The Cheese + Champagne Vermont Cheese Week Tour continues with another Vermont cheddar on the Wine Spectator list.

The third of the Wine Spectator 100 cheeses* I was able to sample in Vermont was Grafton Village’s clothbound cheddar. I’ve sampled their younger cheddars previously, but had been unable to find their clothbound version locally. (In fact, when I called one cheese shop to inquire they thought I must be referring to the Cabot/Jasper Hill clothbound and encouraged me to try that instead.)

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival 

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Clothbound cheddars are common in the U.K., but a fairly new phenomenon here in the States. We’ve written before about the Cabot/Jasper Hill joint venture, and the Grafton Village clothbound is a team project as well. As we learned at the June Fancy Food Show, Grafton is now sending their wheels of clothbound cheddar to be aged in the sandstone caves of Faribault Dairy in Minnesota.

Grafton clothbound begins with hormone-free raw milk from their Jersey cows, produced by their co-op of Vermont dairy farmers, and is aged up to 10 months to develop a smooth, creamy yet earthy flavor and the familiar crumbly texture of good cheddar.

My taste buds were too taxed to try a Grafton/Cabot head-to-head taste off after making my rounds at the festival, but if you have the opportunity to try both at the same time I encourage you to do so and report back. And if you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, Grafton offers it for sale online.

* editor’s note/musings: At the time of the Wine Spectator selection, Grafton’s clothbound was also aged at Jasper Hill. Since we were unable to taste it until now, we have no idea how the taste might have changed with the move to a new aging facility. But wouldn’t that be a fun tasting experiment to taste identical cheeses aged in caves more than 1,000 miles apart?

 

It’s been an exciting week here at C+C. Not only did Colleen and I get to see each other for the first time in more than a year (!), we spent a fabulous three days eating our way through New York City. We’ll have lots more to share about our NYC cheese adventures next week, but we won’t keep you waiting any longer for our report from the big gig: the 2009 Fancy Food Show.

yes, that is a humboldt fog wedding cake

yes, that is a humboldt fog wedding cake

The Fancy Food Show is the biannual event of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), and it’s like Nirvana for anyone who loves food. Since it’s a trade show, it’s not open to the general public, but as the co-writers/publishers of a top 10 cheese blog, Colleen and I were able to attend as part of the press corps. (We felt very official.) Unfortunately, our busy schedules allowed us to spend only four hours at the show and we barely scratched the surface, but we did get to visit a number of cheese-centric booths and taste lots of cheese.

The high and low points of the show:

Hits

  • Meeting some of our favorite cheesemakers, like Mary Keehn from Cypress Grove Chevre and Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm. Both were generous with their time and samples, and Mateo even mentioned that he put a link to our
    talking cheddar with Lucy of Neals Yard Dairy

    talking cheddar with Lucy of Neal's Yard Dairy

    Winnimere review on Jasper Hill Farm’s Facebook page. (Thanks, Mateo!) Mary posed for a quick photo with us just hours before it was announced that her Truffle Tremor won the sofi for best product in the cheese/dairy category at the show. A well-deserved honor! We also had fun chatting with the folks from Faribault Dairy and Grafton Village

  • Learning about new cheese partnerships, such as Faribault Dairy and Grafton Village’s new collaboration on Clothbound Cheddar. Vermont-based Grafton Village now sends its Clothbound Cheddar to Minnesota to age in Faribault’s famed sandstone caves. British cheese powerhouse Neal’s Yard Dairy is also working with Colston Bassett Dairy to age its Stilton, and the union results in a creamier, tangier blue cheese that we really enjoyed.
  • Finding some untasted cheeses on our list, like the triple-crème Brie from the Marin French Cheese Company and the Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery. (Washed down with a gulp of Rogue Chocolate Stout, yum.) Watch for our upcoming reviews over the next few weeks!
  • Discovering new products to pair with our cheeses. You’ll have to stay tuned for specifics, but let’s just say there was no shortage of chocolate, crackers, oils, teas, coffees and more. (Imagine if we’d had time to sample all the adult beverages, too!)

Misses

  • Unfriendly French cheese exhibitors. The only way we were able to sample any French cheeses was to linger around the cheese displays for approximately 10 minutes before the person working the booth would even pay attention to us. Memo to the French: The reason why people come to the show is to taste your cheese. It’s really hard for them to do that if you ignore them.

    perfect pairings from rogue and rogue ale

    perfect pairings from rogue and rogue ale

  • Absent American cheese exhibitors … and too much floor space. We had hoped to try more new American cheeses, but were disappointed to find the Capriole Goat Cheese booth unmanned. Others we just didn’t make it to (Utah’s Beehive, Coach Farm) in our short amount of time. It would’ve been nice if the American cheesemakers’ booths were less spread out (own pavilion next year, perhaps?), though I imagine people with more time to spend grazing benefited from other snacks between cheese samples. 
  • Our wimpy stomachs. We didn’t eat breakfast that day in order to leave room for lots of cheese samples, but we still became full relatively quickly. Perhaps it was the dozen or so cheeses we had sampled the day before. Or the large iced coffees we drank on the walk to the show. Or the three desserts we shared during the previous night’s dinner at Casellula. Anyway, we were stuffed much earlier than I had anticipated. I managed to recover in time to try a Magnolia Bakery cupcake at 10 p.m. that night. Colleen said she choked down half a sandwich during her bus ride back to D.C.

