Most of the time, I aim to create a balanced cheese board for guests. Something fresh with something aged. A creamy cheese and a firm one. A range of flavors from mild to strong. Cow, goat and sheep. But sometimes I take a page from the wine world. Wine people love comparative tastings. My first date with my winemaker husband was a dinner party and wine tasting, with Pinots from around the world tasted blind. (Nobody nailed them.) A cheese course featuring the same style from two or three different producers can be illuminating, or at least get a conversation going.
Recently I took Jasper Hill Moses Sleeper (above left) and Hervé Mons Camembert (above right) to a lunch with nine friends, all long-time Francophiles. I told them only that one cheese was imported and the other domestic and asked which they preferred. (I also asked which one they thought was imported, but that got messy.) The two cheeses’ formats are a little different, but both are made from pasteurized cow’s milk and similar recipes and, to me, both are top of class.
The Camembert prevailed but just barely. It was notably more pungent—garlic, roasted onion, aged beef, barnyard—although it looked a little less ripe. Moses Sleeper countered with its porcini mushroom aroma, but in head-to-head combat, its character seemed muted. To some at the table, that was a plus. One of the guests, a noted wine critic, adamantly preferred it.
My intention wasn’t to crown a victor but to have the sharper sensory insights that you get from comparison.
To get a good debate going at your dinner table, consider these (roughly) “apples to apples” cheese-course ideas:
Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar (Wisconsin), Face Rock Creamery Bandaged Cheddar (Oregon) and Westcombe Cheddar (England)
Holier Than Thou
Emmental (Switzerland) and Central Coast Creamery Holey Cow (California)
Shooting the Bries
Von Trapp Farmstead Mt. Alice (Vermont), Alemar Bent River (Minnesota) and Ferme de la Tremblaye Brie Fermier (France)
Shepherd’s Way Farm Friesago (Minnesota), Vermont Shepherd Verano (Vermont) and Ossau-Iraty (France)
If you’re not convinced that American artisan cheeses can compete with the European classics, please join me on Tuesday, April 2, for some side-by-side tasting. Prepare to be amazed.
Cheese Class: Us Versus Them
Tuesday, April 2
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
1650 Soscol Avenue
We’ll taste our cheeses in pairs tonight: top American artisan cheeses against their European counterparts. Are we there yet? You be the judge!