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I’m back from the American Cheese Society conference in Pittsburgh and while I’m still coming off my lactic buzz, it’s time to give a hearty round of applause to our friends at Jasper Hill Farm. Not only did they take their third Best of Show title in the farm’s 15-year history, but they achieved the unprecedented feat of placing both first and second place at this year’s competition. The Best of Show honor went to Harbison, the darling of the cheese world that just capped off a four-year run on the winner’s podium, finally taking 1st after placing 3rd best of show in 2015, and 2017; in the interim year, 2016, a washed-rind version of it produced in collaboration with Murray’s Cheese, called Greensward, took a turn in the 3rd place berth.
Jasper Hill Farm credits their early success in establishing a dairy empire in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom to their Cabot Clothbound Cheddar best of show win in 2006, but the farm’s win for raw-milk Winnimere in 2013 launched demand for their cheeses into the stratosphere. Unfortunately for fans, their commitment to only using the high-fat winter’s milk to make Winni keeps it a seasonal cheese, although that season has crept incrementally longer over the past few years and these days you can still find a few lingering wheels at cheese counters into June. Meanwhile, co-founder and cheesemaker Mateo Kehler was playing around with their bloomy rind Moses Sleeper recipe and made a higher-moisture batch that he quickly realized was too soft to hold its shape. He slipped one of those spruce bark wraps from Winnimere on it, and Harbison was born. By adding the spruce bark to a bloomy-rind cheese, they produced a unique cheese that’s rich in cauliflower and butterfat notes typical of the style but with an added woodsy aroma infused by the bark. It’s a special cheese, indeed, and if you follow many cheesegrammers you’ve likely seen more than a few shots of the goopy cheese dripping seductively from spoons.
What made this year’s competition batch even better than the rest? As the farm’s Zoe Brickley explained, it’s all in the timing. Harbison is shipped off the farm several weeks before it hits that perfectly ripe point, and only rigorous quality control and taste-testing gives the cheesemakers confidence to know when that sweet spot will hit. If you’re picking up Harbison in the store, ask your cheesemonger to help you identify a wheel that’s ready to eat — it should feel a little soft to the touch — and while you’ve heard us say this countless times, you really must let it come to room temperature before peeling off that top rind.
Calderwood, not to be overshadowed, is a brand new cheese developed in collaboration with Anne Saxelby, the shepherdess of American artisan cheese based in New York. One of Jasper Hill’s more recent innovations was the installation of a hay dryer to allow them to put up the farm’s own hay to feed their cows through the long Vermont winter; this is part of their commitment to cultivating the perfect microbial environment for the cheeses they make. Calderwood begins as Alpha Tolman, their raw-milk, alpine-style cheese. After washing in brine for six months, the cheese’s rind is at peak stickiness and a layer of the farm’s hay is applied. It’s then vacuum sealed and left to stew in that earthy grass for another four months or so, then unwrapped and again left to ripen in the caves to allow bloomy white molds to form over the hay. This process is unique from those hay or flower-coated cheeses from Europe we’ve reviewed in the past, where the cheeses’ flavors are fully developed and the plant coatings added more as a visual enhancement than a flavor input.
Calderwood has the hearty mustard and meaty flavor of Alpha Tolman with a sweet hay aroma and more tropical fruit hints. The cheese is currently only available through Saxelby Cheese; you can get it via mail order — though best move fast!
It’s hard not to gush over these cheeses, but we’re not even done yet. Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen blue — which holds a special place in my heart as the very first cheese I ever reviewed here — was also best in its class. When the cheeses are judged, each category’s top-scored winner is then re-considered by the judges for consideration as best of show, which means Jasper Hill actually had three cheeses in contention. As I noted above, the farm is celebrating their fifteenth anniversary this year. Averaging a Best of Show win once every five years isn’t a bad way to build a legacy. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s in store in the next fifteen years.
