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Saturday, August 26, 2006

What's The Cheese Snob Eating Now?

I'm catching up on emails before I go to sleep. It's one of those Saturday nights where I'm more content to stay home, listening to the radio, and eating cheese than I would be going out and getting into non-cheese-related trouble. Not very NYC of me. Maybe I need to move to a farm. A CHEESE FARM.

So I'm enjoying a bit of Teifi, an unpasteurized cow's milk cheese from Wales.
Here are my tasting notes:
this one is on the aged side. I've seen it much younger. It's semi-firm, and there are a handful of small eyes in the almond-colored paste. natural rind, very nubbly and covered with white and gray mold.
speaking of mold - there's a bit of blue that's traveled throughout the holes in the paste. not a defect. it's fine.
dry texture, toothsome
tastes milky, sweet, little bit lactic, vague woodsy/smokiness - like fall leaves burning. rich, buttery. a little cavey. this is an excellent table cheese - nothing offensive or challenging about it - but not boring or flat, either. far better than I remember Teifi. maybe I had it too young or not aged properly because I remember it being boring.
this is a good cheese for a rainy day. or maybe I am saying that because today was rainy and this cheese is good. I'll have to try it on a sunny day and see what I think then.

oh, and I've seen this cheese compared with Gouda, but I don't get that one at all. this is nothing like Gouda. I hope I am not insulting the cheesemakers here if that was their intention. This cheese is very nice, but Gouda it ain't. It's better than most Goudas people can get in this country, and, in comparison with the good Goudas we get, well, it's still different.

Yours in Cheese,

Friday, August 25, 2006

Tasting Notes - August 22, 2006

A few months ago I bought myself a handy Moleskine(R) notebook. Not only is it pretty damn classy looking, it's very useful, and the pages are made of paper that takes ink nicely.

I bought it because it's a good idea for any person working with food to keep a tasting notebook. Hell, even if you just really like eating food and want to remember some remarkable things you've tried, it's worth keeping a tasting notebook.

For me, it's a little more than a tasting book. I also take notes there from meetings I've had with clients, potential clients, advisers, etc. And sometimes I just take notes, things I have to remember, etc.

This past week I was at Zabar's doing my usual cheese gig and a few nice cheeses came in. A few are completely new to me, from an affineur* in France named Pascal Beillevaire. One cheese is an old favorite, but I haven't seen it at Zabar's for awhile and a description needed to be written for it, so aw shucks I had to eat it. And then there were the other usual grab-bag cheeses from all over the place because Olga is such an intrepid cheese buyer.

Here are my tasting notes, more or less verbatim, from August 22, 2006. (I don't include the end result - my fleshed-out written descriptions - because those more or less belong to Zabar's. Plus, I think the notes hold interest because they are my raw, unfinished, on-the-spot organoleptic impressions of the cheeses. I hope you agree.)

Pascal Beillevaire's Pitchounet
raw. sheep. rennet. 13 oz, give or take. Tall disc - like a wider Chaource. Covered with dusty white mold, dalmatian spots of gray. Smells like a cave. Paste loosely curded lots of small eyes. Soft, earthy, savory (herbs), saline, complex, nuanced, rich.

Pascal Beillevaire's Clacbitou
raw. goat. rennet. 9 oz, give or take. Shape of Charollais or Chabichou - tall barrel. Covered with rough, almond-colored rind, white mold. Belt of raffia around its waist to hold it together. Smells earthy and tangy. Thick layer of creamy ivory beneath rind, center flaky white. Mmm. Tangy, rich (esp for a goat), minerally, astringent, milky, complex, lingering, light citrusy.

Pascal Beillevaire's Grise de Volcanes
raw. cow. rennet. Tangy, sweet, nutty, earthy - very Alpine. Floral, nuanced, very nice. Cross in flavor between farmhouse Cheddar and Appenzeller. Semi-firm, solid, tight texture like Cheddar.

Montgomery's Cheddar
From Neal's Yard Dairy. Clothbound, cave-aged traditional Cheddar. Semi-firm, fairly solid, some flake and fissures. Sharp and fruity, sweet with a little caramel, earthy and cavey near the rind. The best!

