I spent most of the weekend on a bus to DC for a war protest march — a good, wholesome collection of people and brilliant, warm weather. For once, the event received decent shake in the press. The larger papers from the LA Times to the Washington papers reported on it front page above the fold, a good sign. I still am catching up on my reading for school, so instead of being able to compose some complicated post, this is just a cheese plate:
Carlos has been interning at Murray’s Cheese store in Greenwich Village — an activity that involves setting up, washing up, but in return being able to sit in the class for free. He’s had a great string of good ones: Caviar and vodka, Scotch and cheese, Wine and Cheese, Mountain Cheeses… so, the upshot for me is that what’s been cut but not eaten in class, he brings home. That was dinner tonight: a plate of cheese and a little mini-lesson in each. I thought I’d share that here.
We went in order of pungency, but in the interest of not jumping around the plate from the photo I’ll start with the most pungent that is front-and-center — and the only cheese Carlos has ever declined to eat… Note that the factual info is all cribbed from Murray’s descriptions — but descriptions are mine.
Vacherin Fribourgeois from affineur Rold Beeler. A creamy mountain cheese from Switzerland, it is raw cow’s milk Vacherin, aged 7-9 months wrapped in cheese cloth. The class notes say that the vast majority of Swiss dairies have given up production of raw milk Vacherin — and the reason would be obvious if I could figure out Html’s scratch and sniff tag. Grassy is how Murray’s describes it, but really the smell of grass that has moved through the cow’s digestive tract. It is an impressive, regal stink. Want worse? Peel away the sludgy rind to expose the mush to air, and it’s overwhelming. While the rind seemed too much to bear, the cheese itself was creamy — very much so considering that aged cheeses are usually a bit drier — probably a big reason for its aroma.
Moving counter clockwise (right and up) is the mildest cheese Selles Sur Cher a great goats milk perfect snow-white cheese rolled in ash, it was among the first French cheeses to be given an AOC protection — that set the naming and production regulations. In France and related civilized countries, you can buy it in the raw milk version, which Carlos tells me softer — and amazing. This little puck was a nice cheese, for sure, with a fatty goats milk taste that lined the roof of the mouth, but the bite was a bit elastic.
In the back, a nice Scottish blue cheese, Strathdon Blue made by Rory Stone from Tain in the highlands of Scotland. Super creamy, but so salty that it had to be spread thinly on bread.
The next was Tomme du Berger, made with unpasteurized goats’ and sheeps’ milk in Provence. My one obstacle to being able to like any cheese is brine-washed rind cheeses. This one was ripened for two to three months, had a decent taste, but the ammoniated, minerally rind and the spread of that flavor throughout the cheese. It’s too bad, because I think sheep-goat mixture sounds about as good as it gets. Skipping one cheese, the orange rind you see is a similar cheese, Tomme de L’Ariege made in Loubiere in southern France. It’s a raw Alpine goats milk cheese aged for five months in caves. Again, it sounds wonderful on paper, but washing the rind leaves the cheese chemical tasting to my tongue, and obscures the taste of milk.
The last cheese was a Cave Aged Gruyere. I have a hard time deciding whether my favorite cheese are Swiss or Italian, but this was a good argument for the former. These are raw cows’ milk cheeses aged for about a year. The cheese is firm, fruity, a really nice clean smell, smooth texture dotted with little crunchy crystals of amino acids that develop in well-aged cheese and set off like little sparklers in your mouth. This cheese isn’t the consistent perfection that is found in Appenzellar, but it’s still damn good. Swiss cheeses were traditionally taxed by the item, so instead of convenient carry-out sized pieces, they are made in massive 80 pound wheels. Investing that much in each wheel called for the traditional precision and control over production, as one bad wheel would represent a big loss for a farmer.
Carlos has a IOM meeting he has to attend later this month, and so I’ll probably switch out with him for the class. I’m totally psyched.