The American Cheese Society Conference & Competition returns to the east coast this year, taking place July 25-28 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Its concluding Festival of Cheese on Saturday, July 28th, is open to the public and gives attendees a chance to sample some of the 2,000+ cheeses entered in the annual cheese competition. (Sometimes the only chance many will have to taste the year’s Best of Show, which can be hard to catch in stores after the big win.) Get your tickets here.
If you’re attending ACS — or just local to the area — don’t miss the Thursday, July 26th joint fundraiser for cheese education and the Pennsylvania Cheese Guild at Southern Tier Brewing Co. Ticket proceeds benefit the Guild, Oldways Cheese Coalition and Daphne Zepos Teaching Award. Claim your spot here.
Next month, the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival celebrates its 10th year on Sunday, August 12, at Shelburne Farms outside Burlington. I am finding it hard to believe that it’s been an entire decade since I heard about the first ever festival, bought a couple tickets, and road tripped with a toddler and my sister–in-law (who was willing to babysit for cheese, bless her heart) to see if this Vermont cheese thing was going places.
Since that first festival, Vermont cheese has placed in the top 3 ACS Best of Show seven of those ten years — some of the cheesemakers we met that first year have moved on, but the festival just keeps getting bigger and better. (One of my early favorites, Willoughby, is now made by Jasper Hill Farm.) This annual family reunion of cheese is still my favorite cheese event, full of friendly cheesemakers and delicious accompaniments (cider, beer, jams and so much more) to nosh on as you graze your way through the historic and stunningly gorgeous barn and grounds of Shelburne Farm. Get more details about this year’s festival here or go straight to the ticket page here.
If you’re in the northeast, you can keep the cheese love rolling right into September with the Maine Cheese Festival on September 9, 2018, in Freeport, Maine: tickets and info here.
And if all these events are leaving you with a major case of FOMO, here’s an option for you west coasters:
The 4th annual San Francisco Cheese Festival takes place September 15-16 with seminars at the Cheese School of SF and a cheese bash on the 15th. Details here.
As we may have mentioned here once or twice before, I grew up in Oregon. Sadly, I left home right around the time Portland became a foodie mecca (yes, pre-Portlandia even). Now that I know what I’m missing out on, I try to pack as many food stops into my visits home as possible. On one of this past year’s trips I stopped into a (cough, major grocery retailer) and bought every local cheese they had, although that was distressingly fewer than I had hoped. One creamery that was well-represented, however, was Washington’s Cascadia Creamery. I have procured their Glacier Blue for my blues-loving curd kids on previous occasions, but this time we also sampled Sleeping Beauty and Sawtooth. So no one accuses me of burying the lede, let me just say now that Sawtooth was definitely one of my favorite cheese discoveries of the year.
Cascadia Creamery is located in central Washington, on the east side of Mt. Adams in the Trout Lake valley. While Mt. St. Helens has been the attention-getter in recent history, the entire Cascade range is actually an 800-mile chain of volcanoes stretching from Mt. Baker in Washington to Lassen Peak in northern California. The cows of Cascadia fest on grass grown in that mineral-rich volcanic soil, but the volcanic advantages don’t end there: their cheeses are actually aged in a volcanic lava tube. The fourth-generation family dairy that provides the milk is both organic-certified and uses heritage Jersey, Dutch Belted, and Friesian cows with A2 genetics. (A cheese science geek explanation: A2 milk is becoming more sought after in the health food community as it contains a different amino acid in the beta-casein milk protein that may be less allergenic than that found in A1 milk of conventional dairies. Read more about these studies in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.)
Back to the cheeses…
Sleeping Beauty is a supple, buttery and smooth natural-rinded cheese that’s ideal for snacking. And personally, I see more than a few faces in the paste — it’s not just me, right?
Glacier Blue is a creamy, smooth blue with the perfect saltiness and not-too-harsh a bite. It’s got a hint of tangy buttermilk flavor and would be great drizzled with some dark local honey.
