Cheese Tasting Notes: Old World/New World

At this week’s Cheese Tuesday, I brought together five couplings of a classic European cheese and a local cheese “inspired” by the European version.  We enjoyed dinner, wine and the cheeses with 25 guests. Here are the notes of the night.

1. Ossau –Iraty, sheep, Pays Basque, France
• This is an ancient style of cheese from the Pyrenees mountains that separate France from Spain. These cheeses are a product of the transhumance: the yearly springtime migration of shepherds and sheep high into the mountains, moving from one green sweet pasture to the next until the snows come again. The summers yield of cheese was used for both commerce and sustenance during the long winter when the valley villages were cut off from the world.
• The cheese is firm but slightly crumbly and grainy. The flavors are sweet and a tad sour (in other words, sheepy), buttery, nutty. It is rounder and not as edgy as the Verano.

Verano, sheep, Vermont Shepherd, Putney, Vermont
• David Major was one of the first artisan sheep farmers and cheesemakers in America.
• The Majors spent a season in the Ossau Iraty Valley learning from local cheesemakers.
• Originally called Vermont Shepherd, it has been in production since 1990. Now called Verano, Summer Cheese, it remains an all time favorite.
• It is slightly dry, with a pronounced sweet/sour tanginess that fades to a lush, buttery finish

2. Taleggio, cow, Lombardy, Italy
• Dating back to at least the 11th century, this washed rind cheese is another product of migration: cows leaving the Alps each fall were milked in the small towns through which they passed, and this bonus milk was made into cheese. It is also said that this milk, from tired cows, made the cheese tastier.
• A soft plush square with a gritty, moldy mottled orange rind, Taleggio is buttery and slightly earthy when young and much more assertive as it ages.

Tobasi, cow, Cricket Creek Farm, Williamstown, MA
• From a small farmstead producer in the Berkshires, this gorgeous raw milk cheese has an orange rind embossed with gothic tracery. It is meltingly smooth and slides easily to a spicy, lip-tingling finish.

3. Raclette de Savoie, cow, Savoie, France
• Raclette, made in both France and Switzerland, is the ultimate melting cheese. Tradionally, an open wheel of this orange/pink rinded semi-firm cheese was planted on a hearth. As it heated, a lava-flow of running cheese would be scraped onto a plate of boiled potatoes. It is also achingly delicious it its au naturel, unmelted state.

Reading Raclette, cow, Spring Brook Farm, Reading, Vermont (10.19.13)
• Spring Brook, well known for its Tarentaise, began producing Reading in 2010, utilizing the Jersey Cow milk of neighboring farms.
• It has long, drawn out flavors, is slightly denser than the French, and is endlessly smooth and sophisticated with a bright yellow paste and peach-glo rind.

4. Keene’s Clothbound Cheddar, cow, Somerset, England (11.19.12)
• An English treasure, made on the Morhayes Farm in Somerset since 1898.
• Densely textured in an almost clay-like way, the flavors start bright and lively before settling into a more domestic mood, with a touch of that basement (or should I say cave) mustiness that make English cheddars so memorable.

Vermont Clothbound Cheddar : Queen of Quality, cow, Grafton Cave Aged,
Brattleboro, Vermont (7.30.13)
• Although cheddar originated in England, it is arguable that bandage wrapping began in Vermont and spread east-ward across the Atlantic. The purpose was to hold the young, pliable cheese together, and to offer protection during the long aging process.
• Made and aged in Grafton’s state-of -the -art cave, this dense cheese is beautifully balanced, sweet and slightly caramelized, and a bit chewy. It has more of an “English” taste than I usually associate with American cheddars.

5. Gorgonzola DOP piccante, biologio, cow, Piedmont, Italy
• An erborinati, or parsley cheese, because of its green mold color, this cheese was originally made in the town of Gorgonzola when the Alpine cows, summer vacation over, returned to their flat-land winter homes.
• Moist and creamy, very smooth, with pronounced spiking to let air into the tight interior, allowing the green mold to grow.
• A lively start quickly morphs into a spice bomb of hot/cool flavor.

West West Blue, cow, Parish Hill Creamery, Westminster West, Vermont
• Peter Dixon, Vermont’s illustrious itinerant cheesemaker and consultant to cheesemakers both new and experienced, is showing off his skills with this new blue and probably having a lot of fun in the process.
• Inside the natural rind (the Italian versions are gooey rindless, wrapped in foil) is a mottled ivory/white paste, each white patch centered with a fuzz of green mold. This is the product of mixing two days curd – the more acidified older curd provides a nice home for the mold to develop.
• The cheese is moist, gritty and bright, with a tangy start that builds to a nicely spicy finish. Beautiful and beautifully balanced.

Join us for an upcoming Cheese Tuesday: April in Paris on April 15!

Bonus Cheese Song (We love you, David Bowie!)

Cheese Odyssey
(Words by Louis Risoli)

Farmer Tom to Big Brown Cow
Farmer Tom to Big Brown Cow
Let your udders fill get ready to milk now

Farmer Tom to Big Brown Cow
Commencing pumping switch is on
Milk is flowing we will have a cheesy day

Ten Twenty Thirty Forty Fifty Gallons: Milking accomplished

This is Farmer Tom to Big Brown Cow
Milk is flowing through a tube
It’s collecting in a great big copper vat
It is rich in flavor and in butterfat

This is Farmer Tom to Big Brown Cow
We’re adding rennet now
And your milk has turned to lovely curds and whey
It is molded and then it’s stashed away

For here
Is it sitting in a damp cave
Far beneath the earth
Mold will make it blue
And there’s nothing more to do

Now that it has aged for sixty days
It’s ready to be sold
So we’ll ship it from Vermont to Boston Town
The Cheese Tuesday folks would love to …scarf it down

Farmer Tom to Big Brown Cow
Your cheese is great, you should be proud
Let me milk you Big Brown Cow
Let me milk you Big Brown Cow
Let me milk you Big Brown Cow
Cow say:

Here am I standing in a meadow
High above the town
Field is green and sky is blue
Eating grass is what I do