If you’ve been following Cheese + Champagne for the past two years, you’ve read our musings on cheeses from all over Europe – France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Greece and Portugal. And while there are many, many European cheeses that Colleen and I love and enjoy on a regular basis, we’ve taken special notice of the newer artisanal cheeses that are made right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Many are so new that they didn’t make the Wine Spectator 100 Great Cheeses list that sparked this blog, and now through we’re practically done with the list, we decided it was time to turn our focus exclusively on America. We won’t give up eating our beloved Chaources, Roqueforts and Manchegos, of course, but you’ll be reading more about the exciting newcomers and rediscovered favorites from our own shores.

I can’t think of a better cheese to start with than one hailing from my home state of Wisconsin. Uplands Cheese Company of Dodgeville is making it a very merry holiday for all of us cheese fanatics with the release of its first batch of Rush Creek Reserve. Inspired by the Swiss Vacherin d’Or, which isn’t available in the United States due to FDA regulations on imported raw-milk cheeses, this dreamy, drippy cheese is carefully made with autumnal raw cow’s milk and aged for just 60 days. Each 12-oz. wheel is bound with spruce bark and washed with various bacteria that give the rind its orange color. You’ll want to avoid tasting that rind, though – its grittiness mars the creamy goodness that lies underneath. Rather than cutting wedges from the side, run your knife along the cheese’s circumference on top, peel off the rind and dig in with a spoon.

I first heard about Rush Creek Reserve this spring, when Uplands cheesemaker Andy Hatch visited the Cheese Shop at France 44 with a huge wheel of his award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve. After swooning over the Pleasant Ridge Reserve for several minutes (and scoring a complimentary wedge in the process), I asked Andy if he was working on anything new, and he said, “Yeah, I’ve got this new cheese that I think will be ready in November. It’s like Vacherin d’Or.” I was immediately intrigued and asked Andy if I could come down to Dodgeville to watch the cheesemaking process, and he said he’d be happy to welcome me. Unfortunately, the demands of a new baby and a new job didn’t allow me to visit this year, but I don’t think I’ll let another year pass before knocking on Uplands’ door…

Anyway, back to the cheese! Saying it’s good is an understatement. Saying it’s great is an understatement. This is a world-class cheese that can go against Epoisses, Langres or any other washed-rind cheese that France has to offer. The paste is so sumptuous, so sublime, that it’s a dessert, not an appetizer. Not as stinky as Epoisses, Rush Creek Reserve still has the barnyardy aroma that a cheese lover associates with spectacular cheeses, as well as a meaty, slightly smoky flavor that is easy to savor. You can protest all you want that washed-rind cheeses are too strong or stinky – I challenge you to have one spoonful of Rush Creek Reserve and not be an immediate convert to the washed-rind cause. This is a truly special cheese and the perfect gift for the caseophile in your life.

Alas, it’s not easy to find. Its seasonal nature only allows Uplands to release Rush Creek over a few short months, and not all cheese shops have received shipments yet. I was lucky to snag one at France 44 (thanks, Benjamin, for putting me on “the list”), but Colleen hasn’t been able to buy one in Northern Virginia so far this winter. If your local cheese shop hasn’t had it in stock yet, be sure to ask your cheesemonger if he or she has put in an order. This is one cheese you won’t want to miss, and it’s worth every penny (I paid $24 for my wheel). And when you do get your hands on it, pair it with a Riesling, Gewürztraminer or a malty beer, per Andy’s suggestions in his interview with The House Mouse last month.

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Jill's dad at La Fromagerie

When my parents told me they were going to Paris, I did two things. First, I pitched a small fit that they weren’t taking me along. And then I asked them to bring me back cheese.

As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, my parents are not cheese people. Sure, they love pizza and even sprinkle a little feta on their salads, but they totally don’t get my cheese obsession. My mom just read the blog for the first time two days ago – and Colleen and I have been writing for two years. I was sure my parents would tell me to forget about it, but they surprised me by saying, “What do you want?” I said, “Something soft and gooey that you can’t find in the United States.” This was my politically correct way of saying, “Bring me some of that good, illegal, raw-milk stuff!”

I held my breath that Customs wouldn’t confiscate the cheese upon my dad’s return to the States, but somehow, even though he got pulled for extra screening, the cheese arrived back to my parents’ house in Seattle unscathed. And when I went to visit two weeks later, I got to claim it! I brought it back to Minnesota and waited for the perfect moment to cut myself a wedge and savor its creamy tang.

Oh. My. G-d. It was THAT good. The cheese was Boursault, and it had to be made with raw milk because I’ve never tasted such a rich cheese before. It had the consistency of a triple-cream cheese with the zestiness of a fresh chevre, even though it’s a cow’s-milk cheese (the picture of the goat on the label made me think it was goat’s milk), and is perfect for spreading on a water cracker. One taste of this cheese and pure bliss washes over you. You forget your work troubles, your dirty house, your extreme sleep deprivation. It’s the best thing to ever come from France, and that includes french fries.

I didn’t enjoy my cheese with any drinks – juggling two kids makes it hard to get to the wine shop – but I imagine it would pair beautifully with champagne (the real stuff). I have one tiny piece left, and then my cheesy goodness will be gone. Maybe Mom and Dad would like to Paris again…

Summer isn’t the season I typically think about Swiss cheeses – to me, they belong in a mid-winter fondue or on a snack plate when you’re cuddling in front of a fire. But there is a Swiss for all seasons, and I found the one perfect for warm-weather days: Challerhocker.

