The Cheese + Champagne Vermont Cheese Week Tour continues with another Vermont cheddar on the Wine Spectator list.

The third of the Wine Spectator 100 cheeses* I was able to sample in Vermont was Grafton Village’s clothbound cheddar. I’ve sampled their younger cheddars previously, but had been unable to find their clothbound version locally. (In fact, when I called one cheese shop to inquire they thought I must be referring to the Cabot/Jasper Hill clothbound and encouraged me to try that instead.)

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival 

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Clothbound cheddars are common in the U.K., but a fairly new phenomenon here in the States. We’ve written before about the Cabot/Jasper Hill joint venture, and the Grafton Village clothbound is a team project as well. As we learned at the June Fancy Food Show, Grafton is now sending their wheels of clothbound cheddar to be aged in the sandstone caves of Faribault Dairy in Minnesota.

Grafton clothbound begins with hormone-free raw milk from their Jersey cows, produced by their co-op of Vermont dairy farmers, and is aged up to 10 months to develop a smooth, creamy yet earthy flavor and the familiar crumbly texture of good cheddar.

My taste buds were too taxed to try a Grafton/Cabot head-to-head taste off after making my rounds at the festival, but if you have the opportunity to try both at the same time I encourage you to do so and report back. And if you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, Grafton offers it for sale online.

* editor’s note/musings: At the time of the Wine Spectator selection, Grafton’s clothbound was also aged at Jasper Hill. Since we were unable to taste it until now, we have no idea how the taste might have changed with the move to a new aging facility. But wouldn’t that be a fun tasting experiment to taste identical cheeses aged in caves more than 1,000 miles apart?

 

Though Taleggio is a staple at many cheese counters and shops, I can’t say I’ve had much experience with it until now. Perhaps a taste here and there, but I’m pretty sure I never bought a wedge of the Italian cow’s-milk cheese until last week. (I did buy some American-made Taleggio a few months ago at France 44, but you’re going to have to wait to hear that review.) What a pity — this raw-milk cheese is so tasty that it should be a regular in any cheese lover’s rotation.

Taleggio, which originates from the Bergamo region of Italy, is a washed-rind cheese, but those who are afraid of stinkies shouldn’t shy away from it. While it has the yeasty smell of a Red Hawk, the taste is much lighter and milder. The paste ranges in color from white to pale yellow and may feature small holes, and the rind is a blushing pink. If you buy a wedge and the color seems off, bring it back to your shop for an exchange – no one deserves rancid cheese!

Light Italian red wines are a recommended match for Taleggio; Wine Spectator suggests a Lambrusco. Other pleasing accompaniments include apples or pears, and the Consorzio Tutela Taleggio (the union of Italian Taleggio producers) says it is particularly suited to gratins. I can’t argue with the union. Who doesn’t love cheese and potatoes?

{Stay tuned for more Vermont cheese reviews, including some exquisite washed rind cheeses in the Taleggio style.}

Vermont Cheese Week resumes here on Cheese + Champagne, now that yours truly has reluctantly returned back south. Stay tuned for more virtual postcards from Vermont and a taste of Brooklyn’s cheese world as well.

The vast estate of Shelburne Farms served as host of the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and perhaps my biggest regret of the weekend was not spending more time touring the 1,400-acre non-profit farm. The farm is located just a few miles south of Burlington, and after driving up from Albany, NY, through the Champlain Valley we turned onto the dirt road into the farm expecting to see your usual grassy fields and dairy cows milling about. Sure enough, we were greeted by some meandering Brown Swiss cows, but we were surprised by the lush, FSC-certified forest, gorgeous 19th-century architecture, and most of all, to come around a bend and see this view of the lake.

Stunning, even on the dreary grey afternoon.

The festival was hosted in one of the barns, and the Shelburne Farms table was one of the first we visited. I was eager to try the 2-year-aged cheddar, another Vermont cheese on our Wine Spectator list; my sister-in-law and son were smitten with the smoked cheddar. (They’re not alone; Shelburne’s smoked cheddar won best of its kind at the American Cheese Society awards, one of the farm’s four blue ribbons this year.)

The farm was created as a model agricultural estate by William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb (yes, those Vanderbilts) in 1886, and became a non-profit in 1972. The cheese is just one part of the farm’s environmentally and economically sustainable programs; the green-certified timber is sold to local furniture-makers, and they lease land that houses the vineyards and winery for Shelburne Vineyards, organically cultivating climate-appropriate grapes to make high quality Vermont wines.  The herd of 200 purebred Brown Swiss dairy cows are grazed rotationally, meadows maintained without the use of chemical inputs and minimizing run-off; the cheese is even Humane Certified, making them just the third cheesemaker in the US to obtain the designation.

Okay, that’s all wonderful you say, but how does it taste? The cheddars are creamy, sharp and flavorful. The smoked cheddar had just enough smoke to lend flavor without overwhelming the sweet creamy cheddar base. The 2-year-cheddar was sharper, but again not overwhelmingly so; just enough bite to balance the creamy, nutty flavors. The cheeses are clearly a favorite of the locals, we spotted this display (above center) at Burlington’s Cheese Traders shop. It was a little early for apple season that far north — the u-pick blueberry patches were still open on our drive up — but if you have a chance to pick up Shelburne’s cheddar, I feel comfortable guaranteeing you’ll enjoy it on a grilled-cheese-and-apple sandwich this fall. It certainly went well with the Harpoon hard cider we sampled at the festival.

