The Cheese + Champagne Vermont Cheese Week Tour continues with another Vermont cheddar on the Wine Spectator list.

The third of the Wine Spectator 100 cheeses* I was able to sample in Vermont was Grafton Village’s clothbound cheddar. I’ve sampled their younger cheddars previously, but had been unable to find their clothbound version locally. (In fact, when I called one cheese shop to inquire they thought I must be referring to the Cabot/Jasper Hill clothbound and encouraged me to try that instead.)

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival 

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Clothbound cheddars are common in the U.K., but a fairly new phenomenon here in the States. We’ve written before about the Cabot/Jasper Hill joint venture, and the Grafton Village clothbound is a team project as well. As we learned at the June Fancy Food Show, Grafton is now sending their wheels of clothbound cheddar to be aged in the sandstone caves of Faribault Dairy in Minnesota.

Grafton clothbound begins with hormone-free raw milk from their Jersey cows, produced by their co-op of Vermont dairy farmers, and is aged up to 10 months to develop a smooth, creamy yet earthy flavor and the familiar crumbly texture of good cheddar.

My taste buds were too taxed to try a Grafton/Cabot head-to-head taste off after making my rounds at the festival, but if you have the opportunity to try both at the same time I encourage you to do so and report back. And if you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, Grafton offers it for sale online.

* editor’s note/musings: At the time of the Wine Spectator selection, Grafton’s clothbound was also aged at Jasper Hill. Since we were unable to taste it until now, we have no idea how the taste might have changed with the move to a new aging facility. But wouldn’t that be a fun tasting experiment to taste identical cheeses aged in caves more than 1,000 miles apart?

 

Vermont Cheese Week resumes here on Cheese + Champagne, now that yours truly has reluctantly returned back south. Stay tuned for more virtual postcards from Vermont and a taste of Brooklyn’s cheese world as well.

The vast estate of Shelburne Farms served as host of the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and perhaps my biggest regret of the weekend was not spending more time touring the 1,400-acre non-profit farm. The farm is located just a few miles south of Burlington, and after driving up from Albany, NY, through the Champlain Valley we turned onto the dirt road into the farm expecting to see your usual grassy fields and dairy cows milling about. Sure enough, we were greeted by some meandering Brown Swiss cows, but we were surprised by the lush, FSC-certified forest, gorgeous 19th-century architecture, and most of all, to come around a bend and see this view of the lake.

Stunning, even on the dreary grey afternoon.

The festival was hosted in one of the barns, and the Shelburne Farms table was one of the first we visited. I was eager to try the 2-year-aged cheddar, another Vermont cheese on our Wine Spectator list; my sister-in-law and son were smitten with the smoked cheddar. (They’re not alone; Shelburne’s smoked cheddar won best of its kind at the American Cheese Society awards, one of the farm’s four blue ribbons this year.)

The farm was created as a model agricultural estate by William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb (yes, those Vanderbilts) in 1886, and became a non-profit in 1972. The cheese is just one part of the farm’s environmentally and economically sustainable programs; the green-certified timber is sold to local furniture-makers, and they lease land that houses the vineyards and winery for Shelburne Vineyards, organically cultivating climate-appropriate grapes to make high quality Vermont wines.  The herd of 200 purebred Brown Swiss dairy cows are grazed rotationally, meadows maintained without the use of chemical inputs and minimizing run-off; the cheese is even Humane Certified, making them just the third cheesemaker in the US to obtain the designation.

Okay, that’s all wonderful you say, but how does it taste? The cheddars are creamy, sharp and flavorful. The smoked cheddar had just enough smoke to lend flavor without overwhelming the sweet creamy cheddar base. The 2-year-cheddar was sharper, but again not overwhelmingly so; just enough bite to balance the creamy, nutty flavors. The cheeses are clearly a favorite of the locals, we spotted this display (above center) at Burlington’s Cheese Traders shop. It was a little early for apple season that far north — the u-pick blueberry patches were still open on our drive up — but if you have a chance to pick up Shelburne’s cheddar, I feel comfortable guaranteeing you’ll enjoy it on a grilled-cheese-and-apple sandwich this fall. It certainly went well with the Harpoon hard cider we sampled at the festival.

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.

Just a teaser. More to come when (if) I get back from Vermont. (Click for slideshow.)

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.