Challer what? I don’t blame you for asking – I had never heard of this cheese until it appeared at the Cheese Shop at France 44 a couple of months ago. (The name means “sitting in the cellar,” according to Cowgirl Creamery.) It’s produced by Walter Rass, the maker of Appenzeller, which you may recognize from the Wine Spectator list. Like Appenzeller, Challerhocker is a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, but it’s smaller and aged longer (at least 10 months). In her post 19 months old, Colleen noted Appenzeller’s smooth texture, fruity flavor and spicy finish. While Challerhocker is likewise very silky, its flavor reminds me more of clean, fresh straw, with a slightly caramel-like and nutty finish. It doesn’t demand hearty accompaniments like cured meats or cornichons, though it would certainly pair well with those foods. Challerhocker would be just as pleasing with a chilled glass of white wine or, as Janet Fletcher suggests, sherry or Madeira, and a few crackers on the side.

As an interesting aside: Challerhocker also keeps in your refrigerator (well-wrapped in cheese paper, of course) exceedingly well. I bought a hunk back in June before I went dairy-free, and it was still delicious today when I nibbled it again.

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.

Keswick Creamery is well-known among DC farmers market goers for their wonderful cheeses, yogurt and more. Located in Newberg, Pennsylvania, the small family dairy has been making cheese from their grassfed Jersey cows since 2001. Their ricotta is some of the best I’ve tasted, and local foodies rave about their creamy quark. So when I heard they had introduced some new cheeses, beer-washed raw milk tommes, I was eager to try them out.

I visited co-cheesemaker Mark Cochran at Sunday’s Bloomingdale Farmers Market, and he filled me in on two of the new additions: Mad Tomme and the Tommenator, both washed in craft beers from Pennsylvania’s Troegs Brewing Company.

Both begin with raw milk from the farm’s Jersey cows, which is turned into Alpine-style pressed cheese and aged 3-4 months. The Mad Tomme is washed with Troegs’ Mad Elf holiday brew, made with honey and cherries that impart a light sweetness to the finished cheese. The Tommenator is washed with the Double Bock, and has a stronger, maltier flavor. Both cheeses still retain that unmistakable grassy sweetness and yellow color of Jersey milk cheeses, and a dense but creamy paste.

It goes without saying that these are well suited for pairing with beer, especially Troegs. They are perfect for summer entertaining, either before, during or after dinner. I’d try the Tommenator on a burger, and perhaps save the Mad Tomme for dessert with a side of fresh cherries (or cherry pie!).

Keswick has recently pulled out of the Saturday farmers markets, but can still be found at the Dupont Circle and Bloomingdale markets on Sunday. Their cheeses are also available at Cheesetique and Cowgirl Creamery. Visit their website to learn more.

What first attracted to me to this stinky Vermont cheese is its name – Oma is German for “grandmother,” and my next-door neighbors growing up had an oma and an opa. I always thought those were funny names for grandparents (even though I had a bubbie and a zaydie), and they always stuck in my mind. So when I started hearing buzz about a cheese called Oma from the von Trapp Farmstead, I couldn’t forget about it, but I didn’t try it until this week.

Normally, one might think this would be an unusual cheese for a 39-week pregnant woman who is very sensitive to smells to choose. Of course, I am no normal 39-week pregnant woman. It’s a pretty potent one, though pleasantly so, similar to Jasper Hill Farm’s famed Winnimere, which I also bought this week. (Fun fact: Oma is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill!) I remember saying to my cheesemonger that it didn’t seem so stinky when I tasted it at the shop, but the beefiness of the cheese really comes through if you let it sit on the counter for at least two hours. The paste doesn’t ooze like a triple-cream but rather gets soft and ever-so-slightly rubbery. Though I typically eat the rind of most cheeses, I found this one to be a little too gritty for my taste. Pair with a full-bodied, dry white wine or Belgian beer (per Formaggio Kitchen’s recommendations) and get Oma’s funk on for yourself.

To the untrained eye, it might look like just another strip of shops along the Tamiami Trail heading south through Sarasota, Florida. But cheese hounds like yours truly could hardly miss a sign like this beckoning in between the surf shops, surf ‘n turf casual dining establishments and auto repair shops.

Naturally, we pulled in to sample the curd. Greenleaf Wisconsin Cheese shop professes to have 140 types of Wisconsin cheese; I didn’t count, but the coolers were well stocked with the ubiquitous cheddars and cheese spreads as well as a handful of Wisconsin’s finer offerings: Carr Valley cave-aged Marisa, the beloved raspberry BellaVitano, UplandsPleasant Ridge Reserve.

You could also stock up on Sprecher’s, sausages, Door County cherry preserves and assorted Wisconsin paraphenilia.

cheeseheads in paradise

Most exciting to me, though, was a new discovery: Billy’s Midget Bandaged Goat Cheddar from Capri Creamery. Capri Creamery is a one-man operation making cheese in Blue River, Wisc., from nearby organic Amish goat dairies. This raw milk cheddar has the flaky, crumbly texture and salty taste of a traditional clothbound cheddar, with added earthiness from the goats milk.

billy's midget goat cheddar (left) and bellavitano

billy's midget goat cheddar (left) and bellavitano

Capri’s cheeses are primarily found at the Dane County Farmers Market and Milwaukee and Madison, Wisc., shops and restaurants — and at Greenleaf in Sarasota, Florida. Perfect for your next picnic at the beach.