Sawtooth is a fudgy washed-rind that still tastes a little buttery but with a meatier aroma. It’s an approachable washed-rind with the perfect squidgy texture and nutty flavors. Pair it with warm wild blackberries and it’s the grown-up equivalent of peanut butter and jelly.
I sadly haven’t seen Cascadia cheeses east of the Mississippi, but they are worth seeking out if you visit the west coast. According to their website, they can also be found at Eataly’s Chicago or New York locations.
Last spring, at cheese club, we were treated to a visit from London’s revered Neal’s Yard Dairy. More than just a cheese shop, the NYD team seeks out, ages and exports some of England’s best cheeses. I think of them as the ambassadors of British deliciousness. And we’re not just talking about cheddar, either. On this visit, I got my first taste of the decadent washed-rind, Rollright, made by David Jowett of King Stone Farm in Oxfordshire. A relative newcomer, Jowett started King Stone Dairy just three years ago but is clearly already on a winning track with this beauty.
The farm uses the milk of its 30 cows exclusively to produce Rollright. This spruce bark-wrapped cheese is made in the style of the French Reblochon and Vacherin — you know we’re fans of the seasonal American bark-wrapped cheeses, Winnimere and Rush Creek — and this cheese has quickly earned a spot in our regular rotation as well. It’s rich in butterfat but savory; super creamy, fudgy, woodsy, with a distinct taste of peanut butter. Thank you, NYD, for introducing us to this stunner!
Any football-loving cheese fans out there? While we would’ve loved to see a South American team in the final, the all-Euro final four do make it a little easier to find cheeses to represent each nation. Yes, even Croatia! Here’s our pick for the final four du fromage. Of course it’s no easy feat to select only one French cheese, but our friends at Murray’s are hosting a Tour de Fromage (with giveaway!) all this month if you’re looking to round our your own French cheese collection.
In the runner up game, England v. Belgium, we present Montgomery’s clothbound cheddar v. Wavreumont:
There are English cheddars, and then there is Montgomery’s (Monty’s) clothbound cheddar. This extra-aged, extra-flavorful cheddar is savory and meaty, sometimes sweet, and always a delight. Third-generation farmstead cheesemaker Jamie Montgomery in Somerset makes this cheese from the milk of Friesian-Holstein cows and ages it for over a year; it sometimes has a line of blue mold through the paste.
Wavreumont comes from Belgium’s Fromagerie des Ardennes and is named for a monastery near the creamery that inspired the monastic-style washed-rind cheese. It’s supple and buttery and only mildly pungent as washed-rinds go. Pair with — what else? — a Belgian beer.
And for the big match, France v. Croatia, Saint Antoine Comté faces off against Paški Sir:
Comté comes exclusively from the Jura mountains of France, made by approximately 150 small village cheesemakers known as fruitières. This particular specimen comes from Fort Saint Antoine, a 19th-century fort where the cheeses are aged by the renowned Jura affineur, Marcel Petite. It is smooth and sweet, and tastes of hazelnut, butter and apricot.
Paški Sir is an aged sheeps-milk cheese hailing from the Croatian island of Pag and its native Paška Ovca breed of sheep. It’s salty and butterscotchy in flavor and best paired with a red wine from Croatia, if you can find one. If not, Forever Cheese suggests a light- to medium-bodied red from Sicily, Slovenia or Greece.
? Which cheese/nation are you rooting for? Have other favorite cheeses from these countries? Pop over to instagram and chime in!
Have you had your fill of adorable baby goat pics on Instagram yet? Okay, that may not be possible … but the even better news is that all that kidding around has led us to this moment: the beginning of fresh chèvre season! I had to give up my daily chèvre toast for Passover — but made do with honey, blueberry and chèvre topped matzo meal pancakes. Thankfully we’re back in all-carbs all-the-time season again and ready to mix things up with some springy goat cheese topped crostini.
