Today a friend of the blog shares a cheese-lover’s recipe for an impromptu summer picnic. Thanks, Ali!

Our small group of friends hadn’t anticipated that we would end up at Cheesetique that day, but I’m so glad we did. We sampled several different cheeses that day – one in particular that was unique was the Truffle Tremor.

truffle tremor

My husband suggested we try it and since I am a huge fan of softer cheeses and truffles it sounded like a winner to me! The texture was deliciously smooth, with a pungent and tangy, yet earthy taste to it. It kept surprising me as I sampled.

cheesetique assortment

After purchasing (between the four of us) at least eight different kinds of cheese, we found a nearby shaded picnic bench and dove into an impromptu cheese picnic. And although we all had our favorites, the truffle tremor stood out as a unique taste amongst the group.

crusty bread

— Ali Teitelbaum, Life, Love & Dog Hair

Did you hear? A Canadian won the 2009 World Cheese Awards , Le Cendrillon (“Cinderella”) from La Maison Alexis de Portneuf. Let’s hear it for North America! I’m not sure if winning a world medal is enough to clear US customs, but here’s hoping those of us in the States get a chance to try it soon. (Or perhaps I’ll have to send Jill on a mission across the border!)

American cheeses fared fairly well themselves. Out of the 2,440 cheeses, from 34 countries, the Americans earned 78 medals. A few highlights:

  • Cypress Grove (CA) took home several awards, including golds for Humboldt Fog, Purple Haze and fresh Chevre, and silver for Truffle Tremor and Fog Lights. Marin French Cheese Co. cleaned up with seven medals, probably the largest single winner outside of the major commodity cheese companies (see Sorrento and Sartori).
  • Smaller farms that stood out include Rivers Edge Chevre (OR) with two silvers, one for Sunset Bay (see below for the second); a gold for Estrella Family Creamery‘s (WA) Grisdale Goat; Bellwether Farms (CA) with silver for Carmody and bronze for Pepato; silver for Uplands Cheese Co. (WI) Pleasant Ridge Reserve; and gold for Crave Brothers (WI) Mascarpone. 
  • In small farms outside the traditional cheesemaking states: gold for Haystack Mountain (CO) Camembert; silver for Firefly Farms (MD) Cabra LaMancha; and bronze for Sweet Grass Dairy (GA) Asher Blue.
  • For “extra mature traditional cheddar,” Cellars at Jasper Hill earned silver for Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Fiscalini Cheese Co. (review later this week!) a bronze for Bandage Wrap Cheddar.
  • And perhaps the most exciting categories, new cheeses (first marketed after 01/10/2008), a silver went to Rivers Edge Chevre‘s Astraea (pictured above) and a bronze to Willow Hill Farm (VT) for Vaquero Blue — two excellent cheeses I was able to sample this summer.
  • Click here for the full list of American winners, and here are the official winners lists.

And elsewhere in the caseophere…

  • Locally, in the Mid-Atlantic: WeLoveDC recently ventured across the river to explore Alexandria’s Cheesetique. (Astute readers may note that the picture, by yours truly, is actually of the old storefront.) Red, White & Bleu in Falls Church is now carrying Jamie Stachowski’s charcuterie, perfect for pairing with local cheeses. 
     
  •  Locally, in the Upper Midwest: A Simple, Good and Tasty Local Foods Dinner in Minneapolis this weekend featured Minnesota’s own Shepherd’s Way sheeps-milk blue cheese, among other scrumptious dishes. And the Wisconsin Originals Cheese Festival, coming up Nov. 6-7, is already sold out! 
     
  •  On the Cheese Blogs: I missed out on meeting the blogger from La Vie Soleil when we attended the same event recently in San Francisco, but was happy to learn about her from Bryce’s recap at Canyon of Cheese. Her home cheesemaking experiments are truly something to aspire to. Check out the Camembert she recently took to France to share with family …  gorgeous!

Calling all Cheesemakers: got news to share? email dccheese @ gmail.com to be included in our weekly news highlights.

Noted in the cheese world this week…

photo (c) Oregon Bounty/Greg Robeson

photo (c) Oregon Bounty/Greg Robeson

* Be a Cheesemaker: We thought Jasper Hill Farm was clever with their luring in of eager cheese loyalists as willing labor; the Oregon Tourism Commission takes it a step further and uses hard labor at Rogue Creamery as a contest reward. We kid… who wouldn’t enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at Oregon’s most award-winning creamery plus a chance to get your hands dirty making cheese-filled truffles next door at Lillie Belle? Submit a video by next Friday, September 18 to enter to win this or one of the other “Cuisinternships” offered.

* NY Cheese Cook-off: In Brooklyn, NY, intrepid cooks will face-off this Sunday, September 13, in The Brooklyn Cheese Experiment, a cheese cook-off and home brew competition. Aside from the potential fame and glory of winning, a portion of proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Ovarian Cancer Research. 

