The 2nd annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival takes place Sunday, July 25, back at the gorgeous lakeside grounds of Shelburne Farms near Burlington. (Read our recap of last year’s festival for a preview of the deliciousness involved.) Tickets sold out in advance last year, and are well on the way to doing so again, so order yours today if you plan to go.

The Vermont Cheese Council has a handy map you can consult to plan your own tour of Vermont’s 40+ dairy farms and cheesemakers over the weekend. Or, if you’re coming from New York or Boston, you can join a bus trip to travel in style.

From New York, the Murray’s coach will leave Saturday morning, tour Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery and then check you in to a three-star hotel overnight to rest up before the big day. (Last year, Murray’s led a red-eye bus trip that was reportedly quite the adventure, as there were heavy thunderstorms during the night — we experienced the same on our drive, and it was a rather harrowing trip through upstate New York.)

Formaggio Kitchen will conduct a day-trip from Boston, serving breakfast on the bus and hosting a private barbecue with their own grillmaster at Shelburne following the conclusion of the festival.

And if you’re looking for a more budget-conscious way to enjoy the festival, it’s not too late to sign up as a volunteer. Contact Hilary at VBC — HSchwoegler@vermontcreamery.com — for info or to sign up.

So tell us, have you bought your tickets yet? And if so, please report back — we’ll both be homebound with newborns and missing out on this year’s festivities.

Well, now that the holidays have come and gone we’re getting back to business here on C + C. We’re nearing the end of our quest to taste all 100 cheeses on the Wine Spectator list, and the remaining dozen or so cheeses have proven a little tricky to track down. Thankfully, Jill had the foresight to order a couple from Murray’s for us to sample together during her recent visit. [If you’ve never ordered cheese by mail from Murray’s, we highly recommend it. The cheeses arrived in perfect condition, neatly wrapped with the standard über-informational Murray’s labels.]

First up, Caruchon, made by Papillon, the renowned Roquefort producers in central France. This is a brined cheese with a colorful red specked rind that made me anticipate a more pungent flavor than we found upon tasting. At first glance you might mistake its dense, golden paste for Pont L’Eveque, though as Jill discovered a few months ago, Pont L’Eveque packs a much more pungent fragrance. Like Roquefort, Caruchon is a sheeps-milk cheese (though pasteurized), with the familiar oily mouthfeel and slightly sweet flavor that is reminiscent of a manchego.

Caruchon does possess a distinctive sheepy aroma, and the crisp rind is more mild than you might expect from a washed-rind cheese, notable more for its texture than its flavor. The paste likewise is mild, pleasantly rich and tasting of pure sheeps-milk. It’s a delightful cheese that might be a good gateway to washed-rind cheeses for your more skeptical friends. It certainly wouldn’t frighten anyone away from the cheese board. I’d probably pair this with a light, fruity red wine, but didn’t have a chance to test that this time around.

Despite our patriotic leanings, one of the good things about undertaking the Wine Spectator 100 challenge has been taking the time to meet or get reacquainted with classic European cheeses. Unfortunately, our local cheese shops tend to share our pro-American bias, so some of the Europeans on the list have been harder to come by. As Jill mentioned, Portuguese cheeses have been particularly hard to find, so we were lucky to find Nisa at Stinky Bklyn on our chzday09 adventure. This lovely Italian cheese, Pecorino Foglie de Noce, we picked up at Murray’s for that photo shoot in the park:

 

thats it, work it...

that's it, work it...

(That’s the pecorino on the right, gabietou on the left.) Incidentally, while labeled foglie de noce in the shop, online Murray’s lists this cheese as “foja de noce.” A traditional raw-sheep’s-milk pecorino, this hard cheese is crumbly but not sharp, sweet and lightly salty, with muted grassy, earthy, almost woodsy notes from the walnut leaves the cheeses are layered with to age, after being “bathed daily” for three weeks. It has just a bit of the trademark oiliness of  sheep’s-milk cheese, but smooth-flavored all around.

 

A lovely cheese for snacking, I took this one on a second picnic date with my son where we enjoyed the leftovers with some fresh-picked Virginia raspberries and blackberries. I’m thinking it would be a great dessert with some sweet wine and yes, lots of summer berries.

Colleen and I ate a lot of goat’s-milk cheese while we were in New York, and one of our favorites was Chabichou du Poitou. We picked it up at Murray’s and enjoyed it in the nearby park where we staged our outdoor cheese photo shoot. Remember, this was Pride weekend, so a cheese photo shoot was likely the least unusual sighting in New York that day.

