine. A willingness to spend $20 or more each week on cheese. And use of the following words when describing cheese: “beautiful,” “mind-blowing,” “irresistibly charming.”

All those phrases are apt for my second featured cheese of the week, Tome d’Aquitaine. Also known as Clisson, this French goat’s-milk cheese takes cheese worship to a whole new level. Its paste is light, floral and salty, with a smoothness that makes it easy to inhale. During the dog days of August, Tome d’Aquitaine is a breath of fresh air – perhaps a breeze blowing off the Atlantic. I don’t meant to get all poetic – it’s just that good.

Tome d’Aquitaine is another example of how cheesemakers can work in tandem to create tantalizing cheeses that neither could fully develop on its own (see Clothbound Cheddar, Cabot and Jasper Hill, and Grafton and Faribault Dairy). This cheese begins its journey in the Loire Valley (a premier goat-cheese-producing region) at the Union Laitiere de la Venise Verte, a dairy cooperative that produces cheese, butter and baby formula. Later on the wheels of Tome d’Aquitaine travel to Bordeaux, where renowned affineur Jean d’Alos washes the rind in brine and Sauternes. The result – total cheese bliss. Serve it up with a dry white wine, like a Muscadet from the Loire Valley.

Psst…this cheese also makes a great birthday gift, and I’d share it with a certain birthday girl today if we didn’t live 1,000 miles apart. Happy birthday, Colleen!

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.

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!

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.

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