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…

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.

‘Tis a pity that we didn’t discover Brunet until we were toward the end of our journey through the Wine Spectator 100 Great Cheeses list. ‘Tis a pity that neither Colleen nor I could find it in our local cheese shops, so we had to turn to the pricey mail-order option (though we appreciate that it is an option – thanks, Murray’s!). But we won’t have a pity party today because Brunet is such a find, such a cheesey revelation, that we should only celebrate its deliciousness and forget about shipping fees.

I don’t often associate Italy with goat’s-milk cheeses. Cow, definitely, sheep, occasionally, but not goat. Brunet is here to make you forget your prejudices for the Italian cheeses produced from the milk of those two animals, though. Hailing from the Piedmont region and made with pasteurized milk, Brunet has the texture of a French triple-crème but the lightness of a clean-tasting chevre. Left out on the counter for a couple of hours, its paste becomes liquidy and oozing – you could just as easily eat it with a spoon as you could with a knife and a cracker. Its goaty flavor, though subtle, comes through at the beginning and the end of each bite, and if you hold the rind on your tongue you get the tangy sensation that goat-cheese lovers crave.

Brunet would pair nicely with a Chardonnay or any light sparkling wine. If not pregnant, you could bet I’d be toasting its fabulousness with a bubbly beverage, so I may have to reward myself with another shipment come May. It’s just that good.

Camembert is one of those cheeses that I should really like, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it. But out of all of the yummy soft-ripened cheeses available today, it ranks toward the bottom of my list. Shocking, I know, to say such a thing about one of the world’s best-known and lauded cheeses, but it’s true.

True Camembert is made in the Normandy region of France with raw milk, but of course, you won’t find it here in the United States because it isn’t aged long enough to meet our government’s standards. So we get a pasteurized version that purists would probably call an imposter, but unless you’re traveling to France, it’s the best you’re going to get. I haven’t been to France in nine and a half years and I wasn’t crazy into cheese then like I am now, so I’ve never had “real” Camembert and have no basis for comparison. But the pasteurized Camembert I did buy earlier this week just didn’t impress me. Sure, it had the creamy paste I adore, but the rind crumbled into tiny pieces that weren’t very pleasant to the palate. And the taste was more earthy and funky, for lack of a better term, than I typically enjoy in a soft-ripened cheese. Perhaps I didn’t let my wheel sit on the counter long enough (though I think two hours should be adequate), or I got an older wheel, but something tasted off. It wasn’t buttery or grassy, as Artisanal Cheese says it should be.

Of course, I’m not about to let the rest of my 8-oz. wheel go to waste, so I’ll still eat it. I’ll let it sit out for three hours and maybe add some fruity accompaniments. My pregnancy won’t allow me to try Camembert with wine, unfortunately, but Wine Spectator recommends Chardonnay or hard cider from Normandy and Artisanal suggests Cabernet Sauvignon.

A cheese that comes snuggly tucked in its own crock has to be good, right? That was my assumption when I picked up this cute little cow’s-milk cheese at Surdyk’s last week. Though St. Marcellin doens’t fit into our goat-cheese theme, it is a fine cheese to include on your cheeseboard any time of the year.

St. Marcellin is produced in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, which is in the southeastern part of the country – an area known for fabulous food. If you travel there, you’d likely find a raw-milk version of St. Marcellin, but here in the United States, we have to make do with the pasteurized variety, which isn’t really a sacrifice because the cheese is so damn good. Ignoring the rule that you should let a cheese sit at room temperature for one hour before eating it, I let my St. Marcellin sit out for three hours (a.k.a. dinnertime and two episodes of “Mad Men”). By then, the paste was a puddle of ooey-gooey deliciousness, just the way I like it. It was more practical to eat it with a spoon than with a knife at that point.

The taste wasn’t unlike Chaource – a creamy, slightly mushroomy blend of flavors. It had the decadence of a special-occasion cheese, but I never save cheese for special occasions – a Tuesday night is a good enough reason for me! And the three-ounce size almost makes it guilt-free – you know you can’t overdo it because it’s not a large wedge of cheese. If you enjoy St. Marcellin with a glass of a heart-friendly red wine, like a Syrah or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, you could even consider it a healthy snack.

Continuing with the National Goat Cheese Month theme here at C+C, today we venture to Italy to sample one of its most delicious cheeses, Caprino. Based on the Italian word capra, which means goat, caprini are delectable little goat’s-milk cheeses from the country’s Piedmont region, which borders France and Switzerland. It’s not surprising then that caprini resemble French chevres in shape and texture, but the sumptuous Caprino Tartufo I sampled is in a class all of its own.

Though it’s actually a Caprino Stagionato on the Wine Spectator list, I couldn’t find that cheese (often aged and seasoned) anywhere in the Twin Cities, and the Caprino Tartufo is a worthy substitute. Left to sit on the counter for just an hour, the cheese oozed runny paste when I cut into it. It lacked a strong goat odor and taste; instead, the clean creaminess made it a refreshing start to my dinner. The truffle (tartufo) added an earthy touch but didn’t overwhelm the cheese’s smooth flavor.

In his “Cheese Primer,” Steven Jenkins notes that Italians often eat their caprini with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked black pepper, so I got out my special bottle of Israeli extra-virgin olive oil and poured a dab onto the cheese, topping it with pepper. I tasted each ingredient separately upon taking my first bite – the fruity splash of the olive oil stands out at the beginning, then you get a smooth swallow of the cheese, and finally the spiciness of the pepper bursts through at the end. It would be a stand-out appetizer at a summer dinner party, provided you buy enough caprini to keep your goat-cheese-loving guests sated. Sommelier Mauro Cirilli recommends serving caprini with a light-bodied white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc from Italy’s Fruili-Venezia region.