As someone who attempts to eat mostly locally, particularly during the summer months, I generally look the other way when purchasing cheeses shipped by plane, train and auto across the Atlantic or from the West Coast. Sure, I have plenty of fine, local cheeses to incorporate into my weekly all-local meals, outside of the scope of our “100 Great Cheeses” list. But as the French national holiday Bastille Day approached, I began to wonder, is there anything France can do that we haven’t tried in the US? Would an all-American cheese and sparkling wine tasting leave us wanting something more?

With the grudging assistance of my cheesemonger, aghast at my proposal of “ignoring 2,000 years of French cheesemaking history,” I assembled four all-American cheeses made according to French recipes:

  • Jasper Hill Farm‘s Constant Bliss (Vermont), made in the raw-milk tradition of chaource but with only the uncooled evening milk of their Ayrshire cows, this rich, buttery cheese seems like a double- or triple-creme, and pairs perfectly with a sparkling wine.
  • Roth Kase‘s Grand Cru Gruyére Reserve (Wisonsin), another raw milk pick, is as smooth as any French gruyére, with fruity, nutty notes. I loved this with the chocolate and both the bubbly and beer.
  • Sartori Raspberry BellaVitano (Wisconsin) is a cheddar-textured cheese soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale for a decidedly American flavor. As smooth as a comté, the added berry tang makes this a nice match for sparkling wine.
  • Salemville Amish Blue (Wisconsin) is a very mild, sweet buttery blue that would not be my first choice among American blues. It was actually almost too sweet for the ale, but was mild enough not to overpower the sparkling wine.

I paired the cheeses with homemade pickled sour cherries (following a French recipe), Taza Mexican-style chocolate from Massachusetts, Thibaut-Janisson sparkling wine from Virginia, and Southampton Abbot 12, a Belgian-style ale from New York. Not exactly a 100-mile cheese board by any means, but still entirely sourced from the Eastern half of the United States.

The Constant Bliss and Thibaut-Janisson were just as sweetly matched as chaource and champagne, while the more sweet than tangy American blue was more appreciated by the blue cheese-adverse than those of us with a weakness for Roquefort. All in all it was a solid showing by the Americans. And what did we eat following the tasting? All-American buffalo dogs on the grill and a cherry pie for dessert. Vive la Revolución Américain!


“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the tongue,
And therefore is fromage best sampled blind.”

– Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, adapted

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first: this is not an unbiased review. We first met Tia Keenan, mistress de fromage, virtually via Twitter. It was love at first tweet as we instantly sensed a kindred spirit in cheese. So when Jill and I realized the stars would align for us to meet midsummer in New York, Casellula was top on our agenda. On a night when the biggest and brightest of the professional cheese trade were in town, many also visiting this intimate cheese and wine cafe, Tia was a warm hostess and generous with her time and talent.

As cheese junkies, it is futile to ask what kind of cheese we like best. Would you ask a mother to name her favorite child? Well, right now we can, but that’s only because we each have only one. But back to the point, we prefer to do the asking when at a cheese shop or ordering a cheese plate, and our best finds are often those when we relinquish control and let the cheesemonger surprise us. This was certainly the case at Casellula, where we selected the New York flight as the most likely to contain cheeses we weren’t familiar with, and were delighted when Tia made a few adjustments for us. New York’s 3-Corner Field Brebis Blanche (so fresh!) and Red Meck were certainly delicious, but we were totally smitten with the Pipe Dreams chevre log and sweet pea puree pairing. Lazy Lady Farm’s Bipartisan, a fresh goat cheese ball dropped into a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, was a most welcome treat. The cheese plates Tia lovingly prepares are truly inspired, with pairings ranging from a typical mustard to pickled ramps and coconut macaroon balls.

While the rest of our trip was meticulously documented in photos, tweets and tasting notes, we declared ourselves off duty and simply savored our wine, cheese, plate of fresh anchovies with fennel and pickled shallots, blue cheese-laden endive salad and mouth-watering desserts. So we can’t tell you what wine we drank, other than that it was a lovely full-bodied white Czech tokai, but we can tell you that the parsnip cookies with Pipe Dreams chevre filling are simply not to be missed. Aside from that, entrust the wine suggestions and cheese selections to Tia’s capable hands, and you’re sure to walk away refreshed and inspired.

Casellula
Hell’s Kitchen NYC
401 W. 52nd Street
5pm – 2am, 7 days a week (reservations not accepted)
212.247.8137
Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe on Urbanspoon