By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook
It is time once again for our annual fan favorite, the 2017 edition of Best Buys, where we publish the current best bargains in cheese that are available in our shop right now. As you peruse the list, please bear in mind that many different brands or manufacturers of the cheeses on our list can exist and taste can vary accordingly. I always suggest you “try before you buy.” to be certain you are taking home the right cheese for you.
Our Current Best Buys
The following list represents what I feel are truly great values:
Tres Leches from Spain ($20 to $24 per pound)
As the name implies, this semi-soft pasteurized Spanish cheese is produced from three milks: cow, goat and sheep. Tres Leches is similar to another popular Spanish cheese called Manchego, but this one is made only from sheep’s milk. It is worth noting that Tres Leches’ sales have far outpaced those of Manchego. This cheese carries a natural rind that has been bathed in olive oil, and its blend of milks provides great flavor and a really nice finish.
Piave Vecchio from Italy ($19 to $24 per pound)
This Parmigiano Reggiano-style cheese will most likely always make my top ten list. With its sharp, full flavor, Piave Vecchio works beautifully with most foods and salads. This makes it not only an ideal eating cheese, but also a great choice for cooking. Use it in place of Reggiano or Grana Padano in any dish you would normally use the former cheeses. You will not be disappointed.
A cow’s milk cheese, Piave comes in a small sixteen-pound wheel and has a hard, natural rind, similar to Reggiano. There are two varietals of this cheese. We usually carry the older one-year version, which offers a little more sharpness. This cheese keeps very well; just be sure to wrap it properly. For a fabulous dessert, drizzle a little exceptional Acacia honey from Italy over it, or even a bit of aged balsamic vinegar.
Fromage D’Affinois ($18 to $22 per pound)
This soft-ripening double crème deserves its ongoing place in the Best Buy list when you consider price compared with customer satisfaction. Unlike so many of the stabilized Bries and Camemberts on the market today, this one remains close to how you would find a soft-ripening cheese in Europe. It arrives to us with a firm center. This core softens as we allow it to ripen right in the store, and I love that I can finish the ripening process myself. This allows me to sell it at its peak flavor, which is when you will find it most soft, creamy and luscious.
D’Affinois is one of our consistent best sellers and usually the first cheese to disappear on a cheese tray. You can spend this amount for half the volume of many other cheeses and find yourself less satisfied.
Bleu d‘Auvergne ($16 to $20 per pound)
Bleu d’Auvergne is a French blue named after the region it originates from in the South of France. This young cheese ages about 30 to 60 days before export. It is made from cow’s milk and you will find it to be a little less salty than most blues. You will especially enjoy the creamy, buttery finish that comes with this cheese.
Drop this fan favorite into salads, enjoy snacking with it or place a generous wedge of it on your cheese tray when entertaining and watch it disappear. We also like to stuff it into olives and occasionally drop one into a Martini.
English Ford Cheddar ($14 to $16 per pound)
This cheese is one of the very best values out there, so it is no surprise that it usually makes my Best Buy list. It amazes me how so many other cheddars can sell for such high prices ($20 to $30 per pound) when the finish is so often bitter. I am often solicited by large cheese producers who charge higher prices for less taste satisfaction. High price does not necessarily equate to quality.
This pasteurized cheese has great cheddar taste and a wonderfully smooth, creamy finish that is unusual. It is one of our bestselling cheddars and well worth seeking out.
Austrian Salzberg ($9 to $12 per Pound)
This great Tilsit-style cheese from Austria is a semi-soft, part-skim cheese made from pasteurized milk. Many of you know the most common member of this family of cheese, Creamed Havarti. In the 1960s, the Danes renamed their version of Tilsit to Havarti to avoid competing with Tilsit varietals from other countries. They also increased the butterfat content of their Creamed Harvarti to sixty percent. I personally prefer regular Tilsits over the Harvarti version.
There are many other cheeses that belong to the Tilsit family. Some of these are well known. Stronger versions closer to the German Tilsit are Beerkase, Brick, Aged Monterey Jack and United States Muenster. Milder Tilsit examples are Austrian Grinzing, Swedish Farmer’s Cheese and Brick House, made by Vermont Farmstead.