Before I begin singing the praises of this lovely blue cheese – an apology. C+C has been woefully neglected this summer, mostly due to the newborn craziness that Colleen and I are both experiencing at our homes, and also due to the fact that I had to abstain from all dairy for almost two months to see if it would improve my little guy’s disposition. When my son’s pediatrician suggested I try a dairy-free diet, I sputtered, “But, but, I’m a cheese blogger!” But I knew it would give us the best shot at figuring out if he had food sensitivities, so good-bye ice cream, cheese, yogurt and other treats. It sucked. Thankfully, my recent trial back on dairy hasn’t given him any problems and he is a much happier baby overall, so bring on the cheese again!

I finally made it back to the Cheese Shop at France 44, and after getting my hands on a wedge of Kunik (oh, how I missed you, Kunik!), I scanned the counter for newcomers and set my sights on Sweet Grass Dairy’s Asher Blue. Regular C+C readers know that I’m a big fan of this Georgia cheesemaker’s Green Hill, so I figured Asher Blue would be equally delicious. I was right! (I love it when that happens.) This raw cow’s-milk cheese comes across as both creamy and spicy, thanks to the thick veins of blue running through it. It’s a little too sophisticated to be called a beginner’s blue, but the creaminess of the paste prevents it from being overwhelming.

The Sweet Grass Dairy website suggests using Asher Blue as the basis of a blue cheese dressing, but rather than dilute the cheese’s flavor with herbs and liquid, I’d rather crumble it directly onto a salad with toasted nuts and sweet dried cranberries. The old cracker-and-honey-drizzle treatment would work fabulously, too. Pair with Port, Sauternes, Cabernet or a dark ale.

There are blue cheeses, and then there are blue cheeses, and Persille de Malzieu, from the Langeudoc-Rousillon region of France, definitely falls into the latter category. See all that marbling in the cheese’s paste? That means it doesn’t skimp on sharp, spicy blue flavor. When Colleen and I did our taste test/photo shoot with the cheese a few weeks ago, I thought it may have tasted so strong to us because our pregnancy-altered palates are a bit sensitive, but no, apparently it tastes like that to everyone!

You may not have heard about Persille de Malzieu before. I certainly hadn’t before embarking upon this project. Availability can be spotty (hence, our ordering it from Murray’s rather than buying it at a Minneapolis or D.C. area cheese shop), and it’s a raw sheep’s-milk cheese, which often results in smaller production because sheep make far less milk than cows. But if you’re a blue-cheese lover and can get your hands on it, jump at the chance. Pesille de Malzieu is very moist and salty with a fantastic tang to it. It’s not as creamy as C+C favorite Roquefort, but with a good whole wheat cracker (we love Carr’s) and something sweet on the side, like a raisin chutney or dates, it would be a very satisfying dessert. Wine pairings tend toward the sweet as well – look for a Sauternes or Port.

Though Bleu de Basques Brebis is undeniably a French cheese (just look at its name), the fact that it’s made with sheep’s milk gives a hint as to which part of the country it’s produced. The Pyrenees mountain range covers both France and Spain, so it’s no surprise that a part of France so close to Spain would make a cheese using Spain’s favorite cheese-making milk.

Unlike the Bleu d’Auvergne I snacked on earlier this week, Bleu de Basques Brebis isn’t overwhelmingly creamy. While the yellowish-white paste is certainly smooth, the large pockets of blue veining give the cheese a bit of a crunch as well. It also retains some of the oiliness expected from a sheep’s-milk cheese, so Bleu de Basques Brebis is a cheese that suits a certain mood. If you just want a creamy comfort cheese, this shouldn’t be your pick, but if you’re looking for a cheese that offers an interesting contrast of textures and flavors, Bleu de Basques Brebis would be a good choice. Serve with Sauternes or Port, as suggested by Artisanal.

Note: This is one of the last cheeses I purchase at Premier Cheese Market. Sadly, Ken and Amy are closing the shop after three and a half years, and the last day of business will be this Sunday, Dec. 6. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, please visit one more time to support our friends in cheese! Best of luck on your new endeavors, Ken and Amy.

Parmigiano-Reggiano

When I first saw Parmigiano-Reggiano on the Wine Spectator list, I admit the first thought that came to mind was, “Duh!” It’s a no-brainer to include the cheese that sits tabletop at every Italian restaurant in the country. But many Americans likely associate it with a green can, and if you think I’m referring to that shredded junk, honey, you’re reading the wrong blog.

The real Parmigiano-Reggiano comes from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and is D.O.P. (Protected Designation of Origin), which means that any wheel of Parm sold with that symbol is the real thing. Ask your cheesemonger to show it to you when he or she cuts you a wedge. Made from pasteurized cow’s milk, the cheese is shaped into 80-lb. wheels and aged for a minimum of one year and 20-24 months on average. The longer it’s aged, the grainier and crumblier the cheese becomes and different flavors come through more strongly. Younger wheels of Parm often have notes of vegetables or grass, while older wheels gain fruitier and spicier tones. Personal preference (and cheese shop availability) can determine which kind you buy.