I whipped lemon zest and mint into fresh chèvre, added a touch of butter to make it unbelievably creamy, and spread it on toasted baguette slices before adding all the spring things: radish, peas, strawberries, micro greens. Ramps and asparagus would also be quite welcome. Oh, and did I mention those strawberries were steeped in lemon verbena syrup?
Serve these for your next brunch (oh hey, did we mention Mother’s Day is coming up?) or pack up the baguette and toppings for a build-your-own crostini picnic. Obviously, these pair best with a bottle of rosé enjoyed al fresco.
Lemon Mint Whipped Chèvre
makes enough for 1 dozen crostini
6 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 tablespoon cultured butter, softened
zest of 1 small lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
several fresh mint leaves
Place goat cheese and butter in food processor and mix until smooth. Add lemon zest, juice, mint and a pinch of sea salt and pulse until mint and zest is well incorporated. Remove from processor and store, covered, in refrigerator if not using right away.
The crostini combinations are virtually endless, but here are a few topping ideas to get you started: thinly sliced radish, sliced snap peas, mashed English peas, shaved asparagus, pickled ramps (you could also replace the mint with ramps to spice this up), sautéed mushrooms, green garlic, strawberries, raspberries…. I suppose it would be easier to have said just go to the farmers market and pick up whatever looks good.
Speaking of spring blooms, how about a cheese that’s literally covered in flowers?
I once was told by a cheesemonger that a cheese was yellow because of the buttercups the cows feasted on; while a lovely story, that’s not exactly how that works — the rich yellow of certain cheeses’ paste is due to beta carotene from grass that winds up in the milk fat, regardless of how many yellow flowers may or may not have been consumed. But today’s cheese, Alp Blossom, does have that warm yellow hue from Brown Swiss cows that graze in Alpine meadows, and a bonus coating of flowers on the rind to kick up both its flavor and appearance.
The Austrian Sennerei Huban dairy, a co-op founded in 1901, begins with their more traditional alpine Hubaner cheese, and then adds a layer of edible dried flowers and herbs as it ages. Frankly, I don’t think it needed the adornment; one of the more memorable cheese pairings I’ve had was a Hubaner-topped bowl of caramel corn at Portland’s Cheese Bar. Still, take that creamy, caramelly cheese and add a boost of sweet floral aroma and herbaceous undertones and you produce a winner that’s sure to be the belle of your next cheese gathering.
With spring in the air we’ve got spring blooms on the mind … and bloomy cheeses on the cheeseboard, naturally. A newish cheese from Jasper Hill Farm, Little Hosmer is the perfect specimen to pop into your picnic basket this spring. At a slight four ounces, it’s the ideal cheese for a snack for two, if you’re feeling generous.
If you’re a fan of Jasper Hill’s Moses Sleeper, you can expect similar luscious paste with notes of creme fraiche and toasted nuts, and just a whiff of mushroom aroma on the rind. It’s well suited to a wheat beer or, of course, something sparkling.
Nope, this isn’t a flashback Friday post — Tarentaise Reserve of Spring Brook Farm, Vermont, is a repeat Best of Show winner at the American Cheese Society Competition in Denver this week. Also a repeat on the winner’s podium, St. Malachi Reserve from The Farm at Doe Run, Pennsylvania, took second place and Harbison from Jasper Hill Farm, Vermont, rounds out the top three.
As described in our original Tarentaise post back before it’s 2014 Best in Show win:
Like many Alpine-style cheeses, it’s made with raw milk and washed with brine during the aging process. The reserve edition is aged 18 months or longer, rather than the typical ten, which heightens the cheese’s natural nutty flavor with a extra jolt of spice. I also tasted a hint of pineapple in my sample, which made the pairing with chocolate chunks even more pleasing. The crystals appearing throughout the semi-firm paste add an extra dimension to the snacking experience.
Congratulations to these talented cheesemakers, and all the awardees! You can view the full list of category award winners here. The 2018 American Cheese Society Conference & Competition will be held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — mark your calendars for July 25-28, 2018.