Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Shropshire Blue, or Blue Stuart, or Inverness-Shire Blue, or, or, or

How about that? How about that classy-as-all-whatnow photo. You got your flower pottery. You got your baguette in the blurry background. It's like we're siting in a tuscan village or something. Except the bowl is from Poland. And the baguette was baked here in Munich. Also the cheese is English. Well.

So there you are sitting at your EU Summit table in Brussels, debating the terms of the exit of the UK or the entry of Turkey, and what is this magical food stuff before you? Is it a blue cheese? It certainly looks that way. Is it a cheddar? Well.... it is yellow. It is, of course, Shropshire Blue! Always known as Blue Stuart. Aka Inverness-Shire Blue. Feat. Flavor-Flavor.

Origin: Leicstershire, England
Milk: Cow, pasteurized
Affinage:  3-4mo

Notes: Vegetarian rennet! Juhu! Vegetarians rejoice.

Thoughts: Whoo-boy. This. This is a blue cheese. Don't let the yellow fool you. If you close your eyes, all you will taste is Stilton. This particular example has been aged long enough for the veining to riddle its way right through the paste, taking no prisoners. Long since gone and forgotten are the savory and sweet notes of the original cheese, all that remains is minerality and fire and pepper. It's a dry cheese, like the desert is a dry heat. It's a lovely cheese, and one that always has a place on our English Cheese boards.

If and when things do go south with this whole 'will they/won't they' Brexit dramedy, we all know that the real victims will be the cheese producers and cheese lovers. Stock up now. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Val d'Armance, or The Thunderdome!

What do you do when your favorite cheese store is out of your desired curd? These are the moments, ladies and gents. The real nitty gritty, where the rubber meets the road, where the men are separated from the mice, where the toppings meet the pizza, where the wheat and the chaff meet at a fork in the road and before you know it you turn around and there's three more rabbits in the the pen then there were this morning. And are you ready to handle that!!?! I didn't think so.

This is the Thunderdome.
This is The Avengers in getting all avengery in whatever movie comes out in 2065 or whatever.
This is Snake Plissken escaping from NYC. Or LA. Or something.
This is
This is....
This is a pretty rough situation!

This is also why you want to have a top notch guy as a cheesemonger. When you say 'hey, where is the delicious young Époisses I had the other week' and he says 'we're all out' and you say 'aw man!!!' then he can say 'don't worry though we've got you covered try this instead it's similar and fantastic.' And that. That is how we get to Val d'Armance.

Origin: Champagne, France
Milk: Cow
Affinage: 3-4 weeks

Notes:  This one was a fairly young example, not yet fully eaten up into creamline and funk. Now, I'm not against funk. I can get down on some funk. But to get all the layers of flavor and complexity that is hidden there, it helps to have a cheese that doesn't already resemble soup.

Thoughts: Looks so funky, tastes so sweet. Butter-sweet. How does this taste so sweet? How does a washed rind cheese get away with tasting so sweet? Don't get me wrong, there are other things going on here as well. Mushrooms and garlic, our old friends, are at it again playing their familiar duet, but the guy with the megaphone in the room is Mr. Sweet. This tastes like how late spring days feel. This tastes like how loamy earth smells. There are even notes of black pepper that bounce off the buttery sweetness! The rind has a delightful texture and melts in your mouth, what more could you want?!

Escape from Detroit? Escape from Bloomington, IN? Escape from Montpelier, VT? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Beaufort Été, Summer '17, or 'Easter Cheese'

OK, so in a recent post I may have spoken poorly of the style of cheese known as Bergkäse. Just like with most any other non name-controlled cheeses, there's a few gems out there and a lot of lemons. Or, like, ducks. End-tables? Whatever the accepted stand-in term is for something that is not good in the greater category of cheese.

Today, though, we are not dealing in ducks. We are dealing in high grade curd. AAA. Top Shelf. Handcrafted. Seasonal. Holiday themed.

Holiday themed?

Yes, dear reader, you read that right. We have here an Easter special! More specifically, today we have a Beaufort Été from the summer of 2017, cared for and watched over just to be ready for Easter 2019. This is, in any case, what my local cheesemonger said. Sounds good! How does it taste?

Origin: Savoie, France
Milk: Cow, raw
Affinage:  ~20mo

Notes: As everyone knows, there are three different kinds of Beaufort: Normal, Summer, and d'Alpage. This is the Summer variety, so the milking was only from the summer pastures between June 1st and October 31st in 2017. That sweet sweet summer grass, those fresh herbs and flowers? You had better believe they'll show up in the cheese.

