This country may not need another fresh goat cheese, but another semisoft raw-milk washed-rind cheese? You betcha.
Ameribella, a new farmstead cheese from southern Indiana, is helping flesh out this thin category. Matthew Brichford, the cheesemaker, cites Taleggio as his inspiration, although he is not trying to replicate that Italian classic. With the help of a well-known consultant, Brichford has devised a recipe that calls for nine different cultures and multiple brine washings to yield a cheese that tastes completely original.
Brichford and his wife, Leslie Jacobs, have been dairy farming for 15 years on property that has been in his family for almost two centuries. About three years ago, they built a creamery to transform some of the milk from their grass-fed cows into a value-added product. Brichford took a couple of university short courses in cheesemaking, traveled to France to visit artisan cheesemakers and engaged creamery consultant Neville McNaughton for additional help.
Currently, the couple milks about 100 cows and makes only about 100 pudgy squares weekly of the 2-1/2- pound Ameribella—not much. (They make two other cheeses as well.) The young squares are washed daily with brine, a practice that seasons them, encourages a moist rind and attracts beneficial bacteria. Often, these brine-washed cheeses develop a pinkish or salmon-colored surface from ambient bacteria, but Ameribella initially remained pale. At the suggestion of chefs, who thought a contrasting rind would have more eye appeal on the plate, Brichford now adds a little annatto to the wash. (Annatto is the plant-based die that makes some butter more yellow and turns Cheddar orange.) The result is a thin, tacky exterior with a fleshy color and a pleasing crunch.
Ameribella’s aroma is robust: yeasty, garlicky, beefy. It makes my mouth water. The first piece I purchased was obviously over the hill (obvious after I bought it, alas), and it was really too stinky. But a ripe wedge will be merely fragrant, not pungent, with a squishy, supple, spreadable interior. So many cheeses in this style are gummy or fudgy, but Brichford has nailed the texture. And despite all the washings, the cheese is not salty.
Most of the imported wheels in this category—like Epoisses, Munster, Saint-Nectaire and Taleggio—are made with pasteurized milk so they can be shipped before they are 60 days old. Otherwise, they would have little lifespan after landing. And they are rarely farmstead cheeses, from a single producer. Ameribella joins a small sorority of American semisoft washed-rind cheeses made on the farm from raw milk. Meadow Creek Grayson from Virginia and Von Trapp Oma from Vermont come to mind, but can you name others?
Look for Jacobs & Brichford Ameribella at Bi-Rite, Mission Cheese and Say Cheese in San Francisco; Oliver’s Markets in Santa Rosa and Cotati; and the Sacramento Food Co-op. Open a Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris or a saison, like Almanac Beer Company’s delicious Saison Dolores.
Grilled Zucchini with Yogurt Sauce, Feta, Lemon, and Dill
My Napa farmers’ market has flawless zucchini this week, so I’ll be making this dish for sure. From Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
- 3/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1 large clove garlic, grated or finely minced
- Kosher or sea salt
- 6 small zucchini, about 1-1/4 pounds, halved lengthwise
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 3 ounces feta cheese (about 3/4 cup), chilled
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- Grated zest of 1 small lemon
- Medium-hot coarse red pepper, such as Aleppo or Maraş pepper, or hot paprika
Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium high.
In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, garlic, and salt to taste. Spread the yogurt sauce on a serving platter large enough to hold all the zucchini in one layer.
Brush the zucchini on both sides with olive oil and season all over with salt. Place cut side down on the grill and cook until nicely browned, then turn and finish cooking on the skin side until they are tender, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the zucchini to the platter, placing them on the yogurt sauce cut side up. Finely crumble the feta over the zucchini. (This is easier to do if the feta is cold.) Combine the dill and lemon zest and scatter over the zucchini, then sprinkle generously with red pepper. Serve immediately.