It is never easy to pick my top ten cheeses. (Should I expand to twenty or forty?) That said, here is the updated list for 2018, ranked by my thoughts at the moment and not in any particular order. Most of these cheeses are also top sellers in our shop.
1. Diva (Cow’s milk), from Arethusa Farms in Litchfield, Connecticut
It is delightful to carry such a high-quality cheese from a farm so close to the shop. Diva belongs to the washed-rind family, which explains its brownish exterior. I consider it one of the better choices in the washed-rind category.
This is a young cheese, similar to Brie, but with no visible core. I particularly enjoy Diva on a crusty baguette with thinly-sliced raw onion, much in the same manner that limburger (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.
You will find Diva to be small (about eight ounces) and square-shaped. This local cheese remains consistent in quality and I am seldom disappointed.
2. Ossau Iraty (Sheep’s milk), from France
One of the oldest cheeses in existence, Ossau Iraty makes my list again this year. This cheese is made in the Southwestern region of France and carries an AOC designation (Appellation D’Origine Controlee). This means it is regulated by law to meet certain high standards.
Ossau Iraty is an unpasteurized cheese, which only adds to its wonderful flavor. It will show a white or cream color, depending on its age of three-to-four months. 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 do occasionally occur. Butterfat content is 45 percent and wheel size averages eight to ten pounds.
Pair this one with pears, apples, olives and assorted charcuterie, such as prosciutto and saucisson. I like a good Bordeaux, Rhône or dry Burgundy with Ossau Iraty as well.
3. Fromage D’Affinois (Cow’s milk), from France
Fromage D’Affinois has made my Top Ten list every year so far, and it will likely continue to. This is not only one of my all-time favorite soft-ripening cheeses, but a consistent top choice for most of my customers as well. Unlike most imported, shelf-stabilized Bries and Camemberts found in the U.S. today, D’Affinois remains exceptionally rich and creamy.
I especially love that this cheese continues to ripen in the store after arrival, allowing me to offer it for purchase at its peak. D’Affinois also maintains a fairly steady consistency, delivers a great flavor and is almost always readily available.
4. Ewephoria (Sheep’s milk), from Holland
Ewephoria makes my list again, and not just because I love the clever pun in the name. (I always enjoy customer reactions when asked if they’ve had Ewephoria lately.)
This cheese is still a relative newcomer to the world of cheese; it has been on the market for only about ten years. Ewephoria ages for almost a year, which is considered quite a long time for a cheese this small.
With similar butterscotch whiskey notes, the taste reminds me of extra-aged cow’s milk Goudas such as Beemster XO. There is no gamey sheep’s milk taste in this cheese.
Ewephoria is well recommended when you are looking for something sharp, but different. It pairs well with hoppy beers, but I prefer it with Bourbon or a single malt Scotch. Try it on a burger or in Mac n’ Cheese.
5. Tres Leches (Cow, Goat and Sheep milk), from Spain
Tres Leches is full of flavor and has become one of our top ten sellers, not to mention one of my all-time top ten favorites. This mild, semi-soft Spanish cheese is made from all three milks. In fact, the popularity of Tres Leches has risen so much that sales of Manchego, another more widely-known Spanish cheese, have decreased dramatically in our shop.
Tres Leches comes in a small eight-pound wheel. An olive oil rub along the exterior of the rind not only lends itself to the color of the rind, but also contributes to its great flavor.
6. Stilton (Cow’s milk), England
Known as the “King of Cheese,” Stilton has been a favorite of mine for over 40 years. In this cheese, blue veining strikingly runs through a mild cheddar base. I like it as an appetizer, but it also makes a wonderful dessert 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 and making a paste of it with a little port wine until it becomes quite spreadable. Then, spread it on a slice of pear with a walnut or two over top. See my May 2018 column in Ink Magazine for more on this exceptional cheese.
7. Fresh Mozzarella (Buffalo’s milk or Cow’s milk), Originally from Italy
Fresh Mozzarella is universally loved. Add a vine-ripened tomato, fresh basil and some good olive oil – and my night is complete. And where would pizza be without it?
Mozzarella was originally made from buffalo milk. In Italy, it still is. This version has a little more tang to it than the cow’s milk version.
8. Leerdammer (Cow’s milk), from Holland
Similar to Jarlsberg, this nutty, mild Swiss-style cheese is so all-purpose, it has become a staple in my home. Not only is it great for appetizers, sandwiches and all kinds of cooking, it makes a nice, mild fondue as well.
Leerdammer is made in a 20-pound wax-rind wheel. It has a moderate price compared to most imported Swiss cheeses, which also adds to its appeal.
9. Appenzeller Extra or Black (Cow’s milk), from Switzerland
This very flavorful cheese from Switzerland has existed for over 700 years! Appenzeller ages in a bath of white wine and over a dozen herbs, roots and spices. It is also worth noting that less than two percent of Switzerland’s cheese production progresses to the extra aged or “Black” version. In addition to being fantastic on its own, this cheese adds great depth of flavor to fondues.
10. Ford Farm Cheddar (Cow’s milk), from England
This white cheddar’s greatness comes from its creamy smooth finish, with no sulfur odor or bitter finish. Sadly, most domestic cheddars today are mass-produced and quick-aged in 1000-pound, sulfur-smelling wheels. The difference is discernable, and customers really appreciate the quality in this cheddar. Additionally, Ford Farm Cheddar costs about half the price of domestic varietals. I always say, “Try before you buy” and this especially holds true for cheddars.
There you have it – my Top Ten list of cheeses for 2018. But If you ask me tomorrow…