By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
Every year around this time I revisit my favorites. Another year has passed and it is once again time for this year’s Top Ten choices. Over the past year many new cheeses have crossed my path, while several long-standing favorites remain close at heart.
What would be my absolute favorite? My response will almost always depend on my mood. There are so many factors to deciding: time of day, what I am having it with, beverage of choice and so forth. That said, there are always a few shining stars. So, I herein reveal my updated list for 2017. Bear in mind, these cheeses are not ranked in any particular order.
- Fromage de Chaumes (Cow’s milk)
This easy find is a longtime favorite of mine and a reliable fan favorite on any cheese tray. Fromage de Chaumes belongs to the washed rind family, which explains its brownish exterior. This is a young cheese, similar to Brie, but with no visible core. I particularly enjoy it on a crusty baguette with thinly sliced raw onion. (This is also how limburger, also of the same family, is commonly served.) I do not generally care for raw onions, but something about this pairing works very well for me.
- Ossau Iraty (Sheep’s milk)
Ossau Iraty makes my list again this year. Made in the Southwestern region of France, Ossau Iraty is one of the oldest cheeses in existence. It carries an AOC designation (Appellation D’Origine Controlee), which means it is controlled by law to meet certain high standards.
Ossau Iraty is an unpasteurized cheese, which only adds to its wonderful flavor. Ranging between three to four months in age, it will show a white or cream color, depending on its age. Its texture is somewhat firm with a subtle taste of nuts and olives and a creamy smooth finish. This cheese typically has no eye formations (holes), but they can occur. Butterfat content is 45 percent and the wheel size averages eight to ten pounds.
Pair this one with pears and apples, olives and assorted charcuterie, such as prosciutto and salami. I like a good Bordeaux, Rhône or dry Burgundy with Ossau as well.
- Fromage D’Affinois (Cow’s milk)
Fromage D’Affinois has made my Top Ten list every year so far, with a simple reason why. This is not only my favorite soft-ripening cheese, but a favorite for most of my customers as well. Unlike most of the imported Bries and Camemberts found in the U.S. that were stabilized for shelf life today, D’Affinois is exceptionally rich and creamy.
I love that this cheese continues to ripen in the store after arrival. I can then offer it for purchase at its peak. D’Affinois also maintains a fairly steady consistency, delivers a great flavor and is most always readily available. I continue to look for a comparable soft-ripening cheese to outperform this one, but I have yet to find it.
- Ewephoria (Sheep’s milk)
Ewephoria makes my list for the second time. As one of the older sheep cheeses, it is still a relative newcomer to the world of cheese since it has existed for only about ten years. Ewephoria ages for almost a year, which is considered a long time for a cheese this small in size. The taste reminds me of the extra-aged cow’s milk Goudas such as Beemster XO, with similar butterscotch whiskey notes. There is no gamey sheep’s milk taste to be concerned with here.
I love the clever pun in the name, and I always enjoy customer reactions when asked if they’ve had Ewephoria lately. This is a good recommendation when you are looking for something sharp, but different. Ewephoria pairs well with hoppy beers, but I prefer it with Bourbon or a single malt Scotch. Give it a try it on a burger or in Mac n’ Cheese.
- Alp Blossom (Cow’s milk-raw)
Alp Blossom impresses me as a perfect match for spring and summer. This beautifully garnished cheese is covered in rose petals, cornflower, marigold, lavender, parsley, marjoram, celery herb, oregano, lovage, savory, chive, fennel, chervil, onion and, surprisingly, chili.
The idea behind this cheese is to celebrate the diversity of the Alpine Flora throughout the Hay Belt area, which spans Eastern Switzerland, Southern Germany and Western Austria.
Made from raw milk, Alp Blossom is also a member of the washed rind family. But unlike other soft-ripening cheeses with a white, bloomy mold sprayed on them, this cheese is washed with a mold made up of B-linen bacteria. It then develops and ripens in a moist room, creating a more pungent and flavorful rind. The sticky viscosity of the exterior allows for the herby, floral topping to adhere.
- Stilton (Cow’s milk)
Known as the “King of Cheese,” Stilton has been a favorite of mine for over 40 years. In this cheese, blue veining runs through a mild cheddar base. I like it as an appetizer, but even more as one of my favorite desserts when served with sweet butter, table water biscuits and a little vintage port. By the way, an aging wedge of Stilton can be revived by removing the rind, combining it with a little port, then spreading it on a slice of pear with maybe a walnut or two over top. Let me know if you try it.
- Fresh Mozzarella (Buffalo’s milk or Cow’s milk)
Who can really say they do not like fresh Mozzarella? I will look for a reason to use it. Mention a vine-ripened tomato, fresh basil and some good olive oil – and my night is complete. Mozzarella was originally made from buffalo milk, and in Italy it still is. This version has a little more tang to it than the cow’s milk version. And where would pizza be without it?
- Point Reyes Blue (Cow’s milk)
Raw milk adds to the hearty flavor of this great Roquefort-style blue cheese from Point Reyes, California. This cheese is light in texture, though creamy and smooth. Penicillium Roqueforti is the blue source here. Point Reyes is great by itself as an appetizer, but also works well in salads or desserts.
- Appenzeller Extra or Black (Cow’s milk)
This very flavorful cheese from Switzerland has remarkably been in existence for over 700 years! Appenzeller ages in a secret bath of white wine and at least a dozen different herbs, roots and spices. Less than two percent of Switzerland’s production progresses to the extra aged or “Black” version. In addition to being fantastic on its own, this cheese adds great depth to a fondue.
- Kokos (Cow’s milk and Coconut cream)
Kokos makes my Top Ten list again this year. Most always a purist when it comes to added ingredients in cheeses, my love of coconut has won out here. Made by the same producer of our popular Ewephoria, this beautifully-made, semi-soft Gouda from Holland is a real treat for me. In addition to cow’s milk, the perfect amount of coconut cream is added to make this a continuing favorite. Kokos is a perfect choice to serve with fruit during hot summer days. Try adding a slice of fresh pineapple for a special treat.
There you have it – my Top Ten list of cheeses for 2017. But don’t hold me to it. If you asked me tomorrow…