It’s National Goat Cheese Month and we’re determined to celebrate it to the fullest here at Cheese+Champagne. We’ve already sampled most of the American goat cheeses on our list, though, so this week I found a French cheese from the list, the Jacquin Aged Crottin. For comparison’s sake — and because I suspect National Goat Cheese Month was designed to promote American cheeses — I also picked up Vermont Butter & Cheese‘s fresh crottin.

Fromagerie Jacquin‘s Aged Crottin is a product of the Loire Valley, where the traditional young goat’s milk cheese recipes (Crottin, Selles sur Cher, Valencay) must be adapted to use pasteurized milk in order to meet the FDA’s import requirements. There’s an interesting tidbit at Artisanal about their work transporting and finishing the cheeses to maintain raw-milk characteristics in these deceptively complex cheeses. The aged crottin is a dense little dimpled ball of goats-milk that loses its goaty tang to mellow with age; firm and a little bit gamey, it has a buttery rich flavor.

The Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. crottin is younger, and I ironically got it for free at my cheese shop as they had too many on hand and find them hard to sell when they begin to age and look “like a real crottin.” It is softer, creamier, a little floral in flavor and still retains more of that tangy goat flavor you would expect from a young goat cheese. The company also make an aged version called Bijou that may be more similar to the Jacquin; I will be sure to keep an eye out for it and give it a try. (If you’re not familiar with Vermont Butter & Cheese, they were some of the pioneers of the Vermont cheese industry, launching a French-inspired goat cheese business in 1984 that now supports more than 20 family dairy farms around the state. They just won awards at ACS for their fresh goat cheese, fromage blanc and butters.)

These cute little doorknob-sized cheeses are perfect for summer entertaining. I made a late afternoon cheese board of the two, a bright citrusy Salumi Agrumi, and a fig-olive tapenade whose sweet-salty tango was perfect with the mildly tangy crottins. Fromagerie Jacquin suggests a Sancerre or “rouge corsé” with the aged crottin; I enjoyed it with a Virginia Petit Verdot from North Gate.

P.S. I found the Jacquin aged crottin at the Italian Store in Arlington, Va.

Sharing the same bright orange hue as Mimolette, Double Gloucester luckily does not mimic that French cheese’s blahness. Many confuse it for a cheddar, but Double Gloucester is not quite as firm. The cheese is made from the raw, whole milk from two milking sessions, hence the “double” moniker. (Single Gloucester is also made in England, but is not exported nearly as much, according to the British Cheese Board.)

I served Double Gloucester last week as part of a cheeseboard with a Belgian goat gouda, Humboldt Fog and Ouray, and while the four of us all enjoyed it, we had a hard time describing its flavor. My friend Casey thought it was minty, and upon further tasting and reflection, the rest of us got a sense of the cheese’s herbal undertone. Artisanal calls it “eggy” and says it has “the sweet aroma of milky carrots.” Regardless of how you describe it, Double Gloucester is delicious, and I like it paired with Stilton in the layered cheese creation called Huntsman. Serve it with a big red like Syrah or a British ale.

You’d assume that a cheese called Manchester would be British, but no, this one is all red, white and blue.

Named for Manchester, Vt., this aged raw-milk cheese is a prime example of how a good goat cheese doesn’t have to reek of goats. The Consider Bardwell Farm in western Vermont makes the cheese from the milk of pasture-raised goats but then ages the 3-lb. tommes in Jasper Hill Farm‘s caves. The result is a semi-firm, nutty cheese with a taste that reminds of jumping around in a hay-filled barn. If that doesn’t get you in the mood for summer, I don’t know what will!

Artisanal Cheese recommends a Chenin Blanc as the accompanying sipper to Manchester, and I think any light, fruity wine would be a good match. I don’t know if rosés will be trendy this summer, but I’d be willing to give it a shot. Hell, I eat Lucky Charms in applesauce, so do you really think I care about wine trends?

I’m not sure how it happens, but sometimes a weekend comes and goes and I neglect to visit my local cheese shop. And then Monday morning arrives in all its rainy dreariness and I realize I’m without a cheese for the week and both of the cheesemongers in my town are closed for the day. Fortunately, yet another new gourmet shop has opened in Old Town, Alexandria (VA), to help fill the gap. “The Butcher’s Block, A Market by RW” at the newly-opened Lorien Hotel is essentially the kitchen pantry of Chef Robert Wiedmaier, who expands his DC restuarant empire (Brasserie Beck, Marcel’s) with Brabo and Brabo Tasting Room here at the Lorien. In addition to wine, beer and gourmet goodies like salts, chocolates, olives, nuts, etc., the shop offers sandwiches, sauces and stocks, charcuterie and fresh meat – pork belly! – and a small collection of fine cheeses. The cheeses tilted towards a European selection, and I was able to find a Mahon Curado that I’ve enjoyed in the past but have not yet officially reviewed here. A carton of fresh Lucques olives and bottle of wine rounded out the purchase. (I have to confess I didn’t think too hard about the wine selection; Brabo’s Chef de Cuisine Chris Watson was pouring complementary glasses to entice shoppers to linger – quite successfully – and its summer-ready flavor were an easy sell on those of us hiding out from the rain and thinking of warmer weather.) 

