After nine months of abstaining from wine, it was only appropriate that I select a boozy washed-rind cheese for my first post-partum review. Like the wine in which it is bathed, L’Affiné au Chablis is made in the Burgundy region of France, which is also home to the notorious stinker Epoisses. But if you have a stinky-cheese-phobic spouse like mine, you don’t have to worry about this cheese causing him to hide in the basement for the better part of the evening – L’Affiné au Chablis is much milder than Epoisses and lacks its odorous punch.

So what makes this cheese worth seeking? Its creaminess, of course – as with many soft-ripened cow’s-milk cheeses, L’Affiné au Chablis has a luxurious mouthfeel that’s hard to resist. I let my wheel sit on the counter for a couple of hours and then dug into it with a spoon. My mom was a little weirded out by this gesture, but I found it to be a perfectly appropriate way to consume the cheese. (It was delicious on a cracker, too, in case you agree with my mom.) The flavor of the Chablis is definitely present with each bite, but it was subtle enough to allow the creamy richness of the cheese to take center stage. The wine pairing should be pretty obvious.

One of the many benefits of making friends with your cheesemongers is that you can often get an early scoop on what’s new and tasty in the shop that week. France 44/St. Paul Cheese Shop poobah Benjamin and I have an ongoing Twitter conversation (I don’t see him in the Minneapolis shop much anymore now that he spends most of his time in St. Paul), and late last week he clued me in on some exciting Spanish cheeses that were hitting the case that weekend. So when I arrived at France 44 after yoga on Saturday, the manager, Song, had lots of new cheeses for me to try, and Leonora was one of them.

Leonora comes as a big brick of goaty goodness, and Song used a toothpick to scrape some of the gooey paste for me to try. I was sold immediately. The fresh-tasting cheese had hits of lemon and springtime, while the rind had the tangy bite of a properly ripened cheese. I don’t consider it to be an ultra-goaty cheese, though likely still too goaty for others (ahem, my husband), and the soft texture makes it an instant comfort food. Leonora would match beautifully with a medium- to full-bodied red wine (if I could only have a glass!) and could even be topped with some fruity olive oil and fresh herbs if you want to dress it up for a party.

*Editor’s Note: We’re coming down to the final five cheeses on the Wine Spectator list, and Colleen and I have had some trouble locating these cheeses at our local cheese shops, so we’re resorting to mail order and other methods for procuring them. While we wait for those cheeses to arrive, we’ll be writing about other interesting cheeses we’ve been enjoying.

I first read about Sweet Grass Dairy‘s Green Hill from the Washington Post All We Can Eat blog’s cheese blogger, Domenica Marchetti, and though her description of this Georgia-made, pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese made me drool, I still had a lingering doubt. Just a double-cream cheese? I’m a triple-cream snob, and I didn’t think the Green Hill could measure up to my favorite triple-cream cheeses. But then my cheesemonger friend Benjamin at the Cheese Shop at France 44/St. Paul Cheese Shop vouched for this cheese’s amazingness and offered to set aside a wheel for me, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it. A few wheels later, you could now say that I’m hooked.

Sweet Grass Dairy has only been around for 10 years, but it’s quickly establishing a reputation in the cheese world for to-die-for cow’s- and goat’s-milk cheeses. The milk from the grass-fed cows makes the Green Hill so sweet and buttery that you’d think you’re eating a rich triple-cream. It’s one of those cheeses that I must stop myself from eating because otherwise I’d eat the entire wheel in one sitting. I don’t even need a cracker – I just cut off gooey wedges and savor it without adornment. Of course, the Green Hill pairs beautifully with any kind of cracker or sweet berries, and it’s a natural companion for champagne or a Belgian ale. It was my Valentine’s Day present to myself this year, and it was even more delicious than a decadent chocolate dessert.

We may have had a whole box of cheeses waiting when Jill arrived for her visit last month, but that didn’t stop us from venturing to a cheese shop.  After all, Jill hadn’t been to La Fromagerie yet and we’re certainly not ones to miss out on visiting a new cheese shop! And of course we managed to come across something new, Bloomin’ Idiot from Hook’s Cheese Co. of Wisconsin. Yes, the same Hook’s whose 15-year cheddar has become something of an obsession around the cheese world. But that’s no reason to overlook their other fine cheeses, particularly the clever double-creme-slash-blue specimen here. In fact, prior to the cheddar craze Hook’s was known for their variety of blues. And since it’s Valentine’s week, it’s worth pointing out that Tony and Julie Hook were college sweethearts who’ve been making cheese together for over 30 years. Now that’s romance.

Bloomin’ Idiot is a cows-milk, semi-soft and creamy cheese that at first glance resembles a brie-style cheese. In fact, if you scoop out a bite from the middle and exclude the rind, it has that same mild, creamy, slightly sour milky taste you would expect. Take a bite with the bloomy, mottled rind, however, and you’ll get the tangy astringent flavor of a blue. Huh?

is it just me or is that cheese smirking?

In traditional blues, the milk is inoculated with mold and mold spores are injected into the cheese to encourage its development. By skipping the injections, this cheese develops blue only in the rind, creating a cheese with almost a split personality. We give this experiment two thumbs up, with bonus points for the amusing name.

As you might expect, it’s Vermont Cheese Week here on Cheese + Champagne, and the first virtual postcard from Vermont comes from Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, in the southern end of the Champlain Valley. We drove through the valley en route to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and it was breathtakingly beautiful even with the on-and-off rain showers.

