I guess it’s Old Europe week here on C+C, a brief interlude from our normal fall fare of cheddar, cheddar, and um, cheddar. Oh, and gouda. And washed rind stinkers. Okay, we love it all and we’ll eat it no matter the season. Today’s cheese was actually handed to me as I browsed in Whole Foods* last weekend. Thanks to the wonder of AT&T wireless coverage, I can’t use my iPhone in the store to access my handy “cheeses unsampled” list while I shop, so I didn’t even realize until I left the store that this was, in fact, one of the ones left on our list. A second trip to the store later, and I brought home this cute little package of tangy French goodness.

A classic cheese from France’s Alsace region, Grès des Vosges is technically a washed-rind though it is much less pungent than you might expect. It has the familiar yeasty fragrance, but a milder bite. It is rich and silky, like a good triple-cream turned deliciously sour. You’ll want to keep the accompaniments on the lighter side — think fresh fruit — so as not to overwhelm its flavors. Janet Fletcher suggests one of the “spicy, racy whites of Alsace, such as Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.”

*I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it seems that cheeses Janet Fletcher writes about find their way into Whole Foods soon thereafter. First there was Quadrello di bufala, now Grès des Vosges

Chocolate-goat-cheese-on-shortbread

In honor of National Goat Cheese Month, I sampled a chocolate goat cheese spread available at my local Whole Foods and reviewed it for Heavy Table. If you haven’t already, check it out! The goat cheese is from Wisconsin’s MontChevre and is mixed in store with cocoa butter and cocoa liquor. Paired with a shortbread cookie, it’s a divine dessert.

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.]

I have to confess that this cheese was the first that made me doubt the trusty “100 Great Cheeses” list, in its candy apple red wax coating and plastic shrinkwrap that made my inner cheese snob bristle. But after Jamie wrote on Serious Cheese this week about Grafton Village Cheese’s move to subsidize their supporting dairy farmers in the wake of falling milk prices, I decided to give Grafton a shot. I called around to my local shops and only Whole Foods carried Grafton’s cheddars. Despite my best “rain, rain, go away,” warblings, every nice DC day seems to be offset with another two rainy days, and today was one of the latter. Putting aside wistful thoughts of fresh chevre, I picked up the cheddar, some tomato soup and a loaf of whole wheat baguette and set about making a classic grilled cheese combination: apple, cheddar, arugula. (Mostly local, even, in a nod to Earth Day. The arugula comes from Va.’s Endless Harvest and apples from Pa.’s Toigo Orchards, both at DC’s Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market.)

I peeled back the red wax to reveal a milky white, crumbly cheese. The first bite was surprisingly full-flavored, a perfect balance of sharpness and sweet cream flavors, clearly indicative of a high quality milk base. Sure enough, Grafton Village carefully selects milk from rBST-free Jersey cows through Vermont dairy co-ops. The subsidy they’ll be paying out to their dairy suppliers will include a premium based on the butterfat and protein content of the milk. Grafton, who’s been making cheese in the historic village of Grafton, Vermont, since 1892, also makes a clothbound cheddar which also earned a spot on the Wine Spectator list. Alas, no local shops carry that one, so it goes on the “wanted” list for future tasting. (Cowgirl suggested Cabot’s clothbound as a substitute, which we’ve reviewed previously.)

At $3.99 a loaf, Grafton’s 1-year cheddar provides a nice break on the wallet, too. Whole Foods also carries a 2-year-aged and maple versions. Based on my first impressions, I’ll be giving Grafton Village’s other cheeses a try too. 

(Psst … this has almost nothing to do with cheese, but if you’re in the DC-area and enjoy our other regional delicacy, blue crabs – or just enjoy clean water, please stop by FoodieTots and check out today’s “Blog for the Bay” virtual rally for the Chesapeake.)