By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
It’s hard to believe that a whole year has gone by since my last article on “Top Ten Cheese Favorites.” So I believe it is time once again to put my taste buds to work and pick a new ten.
As I stated last year, I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite cheese”? My response is still the same: “It depends on what mood I’m in.”
I have so many that it’s hard to pick just one – or even ten, for that matter. Many factors can affect my decision. My beverage of choice would be a great influence – wine vs. beer or a non-alcoholic beverage. Is the cheese going to be served as a snack, a dessert, an appetizer, or is it going to be the main course? Other points to consider are whether I will be eating this cheese on its own, or pairing it with fruit, balsamic vinegar, honey or any other accoutrement.
So with that said, here we go. The following list is not in any particular order:
- Piave Vecchio, Aged (cow)
This Parmigiano Reggiano-style cheese will most likely always make my top five. With a fairly sharp and full flavor, Piave Vecchio goes well with most foods and salads. It also makes for a great eating – as well as cooking – cheese when used in place of Reggiano or Grana Padana. For a twist, try it with Acacia honey from Italy for a delicious dessert.
- Oma (cow)
Oma is a beautiful washed-rind cheese from Vermont made by the Von Trapp Farmstead. Made from raw-certified organic cow’s milk, then ripened to perfection at Jasper Hill, Oma is not overly-pungent the way other washed-rind cheeses can be. The whole wheel is usually just under two pounds. Rumor has it that just one bite will improve one’s singing ability. Oma is definitely a must-try.
- Fromage D’Affinois (cow)
I choose Fromage D’Affinois for my favorite soft-ripening cheese for the same reason most of my customers do. It is rich and creamy, unlike most imported Bries and Camemberts you find today. D’Affinois maintains a fairly steady consistency, delivers a great flavor and is usually available. This does not mean that I am not continually on the lookout for another good soft-ripening cheese.
- Camembert dell’Alta Langa (cow-goat-sheep)
This is a new cheese for me, as I was not previously aware that Italy made a camembert-style cheese. What a great surprise this single crème cheese turned out to be. In addition to having that great almost-raw milk flavor of similar soft-ripening cheeses in Europe, this Italian Camembert is made from three different milks: cow, goat and sheep. At room temperature it will actually run on your cheese tray. This is a definite “try before you buy” cheese; don’t go by looks alone.
- Lakes Edge (goat)
There are so many quality goat cheeses to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one. Many great local varieties are now available at farmers markets, gourmet food stores and, of course, Cheese Shops. But if I had to pick just one, it would be Lakes Edge, made by Blue Ledge Farm in Vermont.
Very similar to Humboltd Fog from California, Lakes Edge is recognized by its distinctive line of wood ash spreading across the middle. Originally, ash was used to separate two layers of cheese, one made from the morning milk and the second from the evening milk production. Ash stopped the cheese from forming a natural rind until the second layer was added. I feel the ash is used more for appearance these days.
- Stichelton (cow)
I did not misspell this cheese. Since the 1990’s, Stilton cheese makers agreed to make Stilton only from pasteurized milk. This was due to a problem with sick cows. About ten years ago, these cheese makers decided to recreate the original raw-milk version of Stilton. But they could no longer call it Stilton, so Stichelton was born.
We buy our Stichelton direct from Neals’ Yard Dairy in England, and they are responsible for aging and exporting the cheese. This cheese has a blue vein within a mild cheddar base. I like it as an appetizer, but even more as a dessert when mixed with sweet butter, table water biscuits and a glass of vintage Port wine. In fact, it’s a favorite dessert of mine.
An old piece of Stilton can be beautifully revived by removing the rind, mixing the cheese with a little Port wine, then spreading this on a slice of pear, with maybe a walnut or two.
- Fresh Mozzarella (buffalo or cow)
Who doesn’t 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. Originally, mozzarella was made from buffalo milk and in Italy, it still is. This version has a little more tang to it than the cow’s milk offering. Where would pizza be without it?
- Quebec 7-Year Aged Cheddar (cow)
Finding very-aged cheddar with both sharpness and a smooth finish is hard to achieve. Too often cheddars are pushed (ripened) at warmer temperatures to get them sharp faster. The result can be bitter. The Quebec 7-year cheddar is perfection.
- Abbaye de Belloc (sheep)
This is a 100% sheep’s milk cheese made in the Basque region of France. I prefer it over most other sheep milk cheeses because of its smooth and creamy finish.
- Challerhocker (cow)
Challerhocker means “sitting in the cellar,” which is actually how it ages. Only one man, Walter Rass, makes this truly artisanal cheese. Walter used to make Appenzeller, another great Swiss cheese, but he decided to age the cheese a little longer and increase the butterfat to 58%. The result was Challerhocker – a new version with great depth of flavor reminiscent of nuts and spice, and a very popular crystal formation, which adds to the overall taste.
So there you have it – my top 10 list of cheeses for July of 2015. But don’t hold me to it. If you asked me tomorrow…