Congrats to Mary Keehn and our friends at Cypress Grove Chevre for being named a silver finalist in the Classic category of the 2010 sofi™ Awards! Cheese+Champagne favorite Humboldt Fog is the only cheese in this category, and if we had our way, it will be named the winner. We’ll find out at the 2010 Summer Fancy Food Show, to be held in New York on June 27-29. As you may recall, last year Cypress Grove came out on top in the Cheese/Dairy category for its delicious Truffle Tremor.

The 2010 finalists in Cheese/Dairy are:

Other cheesey finalists include:

It looks like we have some new cheeses to add to our ever-growing to-do list! Since Colleen and I won’t be able to attend this year’s Fancy Food Show, we’ll have to seek out tastes elsewhere. (Samples are always welcome!)

“Cheese is a food, not a status symbol. Push your boundaries, but buy the cheese that makes you happy.”

This sentiment doesn’t appear until the very end of Gordon Edgar‘s new book, “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge,” but its importance can’t be overstated. In our modern foodie culture, it’s easy to become a snob about the types of food you enjoy, but Gordon, the cheese buyer at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, takes the snobbiness out of cheese with his really enjoyable memoir/cheese manifesto. Colleen had the pleasure of meeting Gordon when she visited San Francisco last October, and now I am totally jealous because after reading this book he seems like he’d be a fun conversationalist.

I’m not going to write a book report here because I’m 31 years old and stopped writing book reports in middle school, but I will urge you to pick up a copy of “Cheesemonger” at the book store or library. You don’t have to be a cheese lover to read it, though it’s fun if you are because you can knowledgeably nod your head when Gordon talks about the virtues or pitfalls of specific cheeses, but it’s accessible enough for anyone who enjoys an intelligent discussion about food. It’s fascinating to read how Gordon’s background in the Bay Area’s punk activist scene actually prepared him well for his unintended but ultimately successful career as a cheesemonger, and he does an excellent job of educating readers about the basic components of cheese (i.e. milk, rennet, mold, salt, bacteria) while weaving in colorful stories from his travels to domestic and foreign cheesemakers, cheese conferences and trade shows, and days behind the cheese counter at Rainbow. For those of us who romanticize the life of the cheesemonger, the book will leave you with a better impression of the work that goes into building and maintaining retail cheese department or store and make you appreciate your local cheesemonger even more!

If nothing else, read this book to get gems like this line: “A good cheese person can steer you to the right gateway goat cheese that won’t make you feel like you stuck your nose in a goat’s crotch.” If only we could all be so eloquent!

If there’s one cheese that I’ve been craving more than any other during the past eight months of pregnancy, it would be Kunik. This triple-cream cheese from New York’s Nettle Meadow Farm is made from 75 percent goat’s milk and 25 percent cow’s milk, and the result is 150 percent spectacular. Thank the Lord that the Cheese Shop at France 44 usually has a button or two in stock when I stop in after yoga on Saturday mornings. A week without my Kunik fix is a bad week, indeed.

As lucky as I am to find Kunik here in Minnesota, I can’t help but wish I lived close to the Nettle Meadow Farm in the Adirondacks. The cheesemakers, Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan, make a variety of small-batch, hand-crafted goat cheeses mixed with yummy ingredients like herbs, olive oil, garlic, maple syrup and honey. You really can’t beat fresh chevre when it comes to cheese – the flavor is so rich and pure that you can eat it straight with a spoon. But since I’m not close to Nettle Meadow – and I have delicious Minnesota and Wisconsin chevres to devour – I will definitely take the Kunik when I can get it. Though it’s been slightly aged, it still carries the freshness of a chevre with the luxurious creaminess of cow’s milk. If you can find a button, buy it and eat it in small wedges on a cracker or by itself. I’d be surprised if you can stop yourself before the entire cheese is gone!

I was poking around Surdyk’s last week, not because I really needed any more cheese in my cheese drawer, but because I was in the neighborhood. (But do I really need an excuse to stop by? No.) I asked the cheesemonger what was new, and he pointed me toward Goodhue Grass-Fed Gouda, a cheese from Minnesota’s PastureLand Cooperative. Always eager to support local producers, I bought a wedge and have been immensely pleased with it ever since.

Made from the organic milk of 100-percent grass-fed cows, Goodhue is aged in the Pasture Pride cellars in Cashton, Wis. (Isn’t it nice when two rival states get along?) The result is a sweet cheese that reflects many of Gouda’s signature characteristics – a nutty, even grassy flavor that is perfect for snacking. The Goodhue hasn’t been aged long enough to form the crystals often found in aged Goudas, but I don’t find the cheese to be lacking in flavor or texture. If you can find it at a local cheese shop, it’s a great cheese to try, especially if you’ll be serving it to guests who aren’t very adventurous with cheese or if you don’t know their cheese preferences.