Thoughts:  The smallest piece of this is a smack in the face of flavor. Truly every crumble of this packs a whole meal's worth of complexity. Starts off surprisingly sweet, grassy sweet like your favorite cheddar, but the longer you enjoy it the more layers reveal themselves. As the cheese breaks down on the palate it quickly becomes hauntingly dark, with hints of garlic shoots and raw notes playing off each other, the end of the flavor even teasingly toasted. The texture is perfect, full fat and the odd crunch here and there. This is as near as I know to a perfect cheese. This is art that you can eat. This is luxury, decadence, the absolute height of cheese indulgence, such that it seems a bargain at eur 4.80 for 100g. For the price of one gross Starbucks coffee drink, you can be transported through your tastebuds to a high meadow in the French alps. In Summer.

Coasters? It's a spare tires? Shirt collars? I don't know much about this, but I feel like calling an automobile a fruit is one thing but calling a food a food is just crazy. Clearly a cheese cannot be a fruit. That's absurd. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Wiesenblumenkäse, or More German in These Titles!

If you are like me, you love cheese. If you are like me in additional ways, you also have a fairly skeptical eye when it comes to new cheeses. After a #blessed life of Taleggios, Comtés, Quadrello di Buffalos, Stiltons, Brie de Meaux, Cabra Romero, Montenebro, Farmhouse Cheddars, and, and… well I mean can it really get better? Is there better cheese out there? Forget better, is there other cheese out there that is still worth taking a financial risk on? What if it’s bad? Or, well, just forgettable? 

The world is on fire, and these are my concerns. 

I’ve ranted here before about how cheese + (alien substance x) generally gets the hard end of my judging judgment, as a truly great cheese would be able to stand by itself without adornment of bunches of black truffle, or seasonings thrown on top, etc etc. But! There are exceptions to this rule, and a good thing too. Otherwise we would not have the wonderful treat that is Wiesenblumenkäse, or the other Blumenkäse of its ilk. Yes, there is a whole ilk of this stuff. Wiese means field, Blume means flower, and Käse means cheese. I truly love the German language. 

In another rant, on another day, I’ll have to drop a little German language knowledge, and see how long and funny of a cheese name we can come up with. 

Origin: Switzerland? Thiesen?
Milk: Cow
Affinage: 6-8 months

There are really just dried flower petals pressed all over the rind. Not rotten, but dried. There are very sporadic and small holes in the paste and tiny calcium crystals, so there is a lot going on here. 

Butterfat is the first thing you notice, as it immediately washes the palate in a rich wave of creamy goodness. For a ‘schnittkäse’, it is really very soft and bursts with floral flavors, that very butterfat being the perfect solution to draw out the floral notes. Not sweet like some fatty cheeses, it is savory with a full mouth feel. Herbal, with an aftertaste of onions and chives. Every now and then you get a bite of a piece of dried flower petal that has fallen from the rind, adding texture and a reminder of the flower petals from which the cheese gets its name. It does not have the gooey texture and salty pungency of other savory delights like Taleggio, but still delivers a complex experience that demands your full attention. Keep a bit of apple or wine on hand, because you will want something to cut through the fat in order to enjoy the third bite as much as you do the first. That being said, your breath may smell richly like cheese after this one. Like dried flowers and dried milk and more curdled and cut and aged milk.

Schnittkäse is one of a number of German language terms for cheese that do not translate directly into the English I grew up with. Cutting cheese? Cheese that can be sliced? Semi-firm cheese that lends itself well to slicing? There is a similar question about as to what Bergkäse means. What is and what is not a Bergkäse. Then again... myself and others grew up with the phrase 'Swiss Cheese', which is about as airtight a designator as... well... as Swiss cheese? 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Hallertauer Ziegenhof Kreuzkümmel 2yr, or Adventures in Buying Local

I've decided to work my way through some of Hallertauer's lineup, because it's not every day you have the privilege of getting to know a local goat dairy through its lineup. They claim over 100 kinds of cheese, impressive for an organic and natural goat dairy. Actually, that'd be impressive for an industrial sized setup. Many of these products are admittedly variations on a theme, fresh goat cheese with _______ on top. Some, though, are surprising, challenging, dare I say delightful?

I dare.

Origin: Oberbayern, Germany
Milk: Goat, pasteurized
Affinage: 2 years

Notes:  Crumbles beautifully into great gorgeous slabs of goat cheese. Great. Gorgeous. Slabs.

Thoughts: Ooooh, this is tasty. Where to start... Obviously the cumin seed is pretty pervasive here, but far from being a one trick pony it is a wonderfully complex cheese. This cheese has a lot to say, it fights its own battles. Starts off with a zing in the beginning, and is dry at first, but as the paste breaks down a buttery sweetness emerges. Hints of apricot pop up here and there, defying expectations. 

Don't you just love it when a cheese defies expectations? You know, all of those cheese expectations we have.