Don’t let the word latte fool you – this isn’t a coffee-infused cheese. Latte, of course, is Italian for milk, and Robiola Due Latte is made from the milk of two animals, cows and sheep. While you won’t find it at your neighborhood Starbucks, you should seek it out at your local cheese shop because when you’re craving an ooey, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth cheese, this one fits the bill quite nicely.

Robiola Due Latte comes from Italy’s Piedmont region, and some people compare it to Brie, but I think it’s much better. Brie can have a chalky aftertaste sometimes, but Robiola Due Latte is anything but chalky. True, it doesn’t have the tang of a goat’s-milk cheese, but the overwhelming creaminess of its paste more than makes up for it. This is a comfort cheese, the caseophilic equivalent of mashed potatoes. When you’re having a bad day, schmear it on some crackers or crostini and munch away your sorrows. Or if you’re celebrating, pop open a bottle of prosecco (or champagne) and go to town. You can’t help but feel better afterward.

It frequently happens that when we mention the name of our blog, the person responds, “Oh, I love champagne!” And I think to myself, “huh, we should really write about champagne someday…” Of course, it goes without saying that champagne pairs perfectly with a wide range of cheeses, but the use of its name here on the blog was originally intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Yes, we occasionally eat cheese with something bubbly, but really, cheese is perfect any time of the day, whether with coffee, chocolate, wine or even beer. Obviously, our focus here has been on the first half of the equation.

But if ever there was a time that called for cheese with champagne, surely it’s New Year’s Eve. Here are some of our favorite cheese and bubbly pairings (note we’re equal opportunists here, just as likely to serve cava or prosecco as the French version):

  • Cava with drunken goat and Mahon Curado, and Spanish almonds and olives
  • Prosecco cocktails with pecorino, such as pecorino foglie de noce, and tallegio.
  • For the real thing, champagne, stick with gooey French cheeses like Chaource. A warm crock of St. Marcellin is just the gooey sort of comfort food needed on a chilly winter night (assuming you’re not celebrating New Year’s in the Caribbean).
  • Of course you can stick with domestic products too, like Virginia’s Thibaut-Janisson Brut de Chardonnay and Cypress Grove’s bubble-worthy Truffle Tremor.
  • Some of my favorite cheese-and-bubbly pairings are not with wine at all, but with beer. Like Allagash’s effervescent Belgian-style White Ale with Jasper Hill’s Winnimere.
  • And for little ones, or designated drivers, try sparkling pear cider with a good cheddar. We might suggest Cabot clothbound.

Personally, I’ve got St. Marcellin and olives in the fridge for tonight, and an Oregon-inspired cheddar cheese ball in mind for watching the Ducks in tomorrow’s Rose Bowl. Jill’s planning a dressed-up comfort food meal of truffled mac ‘n cheese.

What are you enjoying your New Year’s cheese with?

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.

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.

We know budgets are tight these days, and gourmet cheeses can really make your grocery tab add up quickly. Here are a couple ways to incorporate cheese in your holiday feasts and still have enough money for the Hanukkah brisket, Christmas goose or whatever else is on your menu!

Pick a “showcase” cheese. Odds are you’re serving enough other food for people to fill up on, so you don’t really need to have multiple cheeses. Pick one high quality cheese, centered among spiced nuts and other accompaniments, and pair with a beverage, for a stand-out start or finish to the meal. Try Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor paired with a California sparkling wine for a first course, or a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano and spiced hot cider for an after dinner treat.

Make cheese a star ingredient. Baked brie – with seasonal cranberry sauce or fig preserves – stretches your cheese dollars and is sure to please a crowd. Or try blue cheese-filled endives, topped with pomegranate seeds (a la Eric Ripert) for festive little bites of cheese.

Look for budget-friendly cheeses. You don’t have to get the most expensive triple-creme cheese from France to wow your family and friends. Look for heartier favorites like a Dutch gouda or aged Irish cheddar – or look for domestic brands, like Cabot/Jasper Hill (Vermont) or Carr Valley (Wisconsin). Tillamook‘s vintage white extra sharp cheddar (Oregon) is a budget-friendly family favorite. A mild, hard cheese like cheddar and gouda will hold up well to a variety of foods and beverages as part of the holiday meal.

Skip the Champagne. Perfectly palatable sparkling wines from California, Spanish cava, or Italian prosecco can be found for $15-30, and will delight your guests when paired with cheese treats. I love Tarantas organic cava ($12.99 at Whole Foods) and have used Trader Joe’s $6 prosecco in pomegranate cocktails that are perfect for Christmas. Sean of Vinifico! recommends Zonin Prosecco Brut NV ($14), and Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre calls Scharffenberger Brut “America’s best bargain bubbly.” (See his blog for more bargain sparkling wine recommendations.)  

Hope your holidays are cheese-filled and merry!