By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
If you do a general comparison, you will find that domestic cheeses are generally more expensive than their European counterparts. The amount can vary anywhere from six to twelve dollars per pound on average. For example, Bucheron goat cheese from France will range from sixteen to eighteen dollars per pound, while domestic Humboltd Fog goat cheese will range from twenty six to thirty dollars per pound. The reason, I’m told, is that Europeans tend to support cheese while Americans favor supporting milk. I’m still searching for a better answer; I just wanted to make you aware of the issue.
Most people are continually looking for a good deal. 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 represents a few specialty goods that meet my requirements of a best buy.
Saint Nectaire ($12 to $14 per pound)
This great cheese has been around since the 17th century. It’s a small round, about four pounds, with a natural, edible rind, very creamy texture and mild flavor – quite similar to Reblochon, with a hint of mushrooms and hazelnuts. The butter fat content in this cheese is 45% in dry matter. Saint Nectaire comes from the Auvergne region of France and is made from cow’s milk, either raw or pasteurized. Unlike Reblochon, which is not permitted in the country due to the raw milk 60-day rule, this cheese is older and allowed in. This is a great buy.
Black River Gorgonzola ($13 to $15 per pound)
This is a great quality domestic blue cheese from Wisconsin. It has great taste and a richness that is usually found in much more expensive cheeses. Black River is both a great eating cheese and a great cooking cheese. Other domestic blues will reach upwards of $30 per pound. Here is a great Gorgonzola sauce for pasta, especially nice on wild mushroom ravioli.
Easy Gorgonzola Sauce
2 Tbls butter
2 shallots, minced
1 tsp thyme (optional)
1 pint of light cream or half & half
¾ pound of Black River Gorgonzola
In a medium sauce pan, combine butter, shallots and thyme. Sauté on low heat for 5 minutes, then add cream (or half & half) and Gorgonzola. Continue to cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Leerdammer ($13 to $15 per pound)
This semi-soft, part-skim milk cheese is made in Holland. It has the large eye formations typically found in Swiss-style cheeses (you know, the ones with the holes). Leerdammer is very similar to Jarlsberg, but I prefer its flavor. Please don’t get excited about the part-skim label; this is not a low-fat cheese. In most cases, when a cheese is made with part-skim milk, it simply means that some of the butterfat has been removed. Limiting the butterfat is usually done only to a certain percentage as to control consistency in cheese-making. Remember, cows produce milk with different butterfat contents.
Australian Marinated Sheep and Goat Cheese Blend ($11 to $13 per pound)
No fancy name surrounds this wonderful cheese, marinated in oil. A blend of fresh herbs and peppercorn also adds great flavor. This is great on crackers or a baguette. For a special treat, try brushing a thin coating of olive oil on a fresh-sliced baguette after toasting, then top with a little fresh mozzarella and the marinated cheese blend. You’ll be back for more.
Goat Brie ($10 to $12 per 6.5oz cheese)
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. Most domestic Bries and Camemberts of equal quality will sell for almost double the price.
Garafalo Italian Pasta ($3.49 to $6.49, depending on shape)
This is a great line of pastas from Italy, made from 100% durum wheat semolina. In addition to the great taste, I also like how forgiving this pasta is; if overcooked a little, they still stay al dente (still firm to the bite).
When it comes to wine, in my opinion, better wines generally tend to be higher priced. There’s an old belief that if you don’t know the wines on a menu, when all else fails let price be your guide. This will usually work. There’s usually a correlation between price and quality with wines; however, 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” it not always a guarantee that it is. As I always say, try before you buy.