Delft Blue
Holland. Goat. Bright white with gray-green mold. aka Blue de Graven. pasteurized. from the Schie River between Rotterdam and Den Hague. rindless. semi-soft paste. sweet very sweet, caramel, fruity, tangy assertiveness but not a strong blue. pleasant and surprising. a little but of crunch, creamy melting mouthfeel.

Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue
pale ivory color. lots of blue-green veining. crumbly and semi-soft. assertive tangy milky bitey garlicky toasty complex and superb. you can tell it's hand-made!

Rossini Blue
Italy. washed with red wine. ivory paste. TONS of blue-gray veining. smells like grape candy. tastes like sparkling grape juice. whoa! tangy bite comes next, smooths out a little to a fruity finish. a little crunch. leaves a tingle on the tongue. pasteurized. made in the mountains and valley pastures of the Arrigoni Valtaleggio.

*Affineur - A French term, adapted into English use, for a person who ages and cares for (usually) artisan-made cheese. This person is not the cheesemaker and does not usually make any cheese at all, but is a craftsperson highly skilled in maturing cheese, including washing and brushing the rind (if necessary), turning the wheels, and monitoring each cheese's progress. An affineur will work closely with the cheesemaker to ensure the cheesemaker's intentions for the cheese are met. There are not many affineurs in the United States; most artisan-made cheeses are made and aged by the same person or group of people.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Back Behind the Counter Again

So I'm going to start working at the newest cheese shop in the LES (as far as I can tell) - Formaggio Essex. It's the southern outpost of the venerable Boston-area cheese shop, Formaggio Kitchen, and its managed by a very personable and enthusiastic fellow named Max Shrem. I really like him, and I like the shop.

There are cheeses there unfamiliar to me, and that's exciting. I haven't worked behind a cheese counter in a little while so we'll see if my back holds up.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Secrets of the Cheesemongers

I recently received a bunch of English farmhouse cheeses from my cheese-friend Jayne Rockmill. They're all from The Fine Cheese Company, and I'm trying them so I can write some articles on English cheese.

I offer you a very special gift: a glimpse into the secret world of the cheesemonger. Specifically, the cheese taster. As I tried these cheeses, I took detailed tasting notes, and I'm going to print them pretty much verbatim. I hope you enjoy them, but keep yer dirty paws off! Don't crib my notes for your own cheese descriptions. If you want to be taken seriously in this world, you must actually taste the cheese on your own and write your own damn descriptions.

I'm not including information here on the cheesemaker, animal, rennet, etc. Only my tasting notes.

Sharpham Rustic
even a small slice gives off an intense aroma of cave: damp, musty, clean earth.
like my old dirt-floor cellar.
shaped like a cross between a spaceship and a big, puffy apple pie. covered in dusty white mold. the paste is the color of French butter.
moist & flaky.
earthy, milky, lactic tang (like young goat cheese), nutty, lightly astringent, not strong, rustic flavor and appearance.
texture is mouth melting, like cold butter, but a little more chewy.
rather refreshing - good in summer, perhaps with berries.
herbal notes hide out in the background.

Monk's House
natural rind, velvety stone-colored rind with white moulding.
wheel has a curved top edge.
mostly solid paste with some crumbling and fissures.
aroma is earthy.
taste: buttery, but salted butter. hint of toasted nuts and caramel, finish of brown butter.
faint metallic notes on the finish.
nicely balanced.

Oak-Smoked Cerwyn
springy, semi-soft paste, solid.
mold-covered natural rind.
smells of woodsmoke - obviously!
earthy, woodsy, tangy, creamy, melting mouthfeel, Autumn dried leaves.
the tangy taste evaporates rapidly as the paste melts in my mouth.
the smokiness isn't an overwhelming distraction.
rather, it ties nicely to the melting-in-the-mouth experience.
clean finish.
pleasant table cheese.
far nicer & more rustic than many smoked cheeses out there.

That's all for now.

Yours in Cheese,