So I asked a dozen retailers to name their top cheese of the year—the one that sold best for them or that their customers loved most. It didn’t have to be a new cheese, just new to their counter. Did I get a dozen answers? Are you kidding?
Few of them could limit themselves to one cheese, and you shouldn’t either. Put these superstars on your 2016 bucket list, and start searching. Some are widely available, others are regional rarities, but all of them are worth the hunt. Here are the mongers’ nominations, edited for space, and in alpha order by shop:
"We had some super cheeses this year, but Ameribella from Indiana stands out. A rich, creamy washed-rind cheese—yeasty and beefy. The cows are pastured, and the milk is raw and organic."
Cathy Goldsmith, Cheese Board, Berkeley
"Hornbacher is gorgeous, and we love the brown butter and toasted nut flavors. Sbrinz is a creamier version of Parmigiano, with Parm flavor on steroids."
Cindy Della Monica and staff, Cheese Central, Lodi, CA
"Four Square by Bleating Heart. Delicious and fun to talk about. Also Goldette Tommette from Bleating Heart."
Doralice Handal, Cheese Shop, Healdsburg, CA
"A new import that I really love is Schnebelhorn. The flavor is robust, the texture is creamy and dotted with tyrosine crystals. Plus it’s fun to say. For a domestic: St. Stephen by Four Fat Fowl. I think of this cheese as the East Coast rival to Mt. Tam. The texture is buttery and ultra-smooth, the flavor a bit salty, and the size is perfect for small parties."
Leah Park Fierro, MilkFarm, Los Angeles
"My favorite newbie was familiar to me but new for Nugget Market. When I worked at Pastoral in Chicago, we used to carry Prairie Breeze Cheddar by Milton Creamery. Working with a distributor, we were able to bring it to California this year. For me, it was like seeing an old friend again. The flavor is sweet and nutty, with a hint of grassiness—just like I remember. It’s only aged nine months, but the quality of the milk really comes through. It’s from pastured, hand-milked cows from small herds on Amish farms, all within 15 miles of the creamery."
Rebekah Baker, Nugget Markets, Woodland, CA
"Our shop has carried Occelli's Cusie in Foglie di Castagno in the past, but after meeting Beppino Occelli himself in Bra this year, I had to bring it back. It is just wonderfully complex, with a crunchy texture from crystals, moist creaminess, a rich nuttiness and flavors of caramel and butterscotch. It’s a Testun, a traditional aged cheese from the Piedmont region, wrapped and aged for up to two years in chestnut leaves."
Justin Grodivant, Oxbow Cheese, Napa
"The Lorenzo and the Ledyard from Meadowood Farms have been stars at our counter. Veronica (Pedraza) is making cheesesas tasty as they are visually stunning. Lorenzo has a delicate flavor and bouncy texture, a beautiful washed rind and basket molding, which is eye catching. Ledyard is a monger favorite—the perfect New World sub for the traditional Italian leaf-wrapped Robiolas that we cannot get at the moment. Sheepy and barnyardy. For an import, the Vacherin Fribourgeois from Fromagerie de Marsens-Vuippens has been a revelation for me. Marc-Henri Horner is one of the few remaining cheesemakers making old-style Vacherin Fribourgeois, which is otherwise nearly extinct. I thought I knew Vacherin, but man, was I wrong."
Lydia Burns, Pastoral, Chicago
"Double Down Blue from Bleating Heart Cheese. We are loving this mixed sheep and cow milk cheese from West Marin. It's one of those great creamy blues for any cheese eater. People who think they don't like blues will find it accessible and delicious, while blue lovers will find it complex and rich."
Gordon Edgar, Rainbow Grocery, San Francisco
"Spring Brook Farm Reading has been a customer favorite this year. Folks are rediscovering Raclette, and the Raclette coming from France and Switzerland the last couple of years has been pretty uninspiring. Given tastes of all three, customers always choose the Reading. Well priced, popular and it deserves it. Nutty and creamy with just enough funk."
Roger Soudah, Say Cheese, San Francisco
"We were excited about Rush Creek Reserve because it was on hiatus last year. It came in absolutely perfect: woodsy, buttery and grassy."
Cait Gunderson, Venissimo San Diego
"Schnebelhorn was new this year and has been doing well. We all already love this style of cheese (Swiss alpine) but this one is a bit richer and more decadent because they add a bit of cream. La Gruta Tres Leches was a newbie for us this year and it has been kicking butt. It’s like a cross between Manchego and Ossau-Iraty: nutty, with a smooth, firm texture. It’s a great suggestion for people who love Manchego but are looking to switch it up."
Jessica Lawrenz, Venissimo Mission Hills (San Diego)
"Oma is approachable when young, funky and unctuous when ripe. Customers love this cheese. It gets put on a ton of boards since it pairs so well with sour beers, the new favorite style. People who wouldn't normally eat such a pungent cheese love it with beer."
Emily Norton, Venissimo North Park (San Diego)
"This year Zupan's took part in the Adopt-an-Alp program. We received Alp Heuboden Alpkäse from 2014 and 2015. Telling the story of the cheese is always the best part of my job, andcustomers were really interested in finding out about the Alp cheeses—small-production wheels made by families—and discovering how different a cheese can be when it is aged for a year longer. But my holiday go-to is the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. I love explaining to people how a cloth wrap totally changes the flavors and textures."
Susan Walrabenstein, Zupan’s Markets, Portland
Bleating Heart Cheese Double Down Blue, Four Square and Goldette Tommette (CA)
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (VT)
Four Fat Fowl St. Stephen (NY)
Jacobs & Brichford Ameribella (IN)
Meadowood Farms Lorenzo and Ledyard (NY)
Milton Creamery Prairie Breeze (IA)
Spring Brook Farm Reading (VT)
Uplands Cheese Rush Creek Reserve (WI)
Von Trapp Farmstead Oma (VT)
Cusie in Foglie di Castagno
La Gruta Tres Leches
Alp Heuboden Alpkäse