Amarelo da Beira Baixa has been one of the more elusive cheeses on the “100 Great Cheeses” list. Unfortunately, Portuguese cheeses are hard to come by here in the DC area, and we didn’t spot this one on our cheese tour of NYC this past summer either. It was listed on Artisanal’s website, but hadn’t been in stock on previous searches. When I checked two months ago it appeared available to order, so I did — only to get a phone call that it was on back order. I declined the option to replace it with another cheese and waited … and waited … and waited. Finally I got the call that it had arrived and would be shipping out. And I have to say it was worth the wait.

Amarelo is a D.O.P. cheese from central Portugal. A raw sheep/goat milk blend, it has a firm, spongy paste that softens to a spreadable consistency as it warms to room temperature. It has the sour, yeasty taste of a washed rind but still preserves that fresh goats-milk flavor at the same time. It is lighter than I expected, as the goats’ milk cuts some of the traditional oiliness of sheeps-milk cheese, but still delightfully creamy and full-flavored. Artisanal suggests pairing Amarelo with Pinot Noir, which sounds heavenly. I can only hope Amarelo will still be in stock when I can drink wine again!

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Well, now that the holidays have come and gone we’re getting back to business here on C + C. We’re nearing the end of our quest to taste all 100 cheeses on the Wine Spectator list, and the remaining dozen or so cheeses have proven a little tricky to track down. Thankfully, Jill had the foresight to order a couple from Murray’s for us to sample together during her recent visit. [If you’ve never ordered cheese by mail from Murray’s, we highly recommend it. The cheeses arrived in perfect condition, neatly wrapped with the standard über-informational Murray’s labels.]

First up, Caruchon, made by Papillon, the renowned Roquefort producers in central France. This is a brined cheese with a colorful red specked rind that made me anticipate a more pungent flavor than we found upon tasting. At first glance you might mistake its dense, golden paste for Pont L’Eveque, though as Jill discovered a few months ago, Pont L’Eveque packs a much more pungent fragrance. Like Roquefort, Caruchon is a sheeps-milk cheese (though pasteurized), with the familiar oily mouthfeel and slightly sweet flavor that is reminiscent of a manchego.

Caruchon does possess a distinctive sheepy aroma, and the crisp rind is more mild than you might expect from a washed-rind cheese, notable more for its texture than its flavor. The paste likewise is mild, pleasantly rich and tasting of pure sheeps-milk. It’s a delightful cheese that might be a good gateway to washed-rind cheeses for your more skeptical friends. It certainly wouldn’t frighten anyone away from the cheese board. I’d probably pair this with a light, fruity red wine, but didn’t have a chance to test that this time around.

For the inaugural #cheesesunday, a Twitter event organized by one of our favorite cheese geeks, @CurdNerd, what better post to share than our Thanksgiving post — just a few of the many ways we are thankful for cheese. What do you love about cheese? Please share in the comments — or over on Twitter. Cheers!

A cornucopia of cheese!

My family was never one in which we all went around the table and said what were thankful for that year. Truthfully, I always thought that tradition was kind of cheesy. But since this is a cheese blog, Colleen and I thought it would be appropriate to craft a short list of thanks as our blog celebrates its first birthday.

