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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Summer isn’t the season I typically think about Swiss cheeses – to me, they belong in a mid-winter fondue or on a snack plate when you’re cuddling in front of a fire. But there is a Swiss for all seasons, and I found the one perfect for warm-weather days: Challerhocker.

Challer what? I don’t blame you for asking – I had never heard of this cheese until it appeared at the Cheese Shop at France 44 a couple of months ago. (The name means “sitting in the cellar,” according to Cowgirl Creamery.) It’s produced by Walter Rass, the maker of Appenzeller, which you may recognize from the Wine Spectator list. Like Appenzeller, Challerhocker is a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, but it’s smaller and aged longer (at least 10 months). In her post 19 months old, Colleen noted Appenzeller’s smooth texture, fruity flavor and spicy finish. While Challerhocker is likewise very silky, its flavor reminds me more of clean, fresh straw, with a slightly caramel-like and nutty finish. It doesn’t demand hearty accompaniments like cured meats or cornichons, though it would certainly pair well with those foods. Challerhocker would be just as pleasing with a chilled glass of white wine or, as Janet Fletcher suggests, sherry or Madeira, and a few crackers on the side.

As an interesting aside: Challerhocker also keeps in your refrigerator (well-wrapped in cheese paper, of course) exceedingly well. I bought a hunk back in June before I went dairy-free, and it was still delicious today when I nibbled it again.

What separates the cheese freaks (like myself) from mere cheese lovers or cheese admirers? A subscription to Culture magazine. A willingness to spend $20 or more each week on cheese. And use of the following words when describing cheese: “beautiful,” “mind-blowing,” “irresistibly charming.”

All those phrases are apt for my second featured cheese of the week, Tome d’Aquitaine. Also known as Clisson, this French goat’s-milk cheese takes cheese worship to a whole new level. Its paste is light, floral and salty, with a smoothness that makes it easy to inhale. During the dog days of August, Tome d’Aquitaine is a breath of fresh air – perhaps a breeze blowing off the Atlantic. I don’t meant to get all poetic – it’s just that good.

Tome d’Aquitaine is another example of how cheesemakers can work in tandem to create tantalizing cheeses that neither could fully develop on its own (see Clothbound Cheddar, Cabot and Jasper Hill, and Grafton and Faribault Dairy). This cheese begins its journey in the Loire Valley (a premier goat-cheese-producing region) at the Union Laitiere de la Venise Verte, a dairy cooperative that produces cheese, butter and baby formula. Later on the wheels of Tome d’Aquitaine travel to Bordeaux, where renowned affineur Jean d’Alos washes the rind in brine and Sauternes. The result – total cheese bliss. Serve it up with a dry white wine, like a Muscadet from the Loire Valley.

Psst…this cheese also makes a great birthday gift, and I’d share it with a certain birthday girl today if we didn’t live 1,000 miles apart. Happy birthday, Colleen!

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.

Keswick Creamery is well-known among DC farmers market goers for their wonderful cheeses, yogurt and more. Located in Newberg, Pennsylvania, the small family dairy has been making cheese from their grassfed Jersey cows since 2001. Their ricotta is some of the best I’ve tasted, and local foodies rave about their creamy quark. So when I heard they had introduced some new cheeses, beer-washed raw milk tommes, I was eager to try them out.

I visited co-cheesemaker Mark Cochran at Sunday’s Bloomingdale Farmers Market, and he filled me in on two of the new additions: Mad Tomme and the Tommenator, both washed in craft beers from Pennsylvania’s Troegs Brewing Company.

Both begin with raw milk from the farm’s Jersey cows, which is turned into Alpine-style pressed cheese and aged 3-4 months. The Mad Tomme is washed with Troegs’ Mad Elf holiday brew, made with honey and cherries that impart a light sweetness to the finished cheese. The Tommenator is washed with the Double Bock, and has a stronger, maltier flavor. Both cheeses still retain that unmistakable grassy sweetness and yellow color of Jersey milk cheeses, and a dense but creamy paste.

It goes without saying that these are well suited for pairing with beer, especially Troegs. They are perfect for summer entertaining, either before, during or after dinner. I’d try the Tommenator on a burger, and perhaps save the Mad Tomme for dessert with a side of fresh cherries (or cherry pie!).

Keswick has recently pulled out of the Saturday farmers markets, but can still be found at the Dupont Circle and Bloomingdale markets on Sunday. Their cheeses are also available at Cheesetique and Cowgirl Creamery. Visit their website to learn more.

What first attracted to me to this stinky Vermont cheese is its name – Oma is German for “grandmother,” and my next-door neighbors growing up had an oma and an opa. I always thought those were funny names for grandparents (even though I had a bubbie and a zaydie), and they always stuck in my mind. So when I started hearing buzz about a cheese called Oma from the von Trapp Farmstead, I couldn’t forget about it, but I didn’t try it until this week.

Normally, one might think this would be an unusual cheese for a 39-week pregnant woman who is very sensitive to smells to choose. Of course, I am no normal 39-week pregnant woman. It’s a pretty potent one, though pleasantly so, similar to Jasper Hill Farm’s famed Winnimere, which I also bought this week. (Fun fact: Oma is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill!) I remember saying to my cheesemonger that it didn’t seem so stinky when I tasted it at the shop, but the beefiness of the cheese really comes through if you let it sit on the counter for at least two hours. The paste doesn’t ooze like a triple-cream but rather gets soft and ever-so-slightly rubbery. Though I typically eat the rind of most cheeses, I found this one to be a little too gritty for my taste. Pair with a full-bodied, dry white wine or Belgian beer (per Formaggio Kitchen’s recommendations) and get Oma’s funk on for yourself.

After a year-plus of eating a new cheese almost every week, one inevitably begins to compare the fine fromages to one another. This one may be packaged like Cheese A but smell like Cheese B, or it comes from Country X but tastes like the specimens from Country Y. So when I unwrapped my 6-oz. cylinder of Langres yesterday, I couldn’t help but think, “Hey, this comes in a box like Camembert, has a similar shape to Le Chevrot and tastes like Red Hawk.” So do all those comparisons add up to a positive cheese experience? You betcha!

Langres is one of those cheeses you’ll find sold whole in most shops, thanks to its diminutive size, and it’s actually an excellent cheese when you want the funky yeastiness of Red Hawk but don’t want to purchase a large wheel. Though the Langres you’d buy in France would be made with raw cow’s milk from the Champagne region, the imported version is pasteurized since the cheese isn’t aged for very long (anywhere from 15 to 90 days). If properly handled and stored, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the raw-milk goodness – pasteurized Langres still has the kick you’d expect from a raw-milk cheese, plus the creaminess that soft-cheese lovers favor. The cheese is known for an indentation at the top in which diners traditionally poured champagne or another spirit to enrich the cheese. I prefer to have my bubbly on the side rather than on top of my cheese, but give it a try if you’re inclined. And don’t be alarmed by the cheese’s orange color – it’s supposed to look like that!