To celebrate American Cheese Month, I have invited three American cheese luminaries to do a Planet Cheese takeover. Each of these guest bloggers will share with you their perspective on a topic of particular interest to them. First up: writer and educator Laura Werlin, author of The New American Cheese and the All-American Cheese and Wine Book. Take it away, Laura!
It may be American Cheese Month, but for me, every month is American Cheese Month. Heck, every day is. It’s been that way for twenty years, having been an American cheese enthusiast and cheerleader all my cheese life. And so it is that when the Planet Cheese maven herself invited me to write a guest post on my passion subject, I answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Not only was I thrilled to be asked to do this, but I was especially happy to be shining the light on five American cheeses and cheesemakers by way of Planet Cheese.
Janet suggested I do an American cheese plate that almost anyone can replicate. I considered that a no-brainer since all I have to do to assemble a stellar American cheese plate is look in my refrigerator. However, we both quickly discovered that the “almost anyone can replicate” provision was a much tougher task. What she could get where she lives and what I could get where I lived was not the same. And we live just 50 miles apart! Nevertheless, I persevered and came up with five American dream cheeses from across the nation that hopefully you can find where you live, too.
My first cheese (left to right above) comes from one of the most enduring and beloved cheese operations in the American cheese community, Capriole Goat Cheese in Indiana. Owner Judy Schad is a goat cheese pioneer, and I’ve long thought that part of the reason her cheeses are so good is because of her ebullient personality. You can almost taste her enthusiasm. Her cheese, Piper’s Pyramide, is as good a goat cheese as any with its mildly spicy smoked-paprika dusting, prominent shape and lemony zip in the creamy paste.
Next stop is California and another enduring and venerated operation, Cowgirl Creamery. In addition to producing well-known organic cheeses like Mt. Tam and Redhawk, Cowgirl Creamery also makes seasonal ones. Autumn brings Chimney Rock, which is my personal favorite owing to the sprinkling of organic dried shiitake mushrooms, summer savory and black pepper on the bloomy rind. The paste is a bit firm, a bit fudgy and a bit buttery, all adding up to a cheese that I wish were available year-round.
My cheese plate returns to the middle of the country for the magnificent raw-milk clothbound Flory’s Truckle. This cheese is a joint project between the Flory family dairy in Missouri, which supplies the milk and makes the cheese, and folks at Milton Creamery in Iowa who mature it. The result is a light-on-the-tongue, grassy, nutty, slightly fruity cheddar that invites endless snacking (so buy a lot!).
Staying in the Midwest, I turn naturally to Wisconsin, where Roth Cheese in Monroe is churning out beauties like never before. The cave-aged raw-milk Roth’s Private Reserve can best be described as its own thing. It is Gruyère-like but sweeter, a little nutty, dotted with a few crystals and pretty much the perfect cheese for all occasions.
Finally, I head east to New York and to the site of sheep—lots of them—at one of America’s largest sheep dairies, Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. The creamery’s cleverly named Ewe’s Blue has been around for a while. Despite the fact that it’s made with pasteurized milk and is relatively mellow and sweet, its nod to Roquefort is unmistakable.
Whether or not you can find these specific cheeses matters less than commemorating American Cheese month the way you would like. Gather cheeses, gather friends and say cheers to American cheese this month and every month.