Colleen and I have secretly harbored a cheese crush on Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm ever since we met him at last summer’s Fancy Food Show and he told us that he had read our blog (be still, our beating hearts!), so when I heard about the Kehler brothers’ new release, Moses Sleeper, I was eager to try it. I made my usual post-yoga trip to the Cheese Shop at France 44 on Saturday and found an uncut wheel just begging to be tasted. One bite was not enough, of course, so I bought a quarter of the wheel and brought it home, where it is quickly diminishing in size. (I’m eating for two, and I need the extra calcium!)

Remember my glowing post about Green Hill a couple of weeks ago? Well, fellow cheese bloggers Ross and Rebecca at the dirty way call Moses Sleeper a Green Hill on steroids, and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. You’ll definitely like Moses Sleeper if you’re a Green Hill fan, but the two cheeses aren’t totally similar. Both have the thick texture of a triple-cream cow’s-milk cheese, but whereas Green Hill tastes warm and buttery in your mouth, Moses Sleeper feels more subtle and cool. I liken it to drinking a cold glass of fresh, whole milk – you taste the richness of the cream, but the chill from the refrigerator remains. The rind is edible, but it has a bit of grittiness in places that may turn off some tasters. But partnered with the luxuriousness of the paste, it’s easy to dismiss any gritty bits because overall, Moses Sleeper is just yummy. Pair with a sparkling wine and strawberries for a real treat!

Neither snow nor rain nor hear nor gloom of night could keep me from getting my hands on a pyramid of Haystack Peak. Well, the story isn’t that dramatic. Unable to locate one of the Colorado-made goat’s-milk cheeses in Minneapolis, I called up Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy and asked if the cheesemaker could send me one mere piece. Luckily, a nice woman named Joanna tracked down one of the remaining cheeses of the season and sent it the same day. The cheese arrived, surrounded by ice packs, in perfect condition, and I’m happy to report that the Haystack Peak was worth the cost. (I paid more to ship the cheese than the cost of the cheese itself. Seriously.)

Though the Haystack Peak’s shape immediately made me think of the disaster that was Valencay, the tasting experience was not at all similar. Instead of a soury bite, I got the clean, fresh taste of goat cheese that makes me get excited for spring. Haystack Peak is made from the pasteurized milk of Nubian, Saanen and La Mancha goats, and while I’m definitely no goat expert, I’d say that blend of milks makes a pretty awesome cheese. The pyramid shape can be awkward to slice, but that didn’t stop me from plowing my knife through the snowy wedge, and atop a whole-wheat cracker it was blissful.

Wine Spectator recommends pairing Haystack Peak with an Alsatian Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer, and Haystack Mountain suggests you add some toasted almonds, quince jam or dried fruits on the side. As usual, I am perfectly content with just the cheese and a knife, but if you are able to find Haystack Peak at your local cheese shop, let us know which pairings you prefer.

*Editor’s Note: We’re coming down to the final five cheeses on the Wine Spectator list, and Colleen and I have had some trouble locating these cheeses at our local cheese shops, so we’re resorting to mail order and other methods for procuring them. While we wait for those cheeses to arrive, we’ll be writing about other interesting cheeses we’ve been enjoying.

I first read about Sweet Grass Dairy‘s Green Hill from the Washington Post All We Can Eat blog’s cheese blogger, Domenica Marchetti, and though her description of this Georgia-made, pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese made me drool, I still had a lingering doubt. Just a double-cream cheese? I’m a triple-cream snob, and I didn’t think the Green Hill could measure up to my favorite triple-cream cheeses. But then my cheesemonger friend Benjamin at the Cheese Shop at France 44/St. Paul Cheese Shop vouched for this cheese’s amazingness and offered to set aside a wheel for me, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it. A few wheels later, you could now say that I’m hooked.

Sweet Grass Dairy has only been around for 10 years, but it’s quickly establishing a reputation in the cheese world for to-die-for cow’s- and goat’s-milk cheeses. The milk from the grass-fed cows makes the Green Hill so sweet and buttery that you’d think you’re eating a rich triple-cream. It’s one of those cheeses that I must stop myself from eating because otherwise I’d eat the entire wheel in one sitting. I don’t even need a cracker – I just cut off gooey wedges and savor it without adornment. Of course, the Green Hill pairs beautifully with any kind of cracker or sweet berries, and it’s a natural companion for champagne or a Belgian ale. It was my Valentine’s Day present to myself this year, and it was even more delicious than a decadent chocolate dessert.