We hope you and yours had a very merry Cheesemas! Now join us as we count down to 2011 with our top 5 bubbly-worthy cheeses — perfect for toasting with cava, prosecco, sparkling wine or real champagne.

#5: Merry Goat Round from Firefly Farms (Maryland)

Merry Goat Round is a bloomy-rind, Camembert-style cheese that is aged just three weeks. It has a remarkably clean, fresh flavor and a chalky, firm bite. Read more.

Don’t let the word latte fool you – this isn’t a coffee-infused cheese. Latte, of course, is Italian for milk, and Robiola Due Latte is made from the milk of two animals, cows and sheep. While you won’t find it at your neighborhood Starbucks, you should seek it out at your local cheese shop because when you’re craving an ooey, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth cheese, this one fits the bill quite nicely.

Robiola Due Latte comes from Italy’s Piedmont region, and some people compare it to Brie, but I think it’s much better. Brie can have a chalky aftertaste sometimes, but Robiola Due Latte is anything but chalky. True, it doesn’t have the tang of a goat’s-milk cheese, but the overwhelming creaminess of its paste more than makes up for it. This is a comfort cheese, the caseophilic equivalent of mashed potatoes. When you’re having a bad day, schmear it on some crackers or crostini and munch away your sorrows. Or if you’re celebrating, pop open a bottle of prosecco (or champagne) and go to town. You can’t help but feel better afterward.

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.

As you might expect, it’s Vermont Cheese Week here on Cheese + Champagne, and the first virtual postcard from Vermont comes from Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, in the southern end of the Champlain Valley. We drove through the valley en route to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and it was breathtakingly beautiful even with the on-and-off rain showers.

This was one of the last cheeses I sampled at the festival, and I was delighted to find Hannah Sessions of Blue Ledge Farm tucked into the back corner as their Lake’s Edge is on our Wine Spectator list and had proven hard to find further south. This cheese is similar to Humboldt Fog, in that it is an aged goats-milk cheese with an ash layer and bloomy rind, but its taste is markedly distinct. It is fresher, with that sweet, clean taste of fresh chevre; the jet-black line of ash adds an earthy tang that awakens the palate. The pure milk taste distinguishes Lake’s Edge from more sour goats-milk cheeses, making this cheese approachable without compromising on flavor.

Blue Ledge Farm has a mixed herd of Alpine, Nubian and Lamancha goats, milked in season (February through November) and rotationally grazed on organically-maintained farmland. In keeping with the cheese’s name, we ate this cheese for lunch on the shores of Lake Champlain — by hand, improvising with dried banana chips as knives. My sister-in-law and I literally had to fight my 3-year-old for the last bites.

We’ll have more to say about the 2009 Fancy Food Show — our first as credentialed members of the cheese press — soon, but we wanted to bring you the breaking news fresh from NYC that Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor won the “sofi” tonight in the cheese/dairy category. The Fancy Food Show, put on by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), hosts the annual competition for specialty outstanding food innovation (sofi). Out of nearly 2,000 entries in 33 categories, 128 finalists were selected by a panel of judges, and the winners then determined by votes of buyers attending the show — the Oscars of the food world, so to speak.

with CGs Mary Keehn

w/ Cypress Grove's Mary Keehn

 

Cypress Grove has a special place in our hearts here at Cheese + Champagne, as their iconic Humboldt Fog was the launching point for our exploration of (some might say obsession with) artisanal cheese. Truffle Tremor is their newest product, a lightly-aged goats-milk cheese with, as the name suggests, the additional earthy flavor imparted by a generous helping of black truffles. This sweet, musty, velvety cheese is truly unique — the distinctive flavor still lingers in my taste memory even after a day spent sampling dozens of cheeses. Don’t just take my word for it; Murray’s calls it sexy, too: “Dense, cakey pasteurized goat cheese with a fine bloomy rind takes on a sexy richness with a few weeks of aging and fungi.” Be sure to give it a try if (when) you happen upon it. And congratulations to Mary and all at Cypress Grove!

While Jill has been faithfully working her way through the “100 Great Cheeses” list, I have to confess to having strayed off course. The brief glimpses of warmer weather, in between DC’s recent monsoons, turned my thoughts to fresh local goats and I’ve undertaken a brief dalliance to journey coast to coast in a quest for some fresh farmstead cheese. These local goat cheeses, whether in fresh chevre form or lightly aged, are generally available in limited quantities and often don’t travel as far beyond their farm, making them ineligible for the Wine Spectator list. But we would be doing a disservice to you, dear readers, if we didn’t devote a little time to the best cheeses currently in season. Goat cheese has a season, you ask? Yes, indeed. Goats give birth in the spring, after all, meaning those early months of the year are when goats are producing milk. Coincidentally, that is when fresh green grasses on which goats graze are just sprouting, full of flavor that passes on through the milk and into that dollop of chevre atop your beet salad or asparagus pasta. As spring turns to summer, that peak grassy flavor mellows in bloomy-rind, slightly-aged goats milk cheeses, such as the two Maryland cheeses I’ve recently enjoyed from Spriggs Delight and Firefly Farms.

I’m a sucker for a cute kid’s face, human or goat, so I couldn’t pass up the new Spriggs Delight Farm offering at Cheesetique. Spriggs Delight is a mother-son operation in Sharpsburg, Maryland, who have been producing cheese for only a few years. This crumpled bloomy-rind round maintains a strong tangy, grassy goat flavor, and was well matched with some fruit-studded crackers that provided a little sweetness to contrast the almost tart taste of the cheese. 

 

I’ve been a fan of Firefly Farm‘s manchego-style Cabra LaMancha for some time, but it had been a while since I last sampled their award-winning Merry Goat Round, until getting reacquainted this past weekend at La Fromagerie’s “meet the cheesemaker” event. Firefly Farms‘ cheesemakers have recently moved away from managing goats themselves, instead purchasing all their milk from local Amish farmers who raise the goats on organic feed to Firefly’s specifications. During the warm months, the goats graze on wild grasses of the Allegheny plains of northwestern Maryland/southwestern Pennsylvania. Firefly is instead putting all their attention into perfecting their cheesemaking, and building a larger creamery that will double their capacity later this year. Firefly also gave up their organic certification given the expense of paying for hard-to-find certifiers to visit every six months, but continues to follow organic practices. Their Merry Goat Round is a bloomy-rind, Camembert-style cheese that is aged just three weeks. It has a remarkably clean, fresh flavor and a chalky, firm bite. As it ripens, it develops that soft gooey edge inside the rind but maintains the chalkiness in the middle. It is slightly sweet and surprisingly mild, with less of that goaty tang present in the Spriggs Delight cheese.

One of the advantages of these spring/summer goat cheeses is that mild flavor that makes them easy to pair with a wide range of drinks, from crisp white to summer rose or even a light, fruity red wine. Seasonal beers, like Dominion’s Spring Buck Blonde Ale, are also great picks. Of course, I stuck with my goat theme and went with a South African Goat’s Door chardonnay from Goats do Roam with this distinguished gentleman goat on the label (thanks to a Twitter friend’s recommendation). Merry Goat Round was also a hit with my toddler, who snatched my tasting slice right off the plate and said, “Is this cheese for me?” with such delight that I could hardly say no…

Stay tuned for some more “Local Goats” from around the country this week!