Mahon Curado is an aged, raw cows-milk cheese from Menorca, Spain. The semi-firm cheese is coated in paprika and olive oil before aging, imparting a rich, nutty flavor with a hint of smoke. The wine I purchased, Velt.1 2007 Gruner Veltliner of Austria, is a crisp summer white with a lovely yellow-green hue. Its bright, acidic taste was a nice match with the sweet Mahon. And of course, few things go better with Spanish cheeses than olives and pork products; in this case, a “prosciutto-style” ham from Virginia’s Cibola Farms. 

The Butcher’s Block
1600 King Street
Alexandria, VA  22314

I have to confess that this cheese was the first that made me doubt the trusty “100 Great Cheeses” list, in its candy apple red wax coating and plastic shrinkwrap that made my inner cheese snob bristle. But after Jamie wrote on Serious Cheese this week about Grafton Village Cheese’s move to subsidize their supporting dairy farmers in the wake of falling milk prices, I decided to give Grafton a shot. I called around to my local shops and only Whole Foods carried Grafton’s cheddars. Despite my best “rain, rain, go away,” warblings, every nice DC day seems to be offset with another two rainy days, and today was one of the latter. Putting aside wistful thoughts of fresh chevre, I picked up the cheddar, some tomato soup and a loaf of whole wheat baguette and set about making a classic grilled cheese combination: apple, cheddar, arugula. (Mostly local, even, in a nod to Earth Day. The arugula comes from Va.’s Endless Harvest and apples from Pa.’s Toigo Orchards, both at DC’s Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market.)

I peeled back the red wax to reveal a milky white, crumbly cheese. The first bite was surprisingly full-flavored, a perfect balance of sharpness and sweet cream flavors, clearly indicative of a high quality milk base. Sure enough, Grafton Village carefully selects milk from rBST-free Jersey cows through Vermont dairy co-ops. The subsidy they’ll be paying out to their dairy suppliers will include a premium based on the butterfat and protein content of the milk. Grafton, who’s been making cheese in the historic village of Grafton, Vermont, since 1892, also makes a clothbound cheddar which also earned a spot on the Wine Spectator list. Alas, no local shops carry that one, so it goes on the “wanted” list for future tasting. (Cowgirl suggested Cabot’s clothbound as a substitute, which we’ve reviewed previously.)

At $3.99 a loaf, Grafton’s 1-year cheddar provides a nice break on the wallet, too. Whole Foods also carries a 2-year-aged and maple versions. Based on my first impressions, I’ll be giving Grafton Village’s other cheeses a try too. 

(Psst … this has almost nothing to do with cheese, but if you’re in the DC-area and enjoy our other regional delicacy, blue crabs – or just enjoy clean water, please stop by FoodieTots and check out today’s “Blog for the Bay” virtual rally for the Chesapeake.)

In light of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday, I turned my head toward Ireland this week. Actually, I turned my car toward Surdyk’s, where I purchased Ardrahan Farmhouse cheese, but same diff.

And for someone who is not at all familiar with Irish cheeses, I was quite pleased with the Ardrahan. A semi-firm, cow’s-milk cheese made in County Cork by cheesemaker Mary Burns, Ardrahan was born out of a desire of Mary and her family to eat higher-quality dairy products. The washed rind gives it the heady aroma that cheese lovers come to expect from these cheeses, and it gets more and more intense the longer you let the cheese sit at room temperature. And since I like my cheeses as gooey as possible, mine was pretty pungent by the time I sampled a piece. The cheese had begun to liquify near the edges, just as I like it, but the middle kept its semi-firm texture. The flavor was a little earthy but not overwhelmingly so.

While Brooklyn’s Bedford Cheese Shop states that Ardrahan Farmhouse is “great with anything remotely alcoholic,” the Burns family recommends a full-bodied Shiraz, Sancerre or Port. Of course, Irish whiskey would be a natural pairing as well. Happy St. Patty’s Day!

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!