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.

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!

With the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama just a week away, even foodies are getting in on Inauguration fever. From District-food gaffes to deciding not to decide on a new White House chef, every televised bite by the President-elect is fodder for the culinary media. The LA Times finds political irony in the Lincoln-themed Inaugural luncheon menu. There’s a blog devoted entirely to what Obama says about food, Obamafoodorama, and even a cheese named for the President-elect, the “Barick Obama” from Vermont’s Lazy Lady Farm. Naturally we thought we’d join the fray, and suggest some of America’s best “blue state” cheeses and brews for your Inaugural party.

It has also come to our attention that Prairie Fruits Farm* goat cheese from the President-elect’s home state of Illinois will be served at the Inaugural feast – atop arugula perhaps? (Thanks to The Media Table for the tip.) While we enthusiatically support the promotion of America’s artisanal cheesemakers, we wanted to take a moment to note that Mr. Obama need not phone home whenever a craving for fine curds strikes.

The Obamas can support family farms and eat locally by sampling our fine Mid-Atlantic cheeses. For goat cheese, Maryland’s Firefly Farms produces luscious, flavorful logs of hand-crafted fresh chevre and exquisite and unique Black and Blue and Cabra laMancha. Firefly’s innovative set-up sources milk from a cooperative of local Amish goat farmers to start with the purest milk available. The Cabra laMancha (pictured) is a washed-rind, Manchego-inspired cheese that won gold at last fall’s World Cheese Awards. It has a firmer texture than your traditional cows-milk washed-rind cheeses, with a grassy fresh taste and mild tang. Wash it down with Barboursville Vineyard‘s reserve chardonnay or viognier, from Virginia. (Barboursville’s Brut would make a fine, local alternative to the California sparkling wines being served at the Inaugural luncheon.)

Elsewhere in the region, Virginia’s Everona Dairy produces some of the finest aged sheeps-milk cheese around; try the Cracked Pepper for extra zip. Meadow Creek Dairy‘s Grayson, a nutty washed-rind Jersey cows-milk cheese, took top prize in last year’s American Cheese Awards. Firefly, Everona and Meadow Creek cheeses are all available at local cheese shops, and the first lady and daughters could stroll up Connecticut Ave. to meet Everona’s Dr. Pat herself at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market.  Of course, if they wanted to take the White House Organic Garden idea a little further, they could bring back a herd of sheep and make their own cheese … though I suspect they have more pressing items on their to do lists. 

Check back each day this week for more Inaugural cheese picks, and let us know what you’ll be noshing on to celebrate!

*Do read the story of Prairie Fruits Farm on their website; they are Illinois’ first farmstead cheesemakers and are creating a diverse, self-sustaining farm that also produces fruits, berries and grains. Unfortunately we couldn’t track down their cheeses here in DC or in Minneapolis, so if any readers come across it, do let us know what you think!