Last night I attended the launch party for DC’s newest cheese enterprise, The Cheese Course. Fromager Carolyn Stromberg, well known among DC cheese lovers for her work running the cheese cave at Old Hickory Steakhouse, is setting out on her own to teach cheese appreciation classes around town. At last night’s event, hosted by Cheesetique, Carolyn led guests through a guided tasting of several wines and cheeses, beginning with a sparkling wine and triple-cream L’Explorateur. “I always like to start a tasting with sparkling wine,” explained Carolyn, “because it’s festive.” It’s also hard to go wrong in matching a sparkling wine with cheese, which makes it an easy choice for beginners.

Carolyn Stromberg at The Cheese Course launch

Carolyn went on to lead us through a white, two reds and on to the dessert course, Sauternes with Sweet Grass Dairy‘s Asher Blue from Georgia. The Sauternes was a little sweet for my liking, but well suited for the assertive blue. My favorite pairing of the night was the California Queen of Hearts pinot noir with Abbaye de Belloc. (I’m a bit of an Oregon pinot snob, but this was a really delightful and fruity California rendition that would go well with a variety of cheeses.) I was also delighted to try the Cinerino, a mild, almost floral tasting, ash-rubbed sheeps-milk cheese from Casa Madaio in Campania, Italy.

DC has a wealth of fabulous cheesemongers and shops, but too few opportunities for the cheese curious to study the subject matter more in depth. Carolyn’s passion for cheese is evident, and her casual approach will put even novices at ease as she leads them through a guided pairing. Visit her website and contact her today to schedule a cheese tasting for your holiday party. Plans to host public classes around town are in the works, so stay tuned and we’ll be sure to give you a heads up when they’re scheduled.

The Cheese Course
www.cheese-course.com
p: 202.236.3044
@cheesecoursedc

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Keswick Creamery is well-known among DC farmers market goers for their wonderful cheeses, yogurt and more. Located in Newberg, Pennsylvania, the small family dairy has been making cheese from their grassfed Jersey cows since 2001. Their ricotta is some of the best I’ve tasted, and local foodies rave about their creamy quark. So when I heard they had introduced some new cheeses, beer-washed raw milk tommes, I was eager to try them out.

I visited co-cheesemaker Mark Cochran at Sunday’s Bloomingdale Farmers Market, and he filled me in on two of the new additions: Mad Tomme and the Tommenator, both washed in craft beers from Pennsylvania’s Troegs Brewing Company.

Both begin with raw milk from the farm’s Jersey cows, which is turned into Alpine-style pressed cheese and aged 3-4 months. The Mad Tomme is washed with Troegs’ Mad Elf holiday brew, made with honey and cherries that impart a light sweetness to the finished cheese. The Tommenator is washed with the Double Bock, and has a stronger, maltier flavor. Both cheeses still retain that unmistakable grassy sweetness and yellow color of Jersey milk cheeses, and a dense but creamy paste.

It goes without saying that these are well suited for pairing with beer, especially Troegs. They are perfect for summer entertaining, either before, during or after dinner. I’d try the Tommenator on a burger, and perhaps save the Mad Tomme for dessert with a side of fresh cherries (or cherry pie!).

Keswick has recently pulled out of the Saturday farmers markets, but can still be found at the Dupont Circle and Bloomingdale markets on Sunday. Their cheeses are also available at Cheesetique and Cowgirl Creamery. Visit their website to learn more.

I ate this week at a fairly new restaurant in DC, Art and Soul, helmed by Chef Art Smith. A Southern-bred, James Beard award-winning chef who came to Washington by way of Chicago — and formerly cooked for Oprah –, Chef Art has a menu that highlights local, seasonal ingredients. Sure, many restaurants profess to do the same, with varying degrees of success, but what impressed me here was seeing the “eat local” philosophy carried over to the cheese menu. Sadly, we didn’t actually sample the cheese this time as it was not on the Kids’ Restaurant Week prix fixe menu (boo!), but the list is familiar to any DC-area cheese fan: Talbot’s Reserve from Chapel’s Country Creamery (MD), Everona Dairy’s Piedmont (VA), Meadow Creek Dairy’s Grayson (VA), and Firefly Farms’ Black and Blue (MD) — all fine choices!

Just to round out the local dairy offerings, Art and Soul also dishes up Moorenko’s ice cream and sorbet. (You can read more about our dinner over at FoodieTots, and if you live in Chicago or NYC, your Kids’ Restaurant Week kicks off tomorrow, June 20.) 

elsewhere in cheese this week ….

Check out Madame Fromage‘s sheep’s milk blue discovery; and, It’s Not You, It’s Brie describes a cheese with “more texture and flavor variations than Mariah Carey has pink stilettos.” Click over to check them out!

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?

I love a good manchego, but my recent go-to cheese for entertaining guests (particularly those with timid palates) is a Spanish Idiazabal.

 

Idiazabal con membrillo

Idiazabal con membrillo

A sheep’s milk cheese that is lightly smoked for 1o days, it is firm, oily (in a good way) and flavorful without being overpowering. It hails from the Basque region and Artisanal Cheese recommends pairing with a full-bodied red wine from Navarra, which, coincidentally, is a budget-friendly choice as well. Because I was tasting bargain bubblies, and served this before our Hanukkah dinner, I sampled it with the Tarantas cava which was fruity enough to bring out the subtle smoky, grassy flavor of the cheese.

 

My favorite chef Jose Andres includes a recipe for rosemary-marinated Idiazabal in his book Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America. I have not yet tried Lima here in D.C., but they include Idiazabal on their Spanish cheese plate.

And now we get down to business! In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’re starting our tasting journey by expressing our gratitude for outstanding American blue cheeses. For our first cheese, I chose Bayley Hazen Blue by Jasper Hill Farms in Greensboro, Vermont.

The Kehler brothers didn’t intend to become dairy farmers when they took on a dilapidated hillside farm in 1998, but developed an interest in sustainable agriculture as they witnessed other Vermont dairy farms going out of business. They began their herd with 15 Ayrshire heifers in 2002, and the care and dedication they’ve put into their operation is evident in their cheese. The Bayley Hazen is a creamy, tangy, raw-milk blue that strikes just the right balance of salty bite and grassy sweetness. It is not an overwhelming blue, so it is perfect for cooking or crumbled over a seasonal beet salad.

I used it to top my Zesty Green Beans Almondine, and found the lemon zest really brought out the flavors of the cheese. If you were serving it on a cheese plate, I would be sure to include something sweet like dried fruit, maybe even candied citrus peels. If you’re serving it after dinner, a port or other sweet wine would be a perfect pairing.

This seems to be a fairly popular cheese at the moment, and deservedly so. It was available at Cheesetique and I have seen it on several DC-area restaurant cheese lists, including at Restaurant Eve. You can consult the retailer list on their website to find it near you.

Want to catch the latest reviews as soon as they’re posted? Follow @100cheeses on Twitter for updates straight from our cheeseboard!

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!