  1. We are thankful for Wine Spectator for creating the 100 great cheeses list. The idea for our blog came this magazine’s Sept. 30, 2008 issue, which Colleen discovered one day last fall, and we snowballed on it. Though we haven’t agreed with the magazine on the merits of each cheese on the list, it gave us a wonderful starting point for tasting new cheeses and relishing old favorites. Special thanks are due to Wine Spectator features editor Owen Dugan, whose kind words have meant a lot to us. Sorry we missed you when we were in New York last summer, Owen! We’ll definitely come again.
  2. We are thankful for the generosity of the cheese community. When we started this project last year, we didn’t have any special connections to the industry. We were just two cheese-obsessed women who wanted to do something fun and find an excuse to eat even more cheese. So it has been all the more gratifying to meet and correspond with many of the top cheesemakers, cheesemongers, cheese writers and bloggers and cheese lovers across the United States (and beyond). Everyone has welcomed and encouraged our interest in cheese and made us feel like we belonged. Being generous with samples is always appreciated, too!
  3. We are thankful for our readers. Anyone can start a blog, but there’s no guarantee you’ll have an audience. Hell, we’re pretty sure that our parents don’t read this blog. (Husbands, maybe?) So it has been fun to hear from readers through comments and e-mail, exchange links with other cheese and food bloggers and continue the conversations on other excellent cheese blogs. If you’ve been visiting regularly over the past year, thank you! If you’ve come a few times, thank you! And if this is your first time, thank you, too!
  4. We are thankful for Twitter. A technology that was under the radar screen until a year or so ago has much to do with the success of our blog. Not only does it bring readers to our site, it has made it easy for us to connect with other caseophiles on the Web. Twitter is how we met Tia, who scored us prime-time seats at Casellula and made sure we had cheese coming out of our ears by the time we left the restaurant. Twitter is how I reserve cheese with my cheesemonger friend Benjamin at France 44. And Twitter is how we keep on top of the latest cheese and foodie news. (No, we were not paid by Twitter for this.)
  5. We are thankful for cheese. What would this world be without cheese? Boring and less delicious. We’re lucky to be passionate about a food that offers so much variety and excitement that there is no end to the amount of tasting and talking we could do on the subject. Yes, we might have lower cholesterol levels or be a few pounds lighter, but what fun would that be?

Yours in cheese,
Colleen & Jill

originally published 11.25.09

I guess it’s Old Europe week here on C+C, a brief interlude from our normal fall fare of cheddar, cheddar, and um, cheddar. Oh, and gouda. And washed rind stinkers. Okay, we love it all and we’ll eat it no matter the season. Today’s cheese was actually handed to me as I browsed in Whole Foods* last weekend. Thanks to the wonder of AT&T wireless coverage, I can’t use my iPhone in the store to access my handy “cheeses unsampled” list while I shop, so I didn’t even realize until I left the store that this was, in fact, one of the ones left on our list. A second trip to the store later, and I brought home this cute little package of tangy French goodness.

A classic cheese from France’s Alsace region, Grès des Vosges is technically a washed-rind though it is much less pungent than you might expect. It has the familiar yeasty fragrance, but a milder bite. It is rich and silky, like a good triple-cream turned deliciously sour. You’ll want to keep the accompaniments on the lighter side — think fresh fruit — so as not to overwhelm its flavors. Janet Fletcher suggests one of the “spicy, racy whites of Alsace, such as Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.”

*I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it seems that cheeses Janet Fletcher writes about find their way into Whole Foods soon thereafter. First there was Quadrello di bufala, now Grès des Vosges

I recently got to spend 48 hours in the wonderful foodie mecca of San Francisco. Unfortunately, I failed to consult the event calendar at the Cheese School of San Francisco until after booking my flight, an oversight I’ll be sure not to repeat in the future. It turned out that that very evening, as my flight was due to arrive, the School would be hosting a fundraiser for the California Artisan Cheese Guild. Needless to say I was determined to hightail it to the event. While I arrived too late to meet the cheesemaker behind the @BellwetherFarms Twitter handle, I did luck out and meet Mariano Gonzalez, the cheesemaker from Fiscalini Cheese Co., whose bandaged cheddar was one of the few cheddars we hadn’t yet secured from the 100 cheeses list. I had a lengthy discussion with Mariano about the challenges of doing business in California. With the added problems in the dairy industry, Califonia’s happy cows are not as happy as they used to be. 

There were several other California cheesemakers represented whose names might ring a bell… Cowgirl of course, Redwood Hill, Cypress Grove, Bellwether as mentioned (oh, their creme fraiche is delightful) and a brand new producer, Barinaga Ranch. I enjoyed sampling Marcia Barinaga’s wonderful Basque-style sheeps-milk cheeses and chatting about her small start-up farm in Marin. (Check out her website and try not to be jealous of those sheeps’ gorgeous home!) And of course it was a privilege to chat with Jennifer Bice of Redwood, founder of the Cheese Guild and one of California’s artisan cheese pioneers. (In good company with Mary Keehn at Cypress Grove, Laura Chenel, and the Cowgirls …. hmm, see a theme here? Not that men don’t make good cheese, but there are quite a few notable women in the cheese world.)

