Wine with cheese? Of course. Wine on cheese? Absolutely. It may seem gimmicky, but steeping cheese in wine has a long history, especially in Italy. Some say it dates to World War I, when people would bury their wheels in wine barrels to hide them from soldiers. I would bet it’s an older practice than that. In any case, the niche has a new entry—and a particularly tasty one. The newcomer is on the right, above, alongside one of the category’s best sellers. With autumn coming at us and the wine-grape harvest underway, it’s a nice time to get acquainted with these “drunken” beauties.
After a long hiatus, Cowgirl Creamery’s beloved cottage cheese is back. Plump, tender curds in a thick and tangy dressing—ready to dollop on peaches for breakfast or top with cherry tomatoes for lunch. If you think of cottage cheese as grandma food, or grim diet food, prepare for a revelation.
They say that 90 percent of cheesemaking is cleaning up, which is why I’m content to remain just an eater. But if you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at home cheesemaking, I have the teacher for you. Merryl Winstein believes that you—yes, you—can make cheese just as good as what you can buy. All you need is fresh milk and the right recipes. And, wow, does she have the recipes.
You’re not imagining it. Burrata is everywhere. A cheese that almost nobody knew 20 years ago (even in Italy) is now summer’s blockbuster. Retailers struggle to keep it in stock, and chefs have taken it well beyond the predictable insalata caprese. What else can you do with this dreamy dairy queen?
I’ve lived in California for 40-plus years and had no idea that “Eureka!” was the state motto. Apparently, that’s what you say when you strike gold. Spelled creatively, it’s also the name of a terrific new cheese from California’s Central Coast Creamery [www.centralcoastcreamery.com]. The Paso Robles cheesemaker struck gold with it last month, winning a blue ribbon for Ewereka, a sheep’s-milk wheel, in the American Cheese Society’s annual competition.
I’ve had watermelon and feta salads before but never one this refreshing and unusual. My friend Julie Logue-Riordan, a Napa Valley cooking teacher, brought it to a potluck at my house and it was the hit of the evening—cool and crunchy, sweet and minty. With tomatoes and watermelon both at peak flavor, now’s the moment. If you can get tomatoes in multiple colors—well, wow.
Some of the blue-ribbon winners from the recent American Cheese Society competition in Pittsburgh will never make it to your local cheese shop. They are small-production cheeses that hardly leave their region. On the bright side, many do travel. Why not treat yourself and guests to a blue-ribbon cheese board this week? Your area’s best cheese merchant will likely have at least three of the victors, possibly even those pictured above. Alas, to get the winning cheese I want most, I’ll have to go to Colorado.
Harbison, a spruce-banded cow’s milk cheese from Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont, topped nearly 2,000 entries to take Best of Show at last week’s American Cheese Society judging. As if that feat weren’t impressive enough, another Jasper Hill creation—Calderwood—placed second. For one creamery to produce the competition’s two top cheeses is beyond astonishing. And Jasper Hill wasn’t done yet. Bayley Hazen Blue, the company’s Stilton-like wheel, earned a blue ribbon in its category.
Triple-cream cheeses are the industry’s gateway drug. Who isn’t seduced by all that buttery goodness? Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, Brillat-Savarin, Explorateur—these luscious creations take cheese to the limits of richness. Pass the walnut bread. But now the triple-cream niche has a new challenger for the butterfat crown. Are you ready for quintuple-cream cheese?
This is not the Manhattan skyline. It’s the average price of milk paid to America’s dairy farmers between June 2012 and March 2018. Who can operate a business with price swings like this? Not surprisingly, many dairy farmers can’t. Between January and July of this year, 338 Wisconsin dairy farms stopped milking cows.
Yogurt. Blueberries. Now’s the moment. I’m a cheerleader for plain whole-milk yogurt because it’s so easy to add fresh fruit myself. The challenge, in some markets, is finding yogurt that meets my specs: plain, whole milk, stabilizer-free (no pectin, no gelatin) and not Greek. Straus Family Creamery is my go-to, but a new California yogurt checks all those boxes as well. What’s more, it’s made with A2 milk.
The last time I was in France, visiting Comté producers in the Jura Mountains, I thought I might find a beautiful old cheese plane in an antiques shop. But I didn’t know how to ask for a cheese plane in French, and my French host—a veteran of the cheese business—was no help. He had no clue what a cheese plane was.
From Turin to San Francisco is 9,500 miles, a long journey if you’re a cheese. Fresh cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella have to travel by air, which makes the cost spike. Inspections or missing paperwork can delay entry, further shortening the precious selling time. So here’s one Italian creamery’s solution to the fresh-cheese challenge: produce it in California. Northern Italian know-how meets West Coast milk.
The Canada-bashing coming from the White House lately will do nothing to help achieve my goal for U.S.-Canada relations. I want to see more Canadian cheese in the U.S., not less, and the heated rhetoric has me worried. I felt bad about the name-calling from our side, so I picked up a pound of aged Canadian Cheddar, just as a one-woman show of support.
Rogue Creamery the Oregon producer of some of America’s most acclaimed blue cheeses, has a new partner: the French dairy giant Savencia. Good news? I wasn’t sure. I’ve been a huge fan of Rogue since David Gremmels and Cary Bryant bought it, in 2002, from Ig Vella, whose father founded it. Gremmels and Bryant had zero cheese experience. But Gremmels had the marketing chops and Bryant, who knew microbiology, quickly mastered the cheesemaking. Ig mentored them both until his death in 2011.
