I'm back from vacation. Of course I brought cheese with me. I didn't eat it all, because I wanted to make sure I had something to eat when I got home.
Here's what I brought:
- Aged Gruyere - classic Alpine from Switzerland. Raw cow's milk. Nutty, fruity, with a little barnyard for good measure.
- Pecorino Crotonese - one of those Italian sheep's milk cheeses that needs to get as much, if not more, attention than Pecorino Toscano and Pecorino Romano. Robust and savory, with a tanginess that reminds me of the smell of tomato plants.
- Fromagerie Soreda Taupiniere w/Paprika - not all French chevres come from the Loire Valley. This one is from Perigord; yup, that's truffleville. Nice fresh chevre shaped like a mole hill, dusted with paprika. It's one of those fresh chevres that will make you swear off the acrid, vac-packed mush that passes for chevre in too many places.
- Monte Enebro - lots of cheesemongers list this Spanish goat as one of their favorites. Sadly, it was unavailable for about 6 months. I need to learn more about its seasonality - was that the issue, or was the FDA being a pest again? Anyway, this is a semi-aged goat cheese, in the shape known as pata de mulo (leg of the mule), is covered with a beautiful array of molds, giving it a dry, piquant flavor and a striking appearance.
- Chabichou - speaking of the Loire Valley, this is one of those French chevres that serves as a reliable standby for cheese snobs. This time of the year they get good (starting in late-Spring, really), as the goats are on the browse and out of the barn, where all they ate was blah silage all winter. Chabichou is a thin barrel, just a few inches tall. The exterior is a wrinkled, ivory-colored rind, looking sort of like brains. As it matures, the flaky, moist paste firms up, and turns from fresh and lactic to assertive and minerally.
I think that's it.
Today I took a trip down to Essex St. Market on the LES of NYC. I had never been there, but I had three reasons for going today: cheese, cheese, and cheese.
1. Cheese: My friend and former co-worker, Anne Saxelby, opened Saxelby Cheesemongers a few months ago.
Anne and I worked together at Murray's, and she and I both went out on our own to do big cheese-related things. I had yet to visit her, and since going to the beach was out of the question today (thunderstorms and sunbathing are a bad combo), I decided to see what she was up to.
What a great shop she has! Anyone who thinks American cheese consists solely of orange slabs individually ensconced in plastic needs to take the F to Delancey and hop over to see Anne. Her store offers the best of artisan-made American cheeses.
Hey people, yesterday was Independence Day! Isn't that reason enough to see Anne and get some USA fromage?
No? Okay, how about Square Cheese from Vermont's Twig Farm: an aged goat tomme (yes, it's square-shaped) with a rind just like Garrotxa. Anne and I could think of no other cheese with that rind anywhere in the world, and we're puzzled by how Twig Farm did it. Think of the just-sprouted antlers of a young deer, and the short-napped fur surrounding those antlers, and that's the feel of the battleship-grey, moldy rind surrounding Twig Farm's Square Cheese. It's damn savory, too, tasting as if the goats got into the onion patch.
Anne also has dairy products from the Evans Family Farm, organic since 1999. Go to her website for more info on a benefit she's putting on to send The Evanses to the Slow Food convention in Italy. And go to the benefit party! I'll be there.
2. Cheese: Essex St. Cheese Co. is the creation of Daphne Zepos and Jason Hinds.
Cheese cognoscenti may recognize Zepos from her previous post as Director of Affinage at Artisanal. Anyone who has ever enjoyed farmhouse cheeses from the British Isles should give thanks to Hinds, as he directed the export division of Neal's Yard Dairy. Not a bad pair, eh?
They've teamed up to bring fantastic Comte to the USA. Comte is one of the most popular cheeses in France, and it's made only from the raw milk of Montbeliard cows. It's in the Alpine family - think nutty, sweet, savory, fruity, milky, mmm - and it's close cousins with Gruyere. I believe Essex St's Comte is aged about 18 months. Daphne and Jason are selling it retail and wholesale out of their shop at Essex St, but when I went there, they were closed. Maybe they were in Jura. I'll go back again and see them.
3. Cheese: My friend and former co-worker, Chris Munsey (another caseophile), told me that Ihsan, the owner of the formidable Formaggio Kitchen (Cambridge, Mass.) is opening a cheese shop at Essex St.
I wasn't sure if it was open, and when I got to Essex St., I found out that not only was it open (about 2 weeks now), but it also is in today's NYTimes Food Section. Max Shrem, the manager of the Essex St shop, is shown in the picture, towering over the cheeses.
The shop has an excellent Laguiole, a Reggiano only they import (it's explosively fruity, like perfect, ripe berries), and a lovely cheese I've never heard of called Vermont Ayre. It's cow's milk, and reminiscent of Tomme de Savoie. Very nice. It's made in Whiting, Vermont, which is in Addison County, and is located sorta kinda by Middlebury. (An aside: I left Vermont in 2003. Since then, there's been an explosion - yes, there's that word again - of artisan cheesemakers in the state. Every time I turn around, there's a new farmstead cheese from a new Vermont farmstead cheesemaker. I'm so happy! Go to The Vermont Cheese Council's webpage and track down every single one of those cheeses. Yes, that's an order.)
Max is very friendly, sweet, and helpful. He'll let you try all sorts of cheeses, and I even got a sample of German Speck while I was there. No, it's not cheese, it's cured meat. The shop is small, but well-maintained, and their variety of fine cheeses and other hard-to-find foods is impressive.
Cheese really is exploding. Not as in "bomb" but as in "rocket." Per capita consumption in the US is hovering somewhere around 31 lbs. per year. (Some perspective: in France, it's about 50 lbs per capita.) The trade papers report that not only is there an increase in cheese consumption in general, but there's an increase in consumption of imported and artisan-made cheeses.
This is good news for The Caseophile and my ilk. This is a good time to be in cheese, especially in NYC. In the past few years, I've met a handful of passionate, dedicated cheese people, many of them around my age (32). There's definitely an Old Guard and a New Guard, and lots of cheese-related wisdom is being passed down from the Old Guard, and a lot of passion is being passed up from the New.
I think it's time for us NY-based Cheesemongers to band together. I propose forming The New Amsterdam Cheesemonger's Guild. What will our purpose be? To promote excellent cheese, to provide a support network, and to have a hell of a good time doing it. Who's with me?
Yours In Cheese,