One more cold-weather cheese from the Cheese and Champagne archives to keep you warm … check back next week for a fresh look and fresh posts!

… The cheese to put us back on track is Lincolnshire Poacher, a British Cheddar-like confection that you may find in your local cheese shop this time of year (I got mine at Surdyk’s). A raw cow’s-milk cheese that has been aged up to two years, Lincolnshire Poacher is made by the Jones family –  brothers Simon and Tim – who use the milk from their own Holstein cows to produce the cheese. Check out the family’s excellent Web site to learn more about the cheese-making process and watch videos of their self-proclaimed “happy cows.” (Hopefully, the California Milk Marketing Board won’t put up a fight for that slogan.)

Though you may frequently hear Lincolnshire Poacher described as a Cheddar, it’s not a true version of America’s favorite cheese. The recipe is loosely based on Cheddar, but the Jones boys say their modifications give their cheese a taste that’s a cross between Cheddar and Comté, and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Perhaps I’m biased based on my recent experience with Hook’s 15-Year Cheddar, but this cheese had a lighter, more subtle taste and lack of crystals, so my taste buds didn’t scream “Cheddar!” upon sampling. But could you use it in a recipe calling for Cheddar or slide it into Cheddar’s space on your cheeseboard? Absolutely.

One of the good things about a lighter-tasting cheese like Lincolnshire Poacher is that it is relatively easy to pair with drinks. Beer, of course, would be a no-brainer, and I could see it enjoyed with both red and white wines as long as they’re full-bodied. A sweet, fruity accompaniment greatly enhances the cheese’s flavor – I nibbled on some dried mango with my Lincolnshire Poacher last night and loved how the sugar content of the mango brought out the cheese’s underlying sweetness.

And if my words don’t convince you to try this cheese, maybe you’ll listen to one of our cheese-blogging colleagues, Kirstin, at It’s Not You, It’s Brie, who also recently posted about Lincolnshire Poacher.

— originally posted 1/20/10

The Cheese + Champagne Vermont Cheese Week Tour continues with another Vermont cheddar on the Wine Spectator list.

The third of the Wine Spectator 100 cheeses* I was able to sample in Vermont was Grafton Village’s clothbound cheddar. I’ve sampled their younger cheddars previously, but had been unable to find their clothbound version locally. (In fact, when I called one cheese shop to inquire they thought I must be referring to the Cabot/Jasper Hill clothbound and encouraged me to try that instead.)

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival 

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Clothbound cheddars are common in the U.K., but a fairly new phenomenon here in the States. We’ve written before about the Cabot/Jasper Hill joint venture, and the Grafton Village clothbound is a team project as well. As we learned at the June Fancy Food Show, Grafton is now sending their wheels of clothbound cheddar to be aged in the sandstone caves of Faribault Dairy in Minnesota.

Grafton clothbound begins with hormone-free raw milk from their Jersey cows, produced by their co-op of Vermont dairy farmers, and is aged up to 10 months to develop a smooth, creamy yet earthy flavor and the familiar crumbly texture of good cheddar.

My taste buds were too taxed to try a Grafton/Cabot head-to-head taste off after making my rounds at the festival, but if you have the opportunity to try both at the same time I encourage you to do so and report back. And if you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, Grafton offers it for sale online.

* editor’s note/musings: At the time of the Wine Spectator selection, Grafton’s clothbound was also aged at Jasper Hill. Since we were unable to taste it until now, we have no idea how the taste might have changed with the move to a new aging facility. But wouldn’t that be a fun tasting experiment to taste identical cheeses aged in caves more than 1,000 miles apart?

 

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.]

Since early March is definitely still winter here in Minnesota, an Alpine cheese is still in season. And when you’re sick of snow and slush, a cozy cheese like Vacherin Fribourgeois is just the thing to remind you that there are benefits to the cold. You probably wouldn’t have a bowl of French onion soup in July, which means you’d be unlikely to melt a thick slice of Vacherin Fribourgeois on top of such a bowl in that month, either.

This semi-firm, raw cow’s-milk cheese, another winner from Rolf Beeler, is a superb melter, as many Swiss cheeses are. (Go to town, fondue lovers!) Steven Jenkins compares it to Fontina, and I can definitely see some similarities. Though it has a washed rind, it doesn’t really have a big stink factor. Rather, the buttery, meaty flavor pleasantly coats the mouth and makes you want just one more taste. Pair it with some crusty bread (my favorite is the rustic loaf from Rustica Bakery) and snack away. A nice hunk with bread and a green salad would make a very satisfying lunch or light dinner.

Jenkins recommends enjoying Vacherin Fribourgeois with a big red wine from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley or the Piedmont. I tasted mine the other night with my unfinished can of diet ginger ale, and wouldn’t you know, that match wasn’t bad, either!