By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
It is once again time for our annual list of best buys. My definition of a good deal is value – buying something of great quality at a very good price. Cheese and specialty foods are no exception. The following list shows several specialty cheeses that meet my requirements of a best buy.
Fromage D’Affinois ($18 to $22 per pound)
I can’t say enough about the popularity of this soft-ripening double crème. Unlike many of the stabilized bries and camemberts available, this one was not ruined for the supermarkets. It comes with a firm center core which softens as it ripens, and I love that I can actually finish the ripening process of D’Affinois right in the store. This allows me to sell it at its peak, 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 size of many cheeses with less satisfaction.
French Bleu D’Auvergne ($16 to $20 per pound)
This great blue cheese dates back to the 1850’s in the Auverne region of south central France. D’Auvergne is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and known for its smooth, creamy taste. It also has less salt than many other blues. I consider Bleu D”Auvergne to be a medium pungent blue as compared to Roquefort or other sheep’s milk blues. It holds its own with an assortment of wines and brews, and it is best served at room temperature.
English Ford Cheddar ($14 to $16 per pound)
It amazes me how so many cheddars can sell for such high prices ($20 to $30 per pound) when the finish bites the tongue with bitterness. I am constantly bombarded with samples from “artisan” cheese makers who manage to achieve a high price. High price does not mean quality, which brings me to the great English Ford cheddar from England. This pasteurized cheese manages to achieve a great cheddar taste with a wonderfully smooth and creamy finish. It is one of our bestselling cheddars and well worth seeking out.
Moosbacher ($12 to $16 per pound)
This semi-soft, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese is made in Austria. It has the large eye formations typically found in Swiss-style cheeses (you know, the ones with the holes), a slight washed-rind covering and a unique burlap-linen wrap which stands apart from other cheeses. Moosbacher is great for appetizers, but also for cooking and even fondue.
Pecorino Toscano ($17 to $20 per pound)
This is one of my favorite pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheeses from Italy. Toscano is a young cheese with a mild to medium degree of sharpness. Unlike the better known pecorino cheese called Romano, its taste is smoother with a lot less bite. The taste can also be defined by a slight grassy, herb flavor. I especially enjoy this cheese when paired with acacia honey; it was one of our desserts in Italy last year.
Australian Marinated Sheep and Goat Cheese Blend ($11 to $13 per 8 oz. container)
This cheese is once again on my great value list. No fancy name surrounds this wonderful cheese marinated in oil with a blend of fresh herbs and peppercorn. It’s great on crackers or a baguette. For a special treat, try brushing a thin coat of olive oil on a fresh-sliced baguette, toast and top with fresh mozzarella and the marinated cheese blend. You’ll be back for more.
Goat Brie ($10 to $12 per 6.5 oz.)
This is a great triple crème (75% butterfat) brie made by Woolwich Dairy in Ontario, Canada. The first thing you will notice is the very white color, which is typical of goat cheese. Goat brie has a very good shelf life compared to many other natural soft-ripening cheeses. Most domestic bries and camemberts of equal quality will sell for almost double the price.
There’s an old belief that if you don’t know the wines on a menu, let price be your guide when all else fails. This will usually work. There’s often a correlation between price and quality with wines, but when it comes to cheese, not so much. High price is no guarantee of a great cheese, or low price the sign of a poor quality one. I find that cheeses that have been around for hundreds of years tend to be at a lower or more moderate pricing, in contrast to the new cheese on the block that may start out really high. Please remember, a cheese labeled “artisanal” is not always a guarantee that it is. As I always say, try before you buy.