It’s National Goat Cheese Month and we’re determined to celebrate it to the fullest here at Cheese+Champagne. We’ve already sampled most of the American goat cheeses on our list, though, so this week I found a French cheese from the list, the Jacquin Aged Crottin. For comparison’s sake — and because I suspect National Goat Cheese Month was designed to promote American cheeses — I also picked up Vermont Butter & Cheese‘s fresh crottin.

Fromagerie Jacquin‘s Aged Crottin is a product of the Loire Valley, where the traditional young goat’s milk cheese recipes (Crottin, Selles sur Cher, Valencay) must be adapted to use pasteurized milk in order to meet the FDA’s import requirements. There’s an interesting tidbit at Artisanal about their work transporting and finishing the cheeses to maintain raw-milk characteristics in these deceptively complex cheeses. The aged crottin is a dense little dimpled ball of goats-milk that loses its goaty tang to mellow with age; firm and a little bit gamey, it has a buttery rich flavor.

The Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. crottin is younger, and I ironically got it for free at my cheese shop as they had too many on hand and find them hard to sell when they begin to age and look “like a real crottin.” It is softer, creamier, a little floral in flavor and still retains more of that tangy goat flavor you would expect from a young goat cheese. The company also make an aged version called Bijou that may be more similar to the Jacquin; I will be sure to keep an eye out for it and give it a try. (If you’re not familiar with Vermont Butter & Cheese, they were some of the pioneers of the Vermont cheese industry, launching a French-inspired goat cheese business in 1984 that now supports more than 20 family dairy farms around the state. They just won awards at ACS for their fresh goat cheese, fromage blanc and butters.)

These cute little doorknob-sized cheeses are perfect for summer entertaining. I made a late afternoon cheese board of the two, a bright citrusy Salumi Agrumi, and a fig-olive tapenade whose sweet-salty tango was perfect with the mildly tangy crottins. Fromagerie Jacquin suggests a Sancerre or “rouge corsé” with the aged crottin; I enjoyed it with a Virginia Petit Verdot from North Gate.

P.S. I found the Jacquin aged crottin at the Italian Store in Arlington, Va.

Well if you haven’t heard by now, cheese loving friends, August is National Goat Cheese Month, and we intend to celebrate to the fullest with some of the remaining goats-milk cheeses on the list. (Can’t wait? Check out the goats we’ve loved thus far.) But first, a blue cheese from Spain that has a bit of goat, the esteemed Valdeon.

Valdeon is a mixed-milk blue, made from goat and cows milk, hailing from Northern Spain. The cheese is wrapped in sycamore leaves and aged for 2-3 months; the leaves impart an herbal complexity in both the smell and flavor. The cheese is dense, sweet and creamy and full-flavored, but less sharp than other blues. It’s a perfect dessert cheese and/or well suited for pairing with fresh summer fruit. I enjoyed it with the sweet-tart flavor of my sister-in-law’s homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. I could also see it matched with some in season fresh figs. You’ll definitely want to go with a sweeter wine pairing, such as port.

While the official cheese tour may be over, I have one final cheese purchased in New York to share this week, the Italian Fiore Sardo. We purchased a hunk of this crumbly, hard cheese at Stinky Bklyn, and greeted it again at the Fancy Food Show where it was displayed in all its full-size glory.

Fiore Sardo is a pecorino hailing from the island of Sardinia, a D.O.P.-protected, raw sheeps’ milk cheese with a dark rind. It is flaky, sharp and salty, with the fragrance of a fruity olive oil and a little smokiness. It would be wonderful grated on some hot pasta — in place of the ubiquitous pecorino romano from your grocery store, perhaps — or is perfectly suited to snacking. It is yellower in color and fruitier in flavor than the Pecorino Foglie, which hails from cooler northern Italy, and the two are an interesting illustration of the variations one can find even among cheeses of the same type.

My cheese of the week likely needs no introduction, but just in case the name doesn’t ring a bell I will mention that its namesake is none other than Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, perhaps one of history’s most influential foodies. (Okay, “epicures,” if you prefer.) A French lawyer who fled to the United States during the Revolution, he penned “The Physiology of Taste” in 1825 which contained the words that have most recently become the sustainable food movement’s rallying cry: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” 

Brillat-Savarin is also credited with being one of the first low-carb dieters, so one assumes he would be honored to have a protein-rich, creamy French cheese named in his honor. Brillat-Savarin the cheese is a pasteurized cows-milk triple-creme brie-style specimen produced in Normandy. It is decadent indeed, delightfully creamy, with a bloomy natural rind. It is a touch more sour than your typical brie, with that subtle tang you’d find in the white parts of a bleu cheese. Best eaten with a spoon, or slathered over a nice fruit-studded bread. It is an ideal partner for a nice glass of French champagne*, if you’re so inclined.

*Speaking of celebrations, we’ve noted elsewhere but neglected to mention here the official cease-fire in the Roquefort wars. Americans can continue to enjoy Roquefort, Iberico ham and Pellegrino for the foreseeable future. Vive le Roquefort!