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.

Hello, cheese friends. As our readers may recall, part of the impetus behind Cheese + Champagne was my coauthor Jill’s move several years ago to Minnesota. We decided to keep in touch through our mutual love of cheese — while sharing our tasting notes with the world. Well, it’s Jill’s birthday today, and as we aren’t able to break bread around a cheese board together, I’m sending her a virtual toast: a festive sparkling Spanish sangria and local Firefly Farm‘s Merry Goat Round. That cute little round is the perfect cheese stand-in for a birthday cake, don’t you think? (And, just last week it was named 1st Runner Up for Best in Show at the American Dairy Goat Association 2010 cheese competition.)

This little blog will be celebrating a birthday of its own next month. While Jill and I have been busy tending to our little human kids, Kunik and Oma (no, not their real names), we’ve also been plotting behind the scenes to bring you all sorts of new cheese deliciousness. Stay tuned!

And in the meantime, tell us what cheese would you celebrate a birthday with?

P.S. Speaking of celebrations, Thursday, October 28, is Champagne Day. There will be tastings at Alexandria’s Whole Foods here in VA, elsewhere follow the hashtag #Champagne on twitter to join in virtually.

Recently in the cheese world …

American Goat Cheese Awards: The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) annual cheese competition was held last month in New York. Congratulations to Bonnie Blue Farm (TN) for the Best in Show award for Tanasi Tomme, and to Split Creek Farm (SC) for Reserve Best in Show for Farm Feta in Olive Oil. Familiar names on the winners list include Maryland’s Firefly Farms (four awards) and Spriggs Delight Farm; Oregon’s Rivers Edge Chevre (1st in flavored hard cheeses for Astraea); California’s Redwood Hill Farm (cleaning up the yogurt & kefir categories) and Fat Toad Farm in Vermont for their goats milk caramel sauce. View the complete results here.

MSLivingNov09Craft Cheese in Mainstream Media: Martha Stewart Living’s November issue features Vermont’s artisan cheesemakers, and the cheese episode airs this Thursday, Nov. 5, featuring Liz Thorpe. Emeril Lagasse is also on the bandwagon, recently visiting Jasper Hill Farm and Bellwether Farms in California for the Emeril Green show. The Bellwether episode (“Pass the Cheese, Please”) first aired last night, Nov. 2, but check the listings for a re-run if you missed it.

Tillamook Mac ‘n Cheese Competition: Last month was the 5th annual Tillamook Macaroni and Cheese competition in Portland, OR. The winner? Ann Jones from Littleton, CO, with her “Rustic Fried Sage and Chicken Apple Sausage Mac ‘n Cheese with Autumn Chutney.” She took both grand prize and people’s choice (and, I presume, longest recipe name!). Congrats!

Free Cheese! Bellwether Farms is giving away a $100 gift certificate to one lucky winner. To enter, create an original recipe using Bellwether’s creme fraiche and submit the recipe and a photo by December 1st. View complete details here.

On the Cheese Blogs: Madame Fromage selected Meadow Creek‘s Grayson as her Halloween cheese (great pick!) … The Cheeselover Fiona Beckett is served a unique cheese course … View pictures from the 2009 PDX Wedge Festival … Check out this recipe for Savory Onion and Gouda Dutch Baby from Herbivoracious (perfect for any bits of L’Amuse or Roomano you may have around).

American Cheese on Twitter: Now that Twitter has launched their lists feature, we’ve set about to create the ultimate list of American cheesemakers/sellers/enthusiasts. If you’re interested in America’s craft cheese movement, these are our must-follows. And if you make, sell, or promote cheese in America and we somehow aren’t yet following you on Twitter, drop us a note in the comments or @100cheeses.

Cheese of the Month: The most viewed cheese review we posted for the month of October was… Coach Farm’s goat medallion (third from left, above).

Remember to check our DC and MN Cheese Event listings for classes, tastings and more … we’ll be updating as holiday events are announced. And if you have cheese events or news to share, drop us a note at dccheese@gmail.com or mncheese@gmail.com.



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!

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!

This spring, a new cheese shop opened on the main street of Old Town Alexandria, Va. That makes two cheese-dedicated shops each precisely 1.1 miles from my home, plus several cheese-stocking gourmet shops, which makes this cheesewriter one happy clam. Or curd, I guess you could say. Despite its French name and inspiration —  co-owner Sebastien Tavel is a native of the Rhone region — La Fromagerie specializes in high quality, local and domestic artisanal cheeses. A blackboard behind the sales counter proudly proclaims their support for several cheesemakers in the Chesapeake Bay region, including Everona Dairy (VA), Firefly Farms (MD) and Keswick Creamery (PA).

While they have a handful of your old European mainstays, Roquefort and the like, this is not the place to go with narrow-minded intentions of obtaining a specific Alpine cheese or brand of Robiola. Rather, this is the perfect shop to spend some time letting Sebastien and his wife Mary fill you in on their latest find. They offer domestic prosciutto and charcuterie from La Quercia (Iowa) and Salumeria Biellese (NYC), fresh, local glass-jarred milk, butter and yogurt (from Trickling Springs and Blue Ridge Dairies) and a carefully chosen wine and beer selection.  They’re also planning to host classes in the near future.  And with drier summer days finally in sight (perhaps?), call in an order for a local cheese and Virginia country ham picnic basket and stroll down to the waterfront for a romantic cheese lovers’ tryst.

This Saturday, June 6, La Fromagerie will host Firefly Farms’ cheesemakers for a special meet-the-cheesemaker tasting from 4 to 7 pm, and they are having a sale on burger-ready bleu cheeses through the weekend. Visit the website for more details, or stop by the upper King Street shop en route to the water taxi if you’re headed to the National Harbor Food & Wine Festival.

La Fromagerie
1222 King Street
Alexandria, VA
703.879.2467
http://www.lafromagerieonline.com
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30am – 8:00pm
Sunday 11:30am – 7:00pm
Closed on Mondays