Though Parmigiano-Reggiano is often grated onto pasta dishes or salads, it can also have a place of honor on your cheeseboard. Guests can tear off small hunks for snacking with fresh or dried fruit. Try thin slices with apple wedges – it’s a nice change from the traditional apples and cheddar combo. Wine pairings are all over the map. Wine Spectator recommends a sparkling wine, like Champagne or Prosecco, if you’re nibbling the cheese as an appetizer and Port for after dinner. The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano suggests dry white wines for younger versions, building to full-bodied reds for the super-aged varieties.

On Wisconsin! Yes, it’s the state song, but it’s the also the attitude I hold toward Wisconsin’s blue cheeses. Though blues may not be the first cheeses you think about when you think of America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin is proving itself to be a champion blue-cheese-producing state. I picked up a couple of blues during my jaunt to Madison late last month at the fantastic cheese shop Fromagination (wow, the weight I would have gained in college if this store existed then!) and hope I’ll be able to find them here in Minnesota once my stash runs out.

The first cheese, Ader Käse Reserve from Seymour Dairy Crest, is a particularly creamy and salty blue that takes it cue from German blues by going through an intensive aging process. This pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese is carefully monitored for six months, and the result is a fragrant but not overpowering blue. Port is the no-brainer pairing, and you could echo the cheese’s saltiness by serving it with cured meats or mitigate the tang with a handful of unseasoned nuts and dried fruit.

When my Ader Käse Reserve was being cut and wrapped, the cheesemonger offered me a sample of another local blue, Moody Blue from Roth Käse, and I almost fell over from the sumptuous smoky flavor. Made from local cow’s milk and aged for a minimum of four months, this cheese is smoked over fruit wood, which makes it smell like a campfire and taste like no other blue I’ve had before. It has a much stronger flavor than the Ader Käse Reserve but offers a similar level of saltiness and creaminess. Dark chocolate would be a decadent pairing, while fruit compotes or chutneys would provide a lighter touch. Roth Käse recommends serving Moody Blue with Côtes du Rhône red wines or – if you prefer beer – stout, porter or Belgian Lambic.

Well if you haven’t heard by now, cheese loving friends, August is National Goat Cheese Month, and we intend to celebrate to the fullest with some of the remaining goats-milk cheeses on the list. (Can’t wait? Check out the goats we’ve loved thus far.) But first, a blue cheese from Spain that has a bit of goat, the esteemed Valdeon.

Valdeon is a mixed-milk blue, made from goat and cows milk, hailing from Northern Spain. The cheese is wrapped in sycamore leaves and aged for 2-3 months; the leaves impart an herbal complexity in both the smell and flavor. The cheese is dense, sweet and creamy and full-flavored, but less sharp than other blues. It’s a perfect dessert cheese and/or well suited for pairing with fresh summer fruit. I enjoyed it with the sweet-tart flavor of my sister-in-law’s homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. I could also see it matched with some in season fresh figs. You’ll definitely want to go with a sweeter wine pairing, such as port.

The third in a series of tasting notes from our New York Summer ’09 Cheese Tour. Though chzday09 actually took place on Sunday, June 28, Colleen and I did a practice run, so to speak, in Brooklyn the previous day. After spending some time at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum with the extended dccheese family and feasting on pastrami at Junior’s Deli, we made a quick stop at Stinky Brooklyn before I headed into Manhattan and Colleen went to the No Doubt concert at Jones Beach (lucky!).

A slip of a shop in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood, Stinky Brooklyn nonetheless packs in a large variety of cheeses, meats (you can’t miss the selection of hams with hooves still attached) and all the classic accompaniments into its four walls. While the bus of visiting cheesemongers in town for the Fancy Food Show made the shop very crowded, we managed to squeeze our way in to pick out a couple of cheeses from the Wine Spectator list that we had yet to sample. Colleen and I usually like to take time to chat with the cheesemongers, taste a few (or several) cheeses and poke around the non-cheese items, but the volume of hungry customers made it impossible this time. Hopefully, we’ll make it back another time for a more leisurely visit and tasting session.

We were excited to see one of the two Portuguese cheeses on the list at Stinky Brooklyn – Nisa, a raw sheep’s-milk cheese made in the country’s Alentejo region. A creamy, yeasty cheese, Nisa seemed lighter than the Gabietou, though it had a similar consistency. We noticed a less pronounced “sheepiness” (i.e. oiliness) to the cheese but still enjoyed its drier texture and herbaceous flavor. Being Portuguese, Nisa is a can’t-miss match for Port or a light-bodied red wine.