It’s no secret that sweets make ideal accompaniments for many cheeses — chocolate, jams and honey are popular condiments on a cheese board for a reason. So why not take the next logical step and add Christmas cookies for the ultimate holiday cheese board?

I made lingonberry tart cookies, perfect for balancing the fruity yet tangy bite of the Rogue River blue. The sweet Prima Donna gouda tasted even sweeter after a nibble on a gingerbread cookie. Earthy yet mild Cabra de Cana (a Spanish version of Rebluchon) was a creamy palate refresher, and the board is rounded out with some dried fruit and chocolate salted caramels (Kingsbury Confections, a local treat).

Cana de Cabra (Spain), Rogue River Blue (Oregon), Prima Donna (Netherlands)

Jill makes white chocolate-coffee-cashew biscotti that is perfect with aged gouda or a decadent triple-cream. I’m still pondering what to match with my cranberry-pistachio biscotti, but I might go creamy there too. I plan to set these out on Christmas day to nibble on with coffee and perhaps a champagne cocktail in the afternoon.

We hope you have a cheesy holiday — and if you’d like to share your holiday cheese board, please send a picture to dccheeseATgmailDOTcom or Twitpic to our attention @100cheeses. We may post the best ones here. Merry Cheesemas!

Advertisements

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.

Well if you haven’t heard by now, cheese loving friends, August is National Goat Cheese Month, and we intend to celebrate to the fullest with some of the remaining goats-milk cheeses on the list. (Can’t wait? Check out the goats we’ve loved thus far.) But first, a blue cheese from Spain that has a bit of goat, the esteemed Valdeon.

Valdeon is a mixed-milk blue, made from goat and cows milk, hailing from Northern Spain. The cheese is wrapped in sycamore leaves and aged for 2-3 months; the leaves impart an herbal complexity in both the smell and flavor. The cheese is dense, sweet and creamy and full-flavored, but less sharp than other blues. It’s a perfect dessert cheese and/or well suited for pairing with fresh summer fruit. I enjoyed it with the sweet-tart flavor of my sister-in-law’s homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. I could also see it matched with some in season fresh figs. You’ll definitely want to go with a sweeter wine pairing, such as port.

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

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.]

Garrotxa is a lovely blue-gray round of aged goats’ milk cheese from the Catalan region of Spain. It is mild, creamy yet flaky with a very subtle herbal flavor and mushroom aroma. It is similar in flavor to manchego, though without manchego’s oiliness. The paste is pure white, making it difficult to capture in its glamour shot!

Garrotxa is delightful on its own, and would be great shaved over a simple green salad or even pasta. Artisanal suggests pairing it with champagne, and of course it would go well with Spanish cava or tempranilla. Read more about the Catalan food scene at the Humble Gourmand.