This was one of the last cheeses I sampled at the festival, and I was delighted to find Hannah Sessions of Blue Ledge Farm tucked into the back corner as their Lake’s Edge is on our Wine Spectator list and had proven hard to find further south. This cheese is similar to Humboldt Fog, in that it is an aged goats-milk cheese with an ash layer and bloomy rind, but its taste is markedly distinct. It is fresher, with that sweet, clean taste of fresh chevre; the jet-black line of ash adds an earthy tang that awakens the palate. The pure milk taste distinguishes Lake’s Edge from more sour goats-milk cheeses, making this cheese approachable without compromising on flavor.

Blue Ledge Farm has a mixed herd of Alpine, Nubian and Lamancha goats, milked in season (February through November) and rotationally grazed on organically-maintained farmland. In keeping with the cheese’s name, we ate this cheese for lunch on the shores of Lake Champlain — by hand, improvising with dried banana chips as knives. My sister-in-law and I literally had to fight my 3-year-old for the last bites.

While Jill has been faithfully working her way through the “100 Great Cheeses” list, I have to confess to having strayed off course. The brief glimpses of warmer weather, in between DC’s recent monsoons, turned my thoughts to fresh local goats and I’ve undertaken a brief dalliance to journey coast to coast in a quest for some fresh farmstead cheese. These local goat cheeses, whether in fresh chevre form or lightly aged, are generally available in limited quantities and often don’t travel as far beyond their farm, making them ineligible for the Wine Spectator list. But we would be doing a disservice to you, dear readers, if we didn’t devote a little time to the best cheeses currently in season. Goat cheese has a season, you ask? Yes, indeed. Goats give birth in the spring, after all, meaning those early months of the year are when goats are producing milk. Coincidentally, that is when fresh green grasses on which goats graze are just sprouting, full of flavor that passes on through the milk and into that dollop of chevre atop your beet salad or asparagus pasta. As spring turns to summer, that peak grassy flavor mellows in bloomy-rind, slightly-aged goats milk cheeses, such as the two Maryland cheeses I’ve recently enjoyed from Spriggs Delight and Firefly Farms.

I’m a sucker for a cute kid’s face, human or goat, so I couldn’t pass up the new Spriggs Delight Farm offering at Cheesetique. Spriggs Delight is a mother-son operation in Sharpsburg, Maryland, who have been producing cheese for only a few years. This crumpled bloomy-rind round maintains a strong tangy, grassy goat flavor, and was well matched with some fruit-studded crackers that provided a little sweetness to contrast the almost tart taste of the cheese. 

 

I’ve been a fan of Firefly Farm‘s manchego-style Cabra LaMancha for some time, but it had been a while since I last sampled their award-winning Merry Goat Round, until getting reacquainted this past weekend at La Fromagerie’s “meet the cheesemaker” event. Firefly Farms‘ cheesemakers have recently moved away from managing goats themselves, instead purchasing all their milk from local Amish farmers who raise the goats on organic feed to Firefly’s specifications. During the warm months, the goats graze on wild grasses of the Allegheny plains of northwestern Maryland/southwestern Pennsylvania. Firefly is instead putting all their attention into perfecting their cheesemaking, and building a larger creamery that will double their capacity later this year. Firefly also gave up their organic certification given the expense of paying for hard-to-find certifiers to visit every six months, but continues to follow organic practices. Their Merry Goat Round is a bloomy-rind, Camembert-style cheese that is aged just three weeks. It has a remarkably clean, fresh flavor and a chalky, firm bite. As it ripens, it develops that soft gooey edge inside the rind but maintains the chalkiness in the middle. It is slightly sweet and surprisingly mild, with less of that goaty tang present in the Spriggs Delight cheese.

One of the advantages of these spring/summer goat cheeses is that mild flavor that makes them easy to pair with a wide range of drinks, from crisp white to summer rose or even a light, fruity red wine. Seasonal beers, like Dominion’s Spring Buck Blonde Ale, are also great picks. Of course, I stuck with my goat theme and went with a South African Goat’s Door chardonnay from Goats do Roam with this distinguished gentleman goat on the label (thanks to a Twitter friend’s recommendation). Merry Goat Round was also a hit with my toddler, who snatched my tasting slice right off the plate and said, “Is this cheese for me?” with such delight that I could hardly say no…

Stay tuned for some more “Local Goats” from around the country this week!

My cheese of the week likely needs no introduction, but just in case the name doesn’t ring a bell I will mention that its namesake is none other than Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, perhaps one of history’s most influential foodies. (Okay, “epicures,” if you prefer.) A French lawyer who fled to the United States during the Revolution, he penned “The Physiology of Taste” in 1825 which contained the words that have most recently become the sustainable food movement’s rallying cry: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” 

Brillat-Savarin is also credited with being one of the first low-carb dieters, so one assumes he would be honored to have a protein-rich, creamy French cheese named in his honor. Brillat-Savarin the cheese is a pasteurized cows-milk triple-creme brie-style specimen produced in Normandy. It is decadent indeed, delightfully creamy, with a bloomy natural rind. It is a touch more sour than your typical brie, with that subtle tang you’d find in the white parts of a bleu cheese. Best eaten with a spoon, or slathered over a nice fruit-studded bread. It is an ideal partner for a nice glass of French champagne*, if you’re so inclined.

*Speaking of celebrations, we’ve noted elsewhere but neglected to mention here the official cease-fire in the Roquefort wars. Americans can continue to enjoy Roquefort, Iberico ham and Pellegrino for the foreseeable future. Vive le Roquefort!