A relatively young cheese (aged six weeks), Chabichou must be made from pasteurized milk to be imported to the United States, and I can’t say the pasteurization detracted from its taste. Though it had the typically goaty smell, the paste wasn’t too goaty. Instead, it was firm and chalky with notes of flowers and grass. Chabichou is AOC-protected, which guarantees that the cheese you by with this name will have come from the Poitou region of France. It’s a good cheese to seek out if you don’t think you like goat cheese – its clean flavor may convert you!

Of course, wines from nearby Loire Valley would make an excellent match for Chabichou. Artisanal recommends Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre, Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc. The more the cheese matures, however, the more likely it would pair well with a red wine.

The bountiful cheese selection at Murrays

The bountiful cheese selection at Murray's

The second in a series of tasting notes from our New York Summer ’09 Cheese Tour. After brunch at Artisanal, we headed downtown to do some shopping, cupcake-hunting and, of course, more cheese-eating. Our next cheese-shop stop was the one I had been looking forward to the most, not only because it is considered one of the best cheese shops in the United States, but also because it shares a name with my grandfather. Murray’s in Greenwich Village did not disappoint.

Murray’s began as a wholesale butter and egg shop in 1940, when it was owned by Murray Greenberg, who, according to Murray’s Web site, was a Spanish Civil War vet and Communist. He sold the shop to one of his clerks in the 1970s, and it is now owned by Rob Kaufelt, who has since moved the shop twice and turned it from a bodega-type shop to one specializing in artisan cheese, charcuterie and the like. Squeezed into a narrow space on Bleecker Street, Murray’s nonetheless has an impressive variety of domestic and imported cheeses, including several that neither Colleen nor I have been able to find in our local cheese shops. The cheesemongers are generous with samples (always a plus in my book!), and the one who helped us took a keen interest in our blog (hello, if you’re reading along!).

Im like the Vanna White of cheese.

I'm like the Vanna White of cheese.

Yeah to Murrays for getting into the Pride spirit!

Yeah to Murray's for getting into the Pride spirit!

The cheese lover could easily spend an hour wandering through the store and browsing among the meats, breads, crackers, chocolates, olives, butters and such. We happily picked up a Murray’s insulated tote (essential because our hotel room did not have a fridge) and a brutal-looking cheese knife that I didn’t dare try to bring home on the plane. The C+C kids, O and N, proudly sport Murray’s T-shirts with the phrase “milk made” printed on the front, while Colleen and I have joint custody of the tote.

One of the cheeses we picked up at Murray’s was Gabietou, a French cheese made from a blend of raw cow and sheep mik in the Pyrenees. Being an imported raw-milk cheese, it has to be aged past 60 days, and most wheels you’ll find in the United States are aged anywhere from four to 12 months. We enjoyed the dense, creamy paste and how it melted in the mouth. We found the Gabietou to be a little gamey but sweet at the same time, typical of many washed-rind cheeses. Beaujolais is a recommended wine pairing, though in keeping with the theory of terroir, I’d be apt to sample Gabietou with some wines from the Pyrenees region.

Next stop: Casellula

Unfortunately, the third time was not the charm in my quest to review this unpasteurized Brie-esque cheese from western Spain. You see, I had noticed a cheese labeled “Serena” at my neighborhood cheese shop, but when I went in to purchase it they no longer had it in stock. They agreed to get it back though, and I went in soon after to pick it up. But the semi-firm golden wedge I came home with looked not at all like I remembered the gooey, pungent cheese I had sampled last fall at Murray’s. Sure enough, Serena without the La is an entirely different cheese, from the western US (California, to be precise). While tasty in its own right – Cowgirl describes it as the “delicious progeny” of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Gouda – it was not going to get me another check mark on my cheese list. I next picked up a wedge at that cheese-abusing “whole foods” grocer, which was completely skunked. (Is there a cheese-terminology equivalent?) I figured it was a fluke and tried again a few weeks later, looking for the more freshly-cut looking piece. This one was okay, but it just couldn’t shake its funk at being wrapped in saran wrap too long. The interior was soft and had the earthy, fungal flavor I remembered, but it just didn’t achieve the same level of soft gooeyness as the properly cared for specimen at Murray’s. 

note the weird grey tinge inside the rind ...

 

La Serena is a sheeps-milk cheese made with thistle rennet (making it vegetarian for those who are concerned with such things), from merino sheep who graze in the grass and herb fields of a province by the same name.  A properly ripened round can be served whole with an opening cut in the top rind to allow easy scooping of the gooey center; it’s best served with fresh, crusty bread. Here, a touch of last summer’s plum vanilla jam helped revive my cheese’s faded flavors. 

 

[I could go on about the plight of abused cheeses at that aforementioned retailer, but will spare you the rant and send you here for more eye-candy to help you imagine this cheese in all its funk-nificant glory. And remember, support your local cut-to-order cheesemongers — or order a round of La Serena from LaTienda.]