* A Buffalo Taleggio? You heard it here first: Taleggio is the in cheese for fall. Janet Fletcher declares Quadrello di Bufala, a new buffalo-milk Taleggio-style cheese from Lombardy, a “must taste” cheese, and Tia Keenan concurs, describing it as “faboosh.” Have you gotten your hands on it yet? Let us know! 

* On the CheeseBlogs: Welcome to The Cheese Freak! The newest blog to join the caseosphere, The Cheese Freak (@thecheesefreak on twitter) has launched a project to chronicle himself and friends geeking out over cheese via video posts.  

* Briefly Noted: The fall issue of Culture is on the newsstands, or at your local cheese shop, and looking fabulous; and join us in wishing Cheesetique in Alexandria, VA, a happy 5th birthday! 

Calling all Cheesemakers:
got news to share? email dccheese @ gmail.com to be included in our weekly news highlights.

Lefty Donkey ponders cheese selections (photo thanks to NGP Software)

Lefty Donkey wonders why goats get all the cheese glory. (Photo thanks to NGPSoftware.com.)

Now that we’ve taken you on a “Blue State” cheese tour from East to West, we consulted the experts for a few parting recommendations to round out your cheeseboard on Inauguration day.

Jamie Forrest, author of the Curd Nerds blog and the terrific “Serious Cheese” column on Serious Eats, weighs in with patriotic Red, White & Blue picks. (Yeah, we know “Red, White & Greeen” is the new mantra, but unless it’s a leaf-wrapped cheese, you probably want to stay away from green cheeses!)

First off, I’ll stick with American cheeses only, of course. Secondly, I’ll pick one cheese for each color of the flag. Here it goes.

Red: There’s no such thing as a red cheese, of course. The closest things are the deeply orange washed-rind cheeses, and there’s even one with the word red in its name. Cowgirl Creamery‘s Red Hawk is an excellent washed rind cheese from California. It’s made with triple the cream of an ordinary cheese, it’s organic, and it’s supremely delicious. What more do you need?

White: Got to go with a bloomy-rind cheese here. New York’s 3 Corner Field Farm makes a wonderful sheep’s milk cheese called Shushan Snow. The first part of the name comes from the town the farm is in, and the second comes from the color of the rind–snow white. Mushroomy, earthy, and sheepy all at once, basically a sheep’s milk Camembert.

Blue: My favorite American blue is Jasper Hill Farm‘s Bayley Hazen Blue. Jasper Hill has a herd of happy, grass-fed Ayrshire cows, a breed whose milk is high in protein and fat. Bayley Hazen is drier than most similar British-style blue cheeses, but what really makes this cheese special is the grassiness underlying the blue mold flavor.

{Readers know we love Cowgirl & Jasper Hill, and Shushan Snow is now on our “must find” list. Thanks, Jamie!}

Jill Erber, proprietor of Cheesetique (Alexandria, Va.), suggests a few Presidential picks:

Barick Obama“, an assertive cow’s milk cheese hand-crafted in Vermont. In honor of our new President.

Lincoln Log“, a surface-ripened goat cheese hand-made in Michigan. In honor of President Abraham Lincoln.

Cider Soaked Plymouth“, a cheddar-like cow’s milk cheese made on President Calvin Coolidge’s family farm in Vermont.

If you’re hunkering down south of the Potomac on Inaugural day, Cheesetique is open normal hours (11am – 9pm) to fulfill your cheese cravings, with each of these in stock.

Finally, in the spirit of bipartisan unity, a shout out to our “Red State” friends. I’ve not sampled any cheeses from Senator McCain’s home state, Arizona, but you might enjoy Kenny’s Kentucky Cheddar or the offerings from Georgia’s Sweeetgrass Dairy.

Whatever your party preference, have a great, cheesy holiday weekend and keep warm!

I don’t watch Conan O’Brien much anymore, so I don’t know if he still does that “If They Mated” bit where he merges pictures of celebrities to see what their children would like. But if we played the “If They Mated” game with cheese and paired up Parmigiano-Reggiano with Cheddar, you’d get my cheese of the week – Piave Vecchio. Is this a good thing, you may ask? Oh, yes.

Piave Vecchio all dolled up for the holidays.

Piave Vecchio all dolled up for the holidays.

This mighty tasty cheese has a sweet, slightly grassy flavor that reminds you of the famous Italian grating cheese. But unlike Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is usually cut into rough chips, Piave Vecchio has a Cheddar-like consistency that can be sliced with ease. It also has a few crystals that make a delightful crunch in your mouth – not a ton, but enough to surprise you every couple of bites.

An aged cow’s-milk cheese, Piave Vecchio would be a distinguished addition to your holiday cheeseboard – it’s easy to enjoy, easy to pair with dried fruits and nuts and, unlike Parmigiano, you don’t need a chisel to cut yourself a piece. Pour a glass of fruity Merlot and go to town! It’s also great shaved on green salads (dress it with just lemon and a really good olive oil) or atop a pile of pasta.

