The annual Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January is equal parts delight and dread for me. While it’s energizing to see so many amazing cheeses and cheese people in one place, my appetite always peters out before the cheese does. It’s agonizing at the end of the day to look at gorgeous mountain wheels from some new Swiss affineur and think, “I just can’t.”
Such a problem. During those few hours when I still had capacity, I did discern a few cheesy trends and taste some newcomers that you ought to know about.
One newbie that should be in stores by mid-February is Blackstone from Bellwether Farms. This Sonoma County, California, producer expands its line carefully and rarely. You may be familiar with San Andreas and Pepato (Bellwether’s aged sheep’s milk wheels) or its lovely cow’s milk Carmody. Perhaps you have had Bellwether ricotta or sheep’s milk yogurt.
Blackstone is the creamery’s first mixed-milk cheese, from a blend of Jersey cow and sheep’s milk (roughly 60 percent/40 percent). Mixing milk allows Bellwether to keep the price down; Blackstone will cost less than Bellwether’s 100 percent sheep’s milk wheels. But just as important, it potentially creates more complex flavor, akin to blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot.
As with Pepato, Callahan scatters a few whole black peppercorns in the paste. The 2-1/2-pound wheels receive six to eight weeks of aging at the creamery but benefit from more; the tasty wheel I tried at the food show was ten weeks old. During its final weeks in the cellar, the cheese is rubbed with a blend of crushed black pepper, safflower oil, rosemary and vegetable ash, yielding a thin, dry, charcoal-colored rind finely dusted with white mold. It is very handsome.
The ivory interior smells richly of warm melted butter with a floral note from the peppercorns. The texture is firm and smooth, the salting perfect, and the finish tart enough to make your mouth water. As soon as the labels arrive from the printer, the first wheels will be ready to ship. If the quality remains consistent, Blackstone may become my favorite Bellwether cheese.
Callahan told me that he chose to make Blackstone with pasteurized milk because he is pessimistic about future FDA regulations. Both San Andreas and Pepato are raw-milk cheeses and will remain so, but Callahan thought it was too risky to develop another raw-milk product that he might eventually have to alter or drop.
One more big trend: Cheeses from water buffalo milk. For years, mozzarella di bufala from Campania, in southern Italy, was the only option for consumers who wanted to experience the flavor of this famously rich, sweet, slightly tangy milk. Now the floodgates have opened. Entrepreneurs have established water buffalo in northern Italy, mostly in Lombardy, and creameries are using the high-fat milk in every style of cheese from burrata to blues. Look for these:
From La Casera
Bergamino di bufala (semi-soft bloomy rind)
Bocconcino di bufala (fresh, rindless, light and fluffy)
Bufala nera (“black” bufala; aged 35 to 40 days; black wax coating)
Camembert di bufala
Nostranella di bufala (semi-soft bloomy rind)
Quadro di bufala (washed-rind square)
From Quattro Portoni
Blu di bufala
Casatica di bufala (bloomy rind; Stracchino style)
Quadrello di bufala (washed rind; Taleggio style)
From Caseificio Sabino Francesco
Burrata di bufala
Ricotta salata di bufala