Friday, May 16, 2008

On Selecting Artisan Cheese

Back to front: Adante Dairy's Piccolo, Bucheron, Bayley Hazen Blue

My last post discussed moderation and portion control in daily eating, and weekend feasts. Cheese is the best part of the feast. You can enjoy it first, you can enjoy it last. It goes well with crisp Prosecco or a deep red wine. My weekend plans involve tucking into a sparkling Muscato and a selection of cheeses from my favorite cheese counter in the city.

Having a great cheese shop at which to shop makes all the difference in what you'll bring home. As nice as Whole Foods makes their cheese counter look, I’d sooner toss $50 (₤1) into the wind than waste another dollar (3,000 Zambia kwacha) on poorly kept cheese. When not stored or cared for properly (temperature, rotation, wrapping each need to be taken into account) cheese will suffer greatly.

At a great shop chances are the person at the counter will be happy to teach you what they know, allow you to sample a variety of cheeses and send you home with items you will be excited to serve.

A very simple way to put together a cheese board is to pick a selection from each mammal: sheep, cow and goat, and then round the board off with a blue. I like to serve cheeses with a good baguette or Carr’s Whole Wheat crackers – they have a nice heft and sweetness to them and are a wonderful platform for any cheese.

The cheese shown above are, left to right, Piccolo (a triple crème made from Jersey cow’s milk and crème fraiche from Adante Dairy in Petaluma; Bucheron (delicate, semi-firm goat’s milk log from France’s Loire Valley); Bayley Hazen Blue (a raw cow’s milk, Stilton-like blue from Jaspar Hill Farm in Vermont). All three were lovely (I’m not a huge fan of Stilton, so the Bayley Hazen was my least favorite).

I’m very much looking forward to trying Adante Dairy’s Bel Canto, which presents like a Valançay (a pyramid with a flat top). The Valançay, named after a town in central France, has a story behind it. It’s a goat’s milk cheese with an ash-washed rind and was originally a full pyramid. Napoleon passed through Valançay on his way home from his failed conquest in Egypt. The pyramid-shaped cheese must’ve mocked him; he took his sword to it, removing the peak.

Either that or the cheese maker’s imbecile apprentice dropped the cheese form. (Isn’t it way more amusing to think of Napoleon being rattled by an arrogant fromage?)

Chi-city cheese sources:
2945 N Broadway Chicago, IL 60657
773 472 4781

Fox & Obel
401 E. Illinois Chicago IL, 60611
312 410 7301

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