If today’s cheese plates are more beautiful than ever—and they are—major credit goes to importer Michele Buster. Her New York-based company, Forever Cheese, has launched dozens of European cheeses in the U.S. and introduced many of the cheese-board accompaniments we now can’t live without. Everything on the plate pictured above is a Forever Cheese find, including the Marcona almonds, Buster’s first breakout success.
The company celebrated two decades in business last year, but I never got around to acknowledging it. So Happy 21st Birthday, Forever Cheese. Hoping you continue to bring us cheesy gems like Etxegarai (above).
Fortunately, there’s a website to instruct us in how to pronounce it. It’s Etch-eh-gah-ray, more or less. Made from raw sheep’s milk on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, it’s a near-twin to Idiazàbal, the most important of the Spanish Basque cheeses. In all honesty, I can’t tell the difference.
Etxegarai, like Idiazàbal, is a smoked wheel and one of the few I genuinely like. The wood aroma is delicate and merges seamlessly with the buttery, lemony flavor of sheep cheese. The smoke is more pronounced near the rind, of course, but it’s bacon-like, not harsh. The texture is silkier than I would expect from a six-month-old six-pound wheel; you can shave it with a plane onto a salad or over onion soup. Stir Etxegarai into polenta, tuck a few slices inside an omelet or make an outrageous mac-and-cheese.
I first sampled Etxegarai a couple of years ago and my notes describe it as “smoky, strong and hard.” I wouldn’t use any of those words for the wheels I’ve sampled recently, which were possibly younger.
For an aged raw-milk sheep cheese, it’s really well priced. I paid about $21 a pound at Whole Foods. It’s even less expensive from Di Bruno Bros online but then you have to add shipping.
Serve Etxegarai on a cheese board before dinner with Marcona almonds and green olives. Open a fino or manzanilla sherry or a fruity red Spanish Garnacha. On an end-of-dinner cheese board, pair it with Mitica quince paste or fig and almond cake (Mitica is a Forever Cheese brand) and pour something sweet and nutty.