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.

I’m sure someone has put together a list of classic American cheeses by now, but if that person was me, I’d put my cheese of the week, Cowgirl Creamery‘s Mt. Tam, at the top of the list. (Humboldt Fog, of course, would be there, too). I got my first taste of this California-made triple-cream cheese back in 2006 when Cowgirl Creamery opened its Washington, D.C., store just a few blocks from my office. A cruel twist of fate moved me to Minneapolis mere weeks after the store opened, but thankfully I can get my Mt. Tam fix at Surdyk’s.

Named after Mt. Tamalpais in Northern California, Mt. Tam is an aged cow’s-milk cheese that is similar to Chaource. Upon reaching room temperature, the cheese’s interior achieves the ooey-gooey consistency that tastes like heaven on a cracker. It doesn’t have the same after-bite tang as the Chaource does, but you’ll be so busy swooning over Mt. Tam’s rich, buttery flavor that you won’t miss it at all. You’ll often hear Mt. Tam described as “mushroomy,” but I didn’t detect a strong mushroom flavor in the wheel I bought (which is fine with me because I’m not a huge mushroom fan).

Mt. Tam pairs beautifully with sparkling wine, and a California variety would be most appropriate. I like Trader Joe’s almond champagne, which probably doesn’t make me all that sophisticated among the wine-loving crowd, but it tastes good to me. A sparkling rosé would also be a good match, and Food & Wine magazine also recommends a “moderately oaked Chardonnay.”

If you’re visiting the San Francisco Bay area, be sure to allow some time on your schedule for a visit to Cowgirl Creamery – it offers tours at its original creamery in Point Reyes Station and its new creamery in Petaluma. Cowgirl Creamery also offers its delectable cheeses by mail through its artisan cheese clubs. You know, Valentine’s Day is coming up. Is there a better way to say “I love you” than with cheese?