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

Happy new year, cheese lovers! The start of a new year is always exciting, but Jan. 1, 2011 is particularly thrilling for me since my beloved Wisconsin Badger football team is facing Texas Christian University in the Rose Bowl this afternoon. Of course, it won’t really be a contest – Wisconsin is known for kicking major booty during previous Rose Bowl games – but it’s a great excuse to get together with fellow Badgers and cheer on our team. While eating cheese, of course.

In honor of this year’s Rose Bowl competitors, I’ll be serving a cheeseboard with two regional favorites. Wisconsin will be represented by Hook’s 7-Year Cheddar, and since I couldn’t find any Texas cheese at my local shop, Green Hill will stand in for the South. (And I really wanted an excuse to buy a fresh wheel of Green Hill, anyway.) We’ll have my favorite Carr’s whole wheat crackers on hand, as well as gluten-free rice crackers, and lots of beer and other appropriate beverages.

Since both cheeses are amazing, our taste buds will win no matter which team comes out victorious, but you all know my bias. Go Badgers!

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.

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What first attracted to me to this stinky Vermont cheese is its name – Oma is German for “grandmother,” and my next-door neighbors growing up had an oma and an opa. I always thought those were funny names for grandparents (even though I had a bubbie and a zaydie), and they always stuck in my mind. So when I started hearing buzz about a cheese called Oma from the von Trapp Farmstead, I couldn’t forget about it, but I didn’t try it until this week.

Normally, one might think this would be an unusual cheese for a 39-week pregnant woman who is very sensitive to smells to choose. Of course, I am no normal 39-week pregnant woman. It’s a pretty potent one, though pleasantly so, similar to Jasper Hill Farm’s famed Winnimere, which I also bought this week. (Fun fact: Oma is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill!) I remember saying to my cheesemonger that it didn’t seem so stinky when I tasted it at the shop, but the beefiness of the cheese really comes through if you let it sit on the counter for at least two hours. The paste doesn’t ooze like a triple-cream but rather gets soft and ever-so-slightly rubbery. Though I typically eat the rind of most cheeses, I found this one to be a little too gritty for my taste. Pair with a full-bodied, dry white wine or Belgian beer (per Formaggio Kitchen’s recommendations) and get Oma’s funk on for yourself.

*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.

It frequently happens that when we mention the name of our blog, the person responds, “Oh, I love champagne!” And I think to myself, “huh, we should really write about champagne someday…” Of course, it goes without saying that champagne pairs perfectly with a wide range of cheeses, but the use of its name here on the blog was originally intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Yes, we occasionally eat cheese with something bubbly, but really, cheese is perfect any time of the day, whether with coffee, chocolate, wine or even beer. Obviously, our focus here has been on the first half of the equation.

But if ever there was a time that called for cheese with champagne, surely it’s New Year’s Eve. Here are some of our favorite cheese and bubbly pairings (note we’re equal opportunists here, just as likely to serve cava or prosecco as the French version):

  • Cava with drunken goat and Mahon Curado, and Spanish almonds and olives
  • Prosecco cocktails with pecorino, such as pecorino foglie de noce, and tallegio.
  • For the real thing, champagne, stick with gooey French cheeses like Chaource. A warm crock of St. Marcellin is just the gooey sort of comfort food needed on a chilly winter night (assuming you’re not celebrating New Year’s in the Caribbean).
  • Of course you can stick with domestic products too, like Virginia’s Thibaut-Janisson Brut de Chardonnay and Cypress Grove’s bubble-worthy Truffle Tremor.
  • Some of my favorite cheese-and-bubbly pairings are not with wine at all, but with beer. Like Allagash’s effervescent Belgian-style White Ale with Jasper Hill’s Winnimere.
  • And for little ones, or designated drivers, try sparkling pear cider with a good cheddar. We might suggest Cabot clothbound.

Personally, I’ve got St. Marcellin and olives in the fridge for tonight, and an Oregon-inspired cheddar cheese ball in mind for watching the Ducks in tomorrow’s Rose Bowl. Jill’s planning a dressed-up comfort food meal of truffled mac ‘n cheese.

What are you enjoying your New Year’s cheese with?

As someone who attempts to eat mostly locally, particularly during the summer months, I generally look the other way when purchasing cheeses shipped by plane, train and auto across the Atlantic or from the West Coast. Sure, I have plenty of fine, local cheeses to incorporate into my weekly all-local meals, outside of the scope of our “100 Great Cheeses” list. But as the French national holiday Bastille Day approached, I began to wonder, is there anything France can do that we haven’t tried in the US? Would an all-American cheese and sparkling wine tasting leave us wanting something more?

With the grudging assistance of my cheesemonger, aghast at my proposal of “ignoring 2,000 years of French cheesemaking history,” I assembled four all-American cheeses made according to French recipes:

  • Jasper Hill Farm‘s Constant Bliss (Vermont), made in the raw-milk tradition of chaource but with only the uncooled evening milk of their Ayrshire cows, this rich, buttery cheese seems like a double- or triple-creme, and pairs perfectly with a sparkling wine.
  • Roth Kase‘s Grand Cru Gruyére Reserve (Wisonsin), another raw milk pick, is as smooth as any French gruyére, with fruity, nutty notes. I loved this with the chocolate and both the bubbly and beer.
  • Sartori Raspberry BellaVitano (Wisconsin) is a cheddar-textured cheese soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale for a decidedly American flavor. As smooth as a comté, the added berry tang makes this a nice match for sparkling wine.
  • Salemville Amish Blue (Wisconsin) is a very mild, sweet buttery blue that would not be my first choice among American blues. It was actually almost too sweet for the ale, but was mild enough not to overpower the sparkling wine.

I paired the cheeses with homemade pickled sour cherries (following a French recipe), Taza Mexican-style chocolate from Massachusetts, Thibaut-Janisson sparkling wine from Virginia, and Southampton Abbot 12, a Belgian-style ale from New York. Not exactly a 100-mile cheese board by any means, but still entirely sourced from the Eastern half of the United States.

The Constant Bliss and Thibaut-Janisson were just as sweetly matched as chaource and champagne, while the more sweet than tangy American blue was more appreciated by the blue cheese-adverse than those of us with a weakness for Roquefort. All in all it was a solid showing by the Americans. And what did we eat following the tasting? All-American buffalo dogs on the grill and a cherry pie for dessert. Vive la Revolución Américain!