Did you attend this year’s Fancy Food Show? Any stories or tidbits to share? Spill them here!

(And another miss, from Colleen – using the iPhone instead of a real camera. Um, duh. Will bring better equipment next year!)

We could recommend some of our favorite hoity-toity American cheeses to mark our nation’s 233rd birthday, but let’s be honest — the only cheese most Americans will be chowing down on on Saturday are those slathered over a juicy slab of beef* (or turkey or tofu). The New York Times today offered advice on creating the perfect burger, but in our not-so-humble opinion, the real ingredient to watch is the cheese. You might enjoy a healthy dollop of Roquefort or an Irish cheddar on your every day burgers, but needless to say the 4th of July calls for more patriotic selections. Fortunately, American cheesemakers are a force to be reckoned with (and they were a large contingent of the cheese crew that made up the largest single food category at this week’s Fancy Food Show).

If you prefer a classic burger, try a cheddar from Vermont’s Grafton Village, and you can’t go wrong with Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen or Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue.

For a Greek-American burger, dress it up with Hidden Hills Dairy Bolton Feta (from Pennsylvania) or goats’ milk feta from Mozzarella Company of Texas. 

Stink it up with Meadow Creek’s Grayson, an American tallegio (the 2009 batch has just been released), or go for total sensory overload with a dollop of Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor.

If you really just have to have individually-wrapped slices of pre-cut cheese — well, you probably aren’t reading this blog. But just in case, let me point you toward Tillamook’s cheddar cheese singles so you can still enjoy the convenience without compromising on a “cheese food product.”

If you need additional incentive to seek out artisanal American cheeses for your July 4th celebration, see the “Cheese as an Act of Patriotism” post at The Saxelby Almanac. And tell us, what’s the best cheese and beef pairing you’ve ever had??

(*I’m going to assume you’re using local, grassfed and e.coli-free ground beef, but here’s some advice if you need help finding a local beef provider – and check out the craft beer finder to find a good patriotic beer to wash it down.)

I have to confess that this cheese was the first that made me doubt the trusty “100 Great Cheeses” list, in its candy apple red wax coating and plastic shrinkwrap that made my inner cheese snob bristle. But after Jamie wrote on Serious Cheese this week about Grafton Village Cheese’s move to subsidize their supporting dairy farmers in the wake of falling milk prices, I decided to give Grafton a shot. I called around to my local shops and only Whole Foods carried Grafton’s cheddars. Despite my best “rain, rain, go away,” warblings, every nice DC day seems to be offset with another two rainy days, and today was one of the latter. Putting aside wistful thoughts of fresh chevre, I picked up the cheddar, some tomato soup and a loaf of whole wheat baguette and set about making a classic grilled cheese combination: apple, cheddar, arugula. (Mostly local, even, in a nod to Earth Day. The arugula comes from Va.’s Endless Harvest and apples from Pa.’s Toigo Orchards, both at DC’s Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market.)

I peeled back the red wax to reveal a milky white, crumbly cheese. The first bite was surprisingly full-flavored, a perfect balance of sharpness and sweet cream flavors, clearly indicative of a high quality milk base. Sure enough, Grafton Village carefully selects milk from rBST-free Jersey cows through Vermont dairy co-ops. The subsidy they’ll be paying out to their dairy suppliers will include a premium based on the butterfat and protein content of the milk. Grafton, who’s been making cheese in the historic village of Grafton, Vermont, since 1892, also makes a clothbound cheddar which also earned a spot on the Wine Spectator list. Alas, no local shops carry that one, so it goes on the “wanted” list for future tasting. (Cowgirl suggested Cabot’s clothbound as a substitute, which we’ve reviewed previously.)

At $3.99 a loaf, Grafton’s 1-year cheddar provides a nice break on the wallet, too. Whole Foods also carries a 2-year-aged and maple versions. Based on my first impressions, I’ll be giving Grafton Village’s other cheeses a try too. 

(Psst … this has almost nothing to do with cheese, but if you’re in the DC-area and enjoy our other regional delicacy, blue crabs – or just enjoy clean water, please stop by FoodieTots and check out today’s “Blog for the Bay” virtual rally for the Chesapeake.)