Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Trugole before. I hadn’t, but now I’m glad I found it. This Alpine cheese is made in Italy’s Asiago region – ah! you say, I’ve heard of Asiago – but it’s nothing like the cheese you find on bagels at Bruegger’s. Instead, it has a creaminess typical of cheeses made from cows that roam rich pastures. Way better than those stale bagels.

Trugole is a raw-milk cheese that is aged and washed for at least two months, but it has no funkiness or yeastiness. In fact, the taste is so smooth and mild that you’d think I’d be bored with it a la last week’s experience with Morbier. But there’s something about that creaminess that keeps me coming back for more tastes. I can imagine Trugole melted over a rich, brothy soup like French onion or draped over a piece of nutty toast alongside a mug of tomato soup. Suggested wine pairings are Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco, but to me, this cheese tastes so pure and basic, I’d skip the wine and focus on food pairings instead.

If you look on the Wine Spectator list, you won’t find the name Les Freres. You’ll come across Petit Freres, which is a diminutive version of this washed-rind cheese, but I couldn’t find it locally. But Ken at Premier Cheese Market assured me that this was the same cheese, just bigger, and I am very glad I tried it because it is, to put it simply, yummy.

With a name that translates to “the brothers,” it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that Les Freres is produced by the Crave Brothers, a family of four brothers who grew up on a dairy farm near Beloit, Wis., and now own a farm in Waterloo. Each brother has a unique role in the cheesemaking operation:

Crave Brothers Management Responsibilities
Charles Crave – Bookkeeping/Feeding
Thomas Crave – Crop Production/Maintenance
Mark Crave – Herd Manager/Personnel Manager
George Crave – Manager of Cheese Factory

Don’t you love it when siblings play nicely? The rest of us benefit by getting a tasty cow’s-milk cheese that is easy for all to enjoy, despite the washed rind. This is no Epoisses or Red Hawk –  Les Freres has just a mildly stinky, mushroomy appeal. It has a light-colored paste that doesn’t get too runny, and since the cheese holds its shape so well, it’s a good choice for a party cheeseboard with accompanying fruit. Serve with white wine, such as Prosecco or Pinot Grigio, or do as the New York Times’ Eric Asimov did and pair it with a 2006 Crozes-Hermitage from Jean-Claude Marsanne.

While Jill is our resident Wisconsin cheese expert (as mentioned previously, I was raised on Tillamook curds myself), her influence over the years has induced me to add a few Wisconsin cheeses to my list of favorites. Carr Valley makes several scrumptious cheeses, including Ba Ba Blue, cocoa-rubbed Cocoa Cardona and mixed-milk Menage. They are a fourth-generation, family-owned company that has been making cow, sheep and goats milk cheeses for over a hundred years.

Marisa is their cave-aged sheep-milk cheese, named after Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook’s daughter. It is aged for six months, and the cheese’s high butterfat content mutes the saltiness often found in similar cheeses.

Marisa is one of the sweeter cheeses I’ve tasted; creamy and mellow, it practically melts in your mouth. Its smooth paste is punctuated with just a few little crystals. I could snack on Marisa like candy, and it would make a great after-dinner cheese as well. 

Carr Valley’s own cheese and wine pairing guide suggests pairing the Marisa with a chianti, pinot grigio or light ale.

Humboldt Fog and I first made each other’s acquaintance sometime in 2005, I believe. I think it was at Colleen’s house during one of our TV-watching parties. (“The Apprentice” season premiere? Help me out, C.) We hit it off right away, and soon we were seeing each other regularly. In fact, if you sent my husband to a cheese shop to have him pick out a cheese for me, this is one he’d likely choose because he’s heard me talk about it so much.

One of my favorites.

One of my favorites.

Humboldt Fog is part of the California-based Cypress Grove family of fine goat-milk cheeses, and it’s distinguished by the layer of vegetable ash (edible, of course) in the middle. It’s soft and surface-ripened and oh-so-good. The creamy, crumbly cheese coats the mouth nicely, but the flavor isn’t so strong that you’ll need to cleanse your palate after a few bites. On the contrary – it’s really hard to stop eating it once you’ve started!

I guess this is what Humboldt Fog on crackers would look like to an ant.

I guess this is what Humboldt Fog on crackers would look like to an ant.

I often spread room-temperature Humboldt Fog on Carr’s whole wheat crackers, and Cypress Grove recommends serving it with pears and honey and a glass of crisp white wine (such as a Chenin Blanc or Pinot Grigio), on top of a spinach salad or with a mushroomy dish. But I also like to just stand at the counter and cut myself little slabs to eat solo. Why should Humboldt Fog share its glory with another food? It easily shines on its own.

The Cypress Grove Web site is also one of the best cheesemaker sites I’ve seen yet, with a day-by-day guide on the cheesemaking process, nutritional information and fun cheese trivia. For example, did you know that Americans, on average, eat more than a half-pound of cheese each week? I think I’m above-average in that category.

You can order Cypress Grove cheeses directly from the Web site or at most fine cheese shops and well-stocked grocery-store cheese counters.