Piave Vecchio is also a favorite of one of our favorite cheesemongers, Jill Erber of Cheesetique. For Jill’s take on “the easiest-to-prepare hors d’oeurves or snack in history,” check out the June 2007 Cheesetique e-newsletter.

For me, nothing. Well, maybe diamonds. Or a purse (Burberry or Coach, please). Or a night without my kid and/or cat waking me up. But cheese makes a fantastic gift this time of year – or anytime, of course. My co-worker Deanna had the fabulous idea of sending cheese baskets to our clients and VIPs this year as our agency holiday gift, and the two of us headed down to Premier Cheese Market this morning to speak with the owner, Ken, about putting together the perfect basket.

Our challenge: assembling a blend of tastes and textures when we don’t know what the recipients would prefer. Unless you’re giving cheese to a close friend or colleague with whom you’ve had in-depth discussions about cheese (other people do this, right?), it’s best to play it safe. Ken’s rules: No blues, no stinkies (a.k.a. washed-rind cheeses, like our friend Epoisses). What’s left? Not to fret – there’s a delicious assortment of cheeses at your disposal.

  • Manchego – Tune in tomorrow for my thoughts on this Spanish sheep’s-milk cheese, but in short, its mild, nutty flavor pleases many palates, including my picky husband’s. If you want to take it to the next level, look for a Manchego with rosemary. Cheesetique stocks it.
  • Gouda – A Lewis and Levine family favorite is the Prima Donna Gouda, also mild and sweet. Excellent for snacking with apples.
  • Cheddar – You all know my feelings about Cheddar. Ken recommends the Prairie Breeze Cheddar, produced by a collective of Amish farmers in Iowa.
  • If you want to go the creamy route, a basic Brie would serve you well. Ken also suggests the double-creme Fromage d’Affinois, which is also a French cow’s-milk cheese but is even silkier. Yum!
  • For the adventuresome willing to tread into goat’s-milk territory, a classic Bucheron is usually well-received since it resembles the chevre found in almost any grocery store these days. Patacabra is a good bet, too.
  • Smoked cheeses “can be challenging,” according to Ken, but they’re not off-limits. His suggestion: go for the higher-end smokies, like Spanish San Simon. It’s very man-friendly.

The thing to remember with cheese baskets: “The cheese stands alone” only applies to the song “The Farmer in the Dell.” Be sure to include a tasty assortment of crackers, dried fruit, nuts, olives, honey and chocolates in your basket. If your budget allows, add a bottle of wine. Ask your cheesemonger for a suggestion that will complement the cheeses you’ve selected.

Of course, if you’re too busy to make it to the cheese shop, there are a number of online options. New York institution Murray’s Cheese offers a variety of gift suggestions on its Web site. I know Colleen’s husband would approve of the Best with Beer package. Artisanal Cheese also has a great selection of cheese gifts – check out the American Artisanal Basket for its unique offerings. I have to give a shout-out to my home state by mentioning The Wisconsin Cheeseman’s gift baskets. I’d love to receive the Cheese Crate!

So take the plunge and go cheesy for the holidays. I bet you a hunk of Humboldt Fog that your friends will like it more than fruitcake.

The place where our mutual infatuation with cheese really took root, Cheesetique is a lovely little shop in Del Ray, Virginia. It expanded in early 2008 to include a new cheese and wine bar, which also created a dedicated classroom space for the monthly themed cheese classes. In addition to the area’s best cheese selection, and friendly and knowledgeable cheesemongers, Cheesetique also stocks an array of charcuterie, fresh pasta, olive oils, gourmet crackers, local chocolates, all the necessary cheese accompaniments, wine and beer. (I recently wrote about my “Cheesetique Pasta,” made from the shop’s saffron pasta, salami and roasted tomatoes.)

You can check the archives here for recaps of a few of the past cheese classes, taught by Jill Erber, a.k.a. the Cheese Lady. Jill is the most gregarious cheese advocate I have yet to meet, and is surely destined for a career as the next food network star. Not on that cheesy reality competition, but as the host of a cheese talk/travel show. (Wouldn’t that be awesome?) 

Most recently, I enjoyed the samplings at the fall class, “Love ’em or Leaf ’em.” Some of these cheeses were ordered just for the class, so it was a special treat to enjoy them. A favorite was the Vento d’ Estate, an Italian cows-milk cheese that comes wrapped in a thick layer of green hay. The hay imparts a musty, grassy aroma and flavor to the cheese.

Cheesetique is not the only cheese shop in the area, so as the challenge goes on I will branch out a little and report back on some of DC’s other fine cheese cases. But if you are local, you really must make a point to stop in for a panini, cheese tasting, flight of wine or just some personal consultation with DC’s top cheesemongers.

Cheesetique is at 2411 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria. They open at 8am on Saturdays during the Del Ray Farmers Market season, stay open till 10pm Friday and Saturday nights, and are closed on Mondays. If you already know and love Cheesetique, why not join the fan club on Facebook? See you in the shop!