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!

This spring, a new cheese shop opened on the main street of Old Town Alexandria, Va. That makes two cheese-dedicated shops each precisely 1.1 miles from my home, plus several cheese-stocking gourmet shops, which makes this cheesewriter one happy clam. Or curd, I guess you could say. Despite its French name and inspiration —  co-owner Sebastien Tavel is a native of the Rhone region — La Fromagerie specializes in high quality, local and domestic artisanal cheeses. A blackboard behind the sales counter proudly proclaims their support for several cheesemakers in the Chesapeake Bay region, including Everona Dairy (VA), Firefly Farms (MD) and Keswick Creamery (PA).

While they have a handful of your old European mainstays, Roquefort and the like, this is not the place to go with narrow-minded intentions of obtaining a specific Alpine cheese or brand of Robiola. Rather, this is the perfect shop to spend some time letting Sebastien and his wife Mary fill you in on their latest find. They offer domestic prosciutto and charcuterie from La Quercia (Iowa) and Salumeria Biellese (NYC), fresh, local glass-jarred milk, butter and yogurt (from Trickling Springs and Blue Ridge Dairies) and a carefully chosen wine and beer selection.  They’re also planning to host classes in the near future.  And with drier summer days finally in sight (perhaps?), call in an order for a local cheese and Virginia country ham picnic basket and stroll down to the waterfront for a romantic cheese lovers’ tryst.

This Saturday, June 6, La Fromagerie will host Firefly Farms’ cheesemakers for a special meet-the-cheesemaker tasting from 4 to 7 pm, and they are having a sale on burger-ready bleu cheeses through the weekend. Visit the website for more details, or stop by the upper King Street shop en route to the water taxi if you’re headed to the National Harbor Food & Wine Festival.

La Fromagerie
1222 King Street
Alexandria, VA
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30am – 8:00pm
Sunday 11:30am – 7:00pm
Closed on Mondays

With the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama just a week away, even foodies are getting in on Inauguration fever. From District-food gaffes to deciding not to decide on a new White House chef, every televised bite by the President-elect is fodder for the culinary media. The LA Times finds political irony in the Lincoln-themed Inaugural luncheon menu. There’s a blog devoted entirely to what Obama says about food, Obamafoodorama, and even a cheese named for the President-elect, the “Barick Obama” from Vermont’s Lazy Lady Farm. Naturally we thought we’d join the fray, and suggest some of America’s best “blue state” cheeses and brews for your Inaugural party.

It has also come to our attention that Prairie Fruits Farm* goat cheese from the President-elect’s home state of Illinois will be served at the Inaugural feast – atop arugula perhaps? (Thanks to The Media Table for the tip.) While we enthusiatically support the promotion of America’s artisanal cheesemakers, we wanted to take a moment to note that Mr. Obama need not phone home whenever a craving for fine curds strikes.

The Obamas can support family farms and eat locally by sampling our fine Mid-Atlantic cheeses. For goat cheese, Maryland’s Firefly Farms produces luscious, flavorful logs of hand-crafted fresh chevre and exquisite and unique Black and Blue and Cabra laMancha. Firefly’s innovative set-up sources milk from a cooperative of local Amish goat farmers to start with the purest milk available. The Cabra laMancha (pictured) is a washed-rind, Manchego-inspired cheese that won gold at last fall’s World Cheese Awards. It has a firmer texture than your traditional cows-milk washed-rind cheeses, with a grassy fresh taste and mild tang. Wash it down with Barboursville Vineyard‘s reserve chardonnay or viognier, from Virginia. (Barboursville’s Brut would make a fine, local alternative to the California sparkling wines being served at the Inaugural luncheon.)

Elsewhere in the region, Virginia’s Everona Dairy produces some of the finest aged sheeps-milk cheese around; try the Cracked Pepper for extra zip. Meadow Creek Dairy‘s Grayson, a nutty washed-rind Jersey cows-milk cheese, took top prize in last year’s American Cheese Awards. Firefly, Everona and Meadow Creek cheeses are all available at local cheese shops, and the first lady and daughters could stroll up Connecticut Ave. to meet Everona’s Dr. Pat herself at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market.  Of course, if they wanted to take the White House Organic Garden idea a little further, they could bring back a herd of sheep and make their own cheese … though I suspect they have more pressing items on their to do lists. 

Check back each day this week for more Inaugural cheese picks, and let us know what you’ll be noshing on to celebrate!

*Do read the story of Prairie Fruits Farm on their website; they are Illinois’ first farmstead cheesemakers and are creating a diverse, self-sustaining farm that also produces fruits, berries and grains. Unfortunately we couldn’t track down their cheeses here in DC or in Minneapolis, so if any readers come across it, do let us know what you think!

The place where our mutual infatuation with cheese really took root, Cheesetique is a lovely little shop in Del Ray, Virginia. It expanded in early 2008 to include a new cheese and wine bar, which also created a dedicated classroom space for the monthly themed cheese classes. In addition to the area’s best cheese selection, and friendly and knowledgeable cheesemongers, Cheesetique also stocks an array of charcuterie, fresh pasta, olive oils, gourmet crackers, local chocolates, all the necessary cheese accompaniments, wine and beer. (I recently wrote about my “Cheesetique Pasta,” made from the shop’s saffron pasta, salami and roasted tomatoes.)

You can check the archives here for recaps of a few of the past cheese classes, taught by Jill Erber, a.k.a. the Cheese Lady. Jill is the most gregarious cheese advocate I have yet to meet, and is surely destined for a career as the next food network star. Not on that cheesy reality competition, but as the host of a cheese talk/travel show. (Wouldn’t that be awesome?) 

Most recently, I enjoyed the samplings at the fall class, “Love ’em or Leaf ’em.” Some of these cheeses were ordered just for the class, so it was a special treat to enjoy them. A favorite was the Vento d’ Estate, an Italian cows-milk cheese that comes wrapped in a thick layer of green hay. The hay imparts a musty, grassy aroma and flavor to the cheese.

Cheesetique is not the only cheese shop in the area, so as the challenge goes on I will branch out a little and report back on some of DC’s other fine cheese cases. But if you are local, you really must make a point to stop in for a panini, cheese tasting, flight of wine or just some personal consultation with DC’s top cheesemongers.

Cheesetique is at 2411 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria. They open at 8am on Saturdays during the Del Ray Farmers Market season, stay open till 10pm Friday and Saturday nights, and are closed on Mondays. If you already know and love Cheesetique, why not join the fan club on Facebook? See you in the shop!