 

Fiscalini cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez

Fiscalini cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez

And the Who’s Who of cheese didn’t stop at the cheesemakers. I picked the brain of Canyon of Cheese blogger Bryce about his favorite California cheeses, and met Gordon Edgar, S.F. cheesemonger and author of Gordonzola and an upcoming book. Before leaving San Francisco I paid homage to the Cowgirl Creamery shop in the Ferry Building, naturally, and brought home some more California treats. Here’s a sneak peak.

 

Now to the Cheese-of-the-Day: Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar. Fiscalini’s cheese making began in 2000, when John Fiscalini, a third generation dairy farmer, was inspired by a visit to his ancestral home in Lionza in the Swiss Alps. He added a cheese plant to the Modesto, CA, farm,  hired master cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez away from Shelburne Farms in Vermont, and quickly began winning awards for their farmstead cheeses. The bandaged (a.k.a. clothbound) cheddar, like their other cheeses, is made in small batches from their raw cows’ milk. Click here for a slide show of the cheesemaking process.

Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar (photo courtesy of Bryce Allemann, Canyon of Cheese)

Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar (photo courtesy of Bryce Allemann, Canyon of Cheese)

 Having tasted Vermont cheddars in a relatively short amount of time before my western trek, I was amazed at the difference between the two. Fiscalini’s has a creamy, dense, granular texture, sweet yet salty, with a bright flavor that makes the cheese dance on your tongue. I’m not going to make judgments about the relative happiness of cows in California vs. Vermont, but I swear you can taste the sunshine in this cheese. It goes wonderfully with a red wine, like Zinfandel (from California, naturally). 

Fiscalini also makes the unique San Joaquin Gold — following the European tradition of naming cheeses after the place where they’re made — which is excellent. Do give either of these Fiscalini cheeses a try if you happen upon them, and let us know what you think!

 

with Bryce of Canyon of Cheese

with Bryce of Canyon of Cheese

 

(A big thank you to Bryce for allowing me to use his picture of Fiscalini’s cheddar, above — in my haste to sample every bit of cheese before closing time, my meager iPhone pictures turned out even blurrier than usual. And thank you to Mariano, who generously sent me home with a doggy bag full of cheddar, which was my breakfast and midnight snack for the weekend!)

Before we get any further into fall (it’s October already?!) I need to fill you in on one last fresh goat cheese, the Coach Farm Medallion. I didn’t think this cheese would be hard to find when I first saw it on the list, as my local cheese shop carries several Coach products, but they never seemed to have the Medallion, a small 4-ounce knob of creamy chevre. Coach Farm‘s goat cheeses were one of the first artisanal cheeses I can recall tasting, years ago on my first pilgrimage to the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. My travel companion and I were smitten and brought back a jar of marinated goat buttons which I ate as slowly as possible to stretch out the supply.

Coach Farm is located in New York’s Hudson Valley, about two hours north of the city. Their French Alpine dairy goats graze on fresh alfalfa hay grown on the farm, plus a daily supplement of soybeans, oats and corn. Coach uses vegetable rennet, making their cheeses vegetarian-friendly. The milking parlor connects directly to the creamery, where they ladle the curds by hand, turning out consistently rich, smooth cheeses. This particular medallion was crisp, creamy and fresh tasting, silky in texture and flavor. (Is silky a flavor? It is now.)

Yes, if you’re wondering, the Coach is that Coach, of handbag fame. The founders, Miles and Lillian Cahn, retired from the fashion business and moved upstate to enjoy a quiet country life with 1,000 goats. Their hobby quickly took off and their goat cheeses have been featured in some of New York’s top restaurants — including those of Mario Batali, who is married to the Cahn’s daughter. Today, you can also find Coach’s fresh and aged goats-milk cheeses, and their delicious drinkable “Yo-Goat,” at fine cheese shops across the country. I picked up the Medallion at Marlow & Daughters, an adorable little gourmet market in Brooklyn, on our last visit to New York. We enjoyed it with a few other regional cheeses and Brooklyn-made goodies from the Bedford Cheese Shop …. more on that soon!

(Can you guess the other two cheeses on the plate? Hint: they’re from states on the I-91 corridor.)

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!