You’re not imagining it. Buffalo are roaming all over American cheese counters these days. Buffalo ricotta, mozzarella, Camembert, blue. I haven’t spotted a buffalo Cheddar yet, but surely any day now. From a curiosity to (almost) mainstream in a decade, cheese made with rich water-buffalo milk is having its moment. Many are good; a few are great.
A few weeks ago, I taught a class on pairing rosé with cheeses. I chose the wines, ordered the cheeses, showed up at the venue, composed the plates. And then I looked at the plates and thought: What on earth have I done?
Dinner guests don’t usually bring me cheese. Coals to Newcastle and all that. But recently some friends showed up with a new Oregon creation, and let me just say they are welcome back any time. The wedge was luscious, aromatic and unusual—potentially a great new American cheese. But could the cheesemaker repeat the feat? Yes. Would I love it as much the second, third and fourth time? Yes.
A few years ago, I walked into Eataly, the Italian food mega-emporium in Manhattan, for lunch and became so overcome by all the choices that I left without eating. Lame, I know, but I’m starting to feel like that at some cheese counters, especially when it comes to Swiss cheeses. I have way too many number-one favorites. And matters just got worse. Jumi, a respected Swiss producer, has recently targeted the U.S. market, and the cheeses are landing. You need to know them: all raw milk, all sublime. Steel yourself for some hard choices.
Twenty years ago, many Americans had never heard of sheep cheese. (You can milk a sheep?) I’d say we’ve made progress, thanks in part to pioneer cheesemakers like Jodi Ohlsen Read. Despite a tragic setback just as her sheep farm’s notoriety was spreading, Read and her husband, Steven, are about to celebrate 20 years of cheesemaking at Shepherd’s Way Farms in Minnesota. I’ve admired her cheeses from the get-go and ached for the couple when tragedy struck. The path back to a healthy farm and normal life has been arduous and, to those of us watching, inspirational. “I’m not good at quitting,” says Jodi.
I’m not a bumper-sticker person, but if I were, mine would read, “I brake for ethnic markets.” I love poking around shelves with unfamiliar condiments, grains and cooking implements to see what my kitchen might be missing. Middle Eastern markets are my favorite, but I have rarely spent much time looking at the cheese selection in these stores. Now I’m wiser.
The mission: to create a luscious Gorgonzola-style cheese, more creamy than crumbly. An American Gorgonzola dolce, the young cheesemaker imagined. He had tried that spreadable Italian cheese for the first time and fallen in love. “And that’s how it started,” says Joe Moreda of the first cheese he has shepherded from idea to reality. “I told my mom I would like to make it, and she said, ‘Let’s go for it.’” Three years later the world has a new blue cheese.
Mixing cow, goat and sheep milk is an age-old practice in farmstead cheesemaking. Resourceful rural people always use what they have. That mindset has led to some enduring creations, like the mixed-milk robiolas of northern Italy. But today, cheesemakers are more likely to blend milks out of creative impulse, or to set a new product apart. Five years ago, Hook’s Cheese Company launched Ewe Calf to be Kidding, a three-milk recipe, to acclaim. Now Tony and Julie Hook are at it again.
When a friend needs your help, you show up, right? That’s how I feel about raw-milk cheese. If you believe cheesemakers should be allowed—even encouraged—to make cheese according to time-honored methods, then find a Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day event in your community and be there on Saturday, April 21.
Here we go again. Last week, the FDA detained a shipment of goat cheese from French producer Fromagerie Jacquin, declaring that the ash coating was not a permitted colorant. This ash, made by carbonizing vegetable matter, is what makes the dark ribbon in Morbier and the inky cloak on the Loire Valley’s famous Sainte-Maure and Valençay, which the French have been savoring since the days of Napoleon.
Quesadillas, you bet. Burgers, of course. Mac and cheese, a no-brainer. This new creation from Utah’s Beehive Cheese will soon be starring in those dishes and grilled-cheese sandwiches across the country. Sales have been phenomenal since the cheese debuted nationally in January; my local cheesemonger couldn’t believe how quickly he sold his first wheels. It’s eminently meltable, snackable and here’s the feel-good part: three percent of sales support a great cause.
Spring + asparagus = ricotta. That’s just the way my mind works. But then, ricotta is often the right answer at my house. I eat it plain, drizzled with honey, dolloped on pasta and baked into cheesecake. And this spring, I have a new way to use it, courtesy of Napa cooking teacher Julie Logue-Riordan. With thick asparagus, a sharp vegetable peeler and some top-notch ricotta, you can wow your Easter guests. And if you like the recipe (as much as I do, the dish could be your go-to salad as long as the asparagus season lasts.
It felt like a death in the family. And I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Learning that I might never again taste Abbaye de Belloc, one of my favorite French cheeses, made me frustrated and angry. (What are those four stages of grief?) The Benedictine monks who make this lovely Basque sheep cheese have decided not to share with the U.S. any longer. Who can blame them? And, alas, they aren’t the only European cheesemakers to reach this decision.
Biggest cheese ever? I would have nominated the 400-pound Crucolo, a cow’s-milk giant from Northern Italy. I’ve never seen it but maybe you have. This massive mamma steals the stage every December when the owner of a Concord, Massachusetts, shop parades it through the streets. A wheel is coming to the West Coast next week, so more of us can see what a cheese that weighs as much as two large men looks like. But, alas, it’s not the world’s biggest.
I always learn so much from Pat Polowsky. This graduate student is half my age and twice as knowledgeable about cheese, especially if we’re talking chemistry. In that case, it’s more like a factor of ten. Ever wondered how salt gets to the middle of a wheel when it’s only applied to the outside? (You didn’t?) Did you think the crunch on the rind of Taleggio comes from salt? I did, but it doesn’t.