Cheeses 149-156, a Tasting Flight, oh my!

Hello Cheese Lovers!

I have been away for a bit, exploring some other food, but over Christmas, my husband gave me a $50 gift certificate for cheese, and yesterday I decided to see what could be had for $50 in Vancouver.

I present to you, the first ever “My Blog of Cheese” tasting flight.

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Here is a summary of each cheese and my impressions, and all before 6 in the morning!

Livarot (France)

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I have wanted to review this cheese for over a year, and boy, do I wish I tried this one earlier, it’s a gem. Livorot is  on AOC washed rind cheese from Normandy, France made from pasteurized cow’s milk. This one’s a stinker! It’s meaty, asparagusy (is that a word?), chewy and sticky, creamy  and gooey. The paste is light with small eyes, the rind is yellow/orange and sticky. There’s a slight crunch from the salt crystals in the rind. This cheese is amazing, so good! I just want to eat it all day. Wow!

Pain D’Ange (France)

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I’m thinking this means “Bread Angel?” Does that mean it’s supposed to be eaten with bread, like a raclette? I really can’t find out much about this cheese, but that’s OK, because  I’m not into it-at all.  It’s overly mild, lifeless, and floppy. It lacks salt, and is somewhat insipid, it’s almost sweet. I just don’t get it, I feel like I’m missing something with this cheese. Can’t win them all.

Landana Gouda Blue Cow-organic, Holland)

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I have been looking for a cheese like this for a long time: the love child of blue and Gouda, perfect! This is a handsome cheese, tall and strong with a wax rind, shot through with blue. It doesn’t read to me like a gouda, it’s more like a structured blue, and pretty mild for a blue. It has a surprisingly  creamy texture, and unlike many blues, it’s not overly salty or too in your face-it’s pretty chilled out.

La Tomme des Joyeaux Fromagerie (Quebec)

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This is an unpasteurized, cow cheese from Quebec. It’s a pretty cheese with a nice yellow paste and dark brown rind. The taste is, well- “farm-yardy,” you can really taste the terroir of the field, and I like that. It’s an authentic tasting cheese. It reminds me of Tomme de Savoie. It’s a meaty, chewy, melt in the mouth cheese. Mild with  sweet grass notes.

Le Religeuse (Quebec)

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The Nun, is a thermalized, organic cow cheese from Centre du Quebec. It was created in 2012 by the Fromagerie Presbytere for the 125th anniversary of Sainte Elizabeth-de-Werwick where the cheesemaker is located. The term Religieuse (Nun) refers to the cheese crust that forms at the bottom of the fondue pot or the well-grilled rind around the half wheel used in raclette. It’s a tall, handsome cheese, with medium-sized eyes in paste. It’s very mellow,and  slightly rubbery, I can barely taste it, mind you, this is a fondue of raclette cheese, and I’m eating it straight, so that’s hardly fair…let’s try it melted…oh! Much better! Melt this one, it’s just great, gooey and unctuous, mmm.

Queso de Cabre al Romero (Spain)

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This is a pasteurized goat cheese from Castille-la-mancha, aged for four months and covered in Rosemary. Goat AND Rosemary, together, as they should be. It’s toothsome, with a great texture, and lovely rosemary hint, nice and chewy, very mild yet delicious, nicely balanced. Although it is technically cheating