Yikes. Does your credit-card balance look like mine? I know January sends many of us into fits of austerity, but cutting back doesn’t have to mean cutting out. Keep eating cheese! I prowled my local cheese counters for tasty options under $20 a pound and had no trouble assembling a list of worthy contenders. These ten selections deliver amazing value and most of them are in shops year-round.
Campo de Montalban (Spain/mixed milk): Until 1985, when Spain awarded Manchego its own appellation, a cheese like this would likely have been labeled as Manchego. It’s made in the same zone and in the same way but with blended milk (cow, goat and sheep), while Manchego now must be pure sheep’s milk. Campo de Montalban is also younger than a lot of Manchego, so not as intense. Expect warm butter and crème fraîche aromas and subtle nuttiness. It’s a mild, easy-to-eat cheese and it loves red wine.
Castelinhos (Portugal, cow’s milk): Produced on Terceira, an island in the Azores, the 2-1/2 pound wheels leave the island when they are about 30 days old. Brine-washed as they age, they develop a meaty beef-bouillon aroma with hints of celery and roasted onion. The interior is semisoft, smooth and buttery.
Central Coast Creamery Holey Cow (California/cow’s milk): This petite rendition of the giant Swiss Emmentaler smells of sour cream, salted butter and custard. I like to shave it with a cheese plane because its flavor is so concentrated. Time for a grilled cheese sandwich?
Matos St. George (California/cow’s milk): A Sonoma County farmstead classic, modeled after a cheese from the Azores. Sturdy and snackable, with many small eyes; a milky, grassy aroma; and a tart finish.
Montchevre Chevre in Blue (Wisconsin/goat’s milk): Rindless, tender and moist, with a tangy, cultured-milk, feta-like flavor. Neither biting nor salty nor bitter—just mellow and friendly, a sneak-it-in starter cheese for people who think they don’t like blues.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Foggy Morning (California/cow’s milk): Only a few days old when released, Foggy Morning resembles a delicate cream cheese. Slather it on bagels or toast, or warm it in a ramekin with olive oil and cracked black pepper until it softens, then serve with crostini and crisp vegetables for dipping.
Piave (Italy/cow’s milk): Such a crowd pleaser. This northern Italian beauty combines the caramel-like sweetness of aged Gouda, the toasted-walnut scent of Gruyere and the chunky texture of a young Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Point Reyes Farmstead Toma (California/cow’s milk): Could this be the best value in the cheese case? Not a Gouda but made with some Gouda techniques, Toma is smooth, creamy and open in texture, with the compelling scent of melted butter. The flavor is buttery, too; the finish tangy. It goes with every beer I’ve ever thrown at it, although AleSmith Nut Brown Ale is pretty perfect.
Raschera (Italy/cow’s milk): From Italy’s Piedmont region, this little-known cheese reminds me a bit of Fontina Val d’Aosta. The texture is springy and open, the aroma mushroomy, the flavor mild and pleasantly saline. Italians melt it over gnocchi or stir it into risotto; try it sliced on polenta. Raschera d’alpeggio, made at high elevations, is more aromatic and intense and more expensive.
Taleggio Ca de Ambros (Italy/cow’s milk): You certainly know Taleggio, but maybe you need reminding what an exceptional value it is. Ca de Ambros is a trademark for the affineur, Arnoldo Ambrogio. Beefy, truffly, saline, silky.
Vella Mezzo Seco (California/cow’s milk): For people who find Vella Dry Jack too hard, too aged, there’s Mezzo Seco (“half dry”). The recipe is similar although not identical. Aged about half as long as Dry Jack, Mezzo Seco is semifirm and mild, with subtle aromas of nuts and hay and well-balanced flavor.
Oops, that’s eleven. Sorry.