What’s the one cheese you can’t live without? I asked 10 top American cheese merchants recently to name their “desert-island cheese” and got 10 different answers. Actually, more than that because some folks just could not commit. I know the feeling. I’ll reveal my choice at the end (don’t skip ahead), but here are the cheeses some leading retailers love most.
Justin Trosclair, St. James Cheese, New Orleans: “Soft, gooey washed-rinds like Epoisses are the cheeses that I crave most. They are the most meaty and satisfying, full of umami deliciousness. Crusty bread, bulging (not runny) Epoisses, a dark Belgian beer and call it a day.”
April Reed, Marion Street Cheese Market, Chicago: “Oma from Von Trapp Farmstead, aged by Jasper Hill Cellars. It has an extremely buttery, custardy texture with a great toasted-nut flavor. The rind is slightly granular, a nice contrast to the custardy paste.”
Kate Leeder, Aperitivo Grand Rapids: “My hands-down desert-island cheese is a tie! Ossau-Iraty is the perfect “anytime, anyplace” cheese and probably more appropriate for a desert island/apocalypse situation. La Tur is my less sensible choice, but has just the right amount of funk for me and texturally cannot be beat.”
Sheri LaVigne, The Calf & Kid, Seattle: “Hands down: Montgomery's Cheddar, unless I can get my hands on unpasteurized Epoisses or Reblochon.”
John Zancolli, Di Bruno Bros, Philadelphia: “Crottin de Chavignol”.
Connie Rizzo, DeLaurenti, Seattle: “Essex Street Comté. It’s rich and sweet and nutty and fruity, and it can stand alone. But I think it would pair nicely with coconut water and coconut meat. With sand…not so much.”
Chester Hastings, Joan’s on Third, Los Angeles: “Parmigiano Reggiano. Boring answer, I know, but I would need the diversity that Parmigiano provides if I'm only eating one cheese for the rest of my life. From cooked dishes to eating raw with cured meats, fruits, nuts...there's a reason it's the king of cheese.”
Laura Downey, Fairfield Cheese Company, Fairfield, CT: “I think it would have to be Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano…or maybe Rolf Beeler Gruyère. But I really do love Wabash Cannonball from Capriole. This is not an easy question.”
Sheana Davis, Epicurean Connection, Sonoma: “Truly, Dunbarton Blue. I realize how much of it we eat at home, and how much we love it on a cheese board and with charcuterie. It is our favorite cheese at the shop.”
Jeff Diamond, Farmstead Cheeses and Wines, Alameda and Montclair, CA: “I tend to like gooey cheeses with some oomph, so I’d pick Brescianella Stagionata. This washed-rind cheese from Brescia has it all: a pleasant funk on the nose that reminds me of baking bread, sour beer and my day-old socks; a luscious mouth feel; and oozy, rich, milky flavors that border on nutty. And it’s fabulous in an omelet with green onions.”
As for me, I’d be lost without feta. And certainly on that island I would have an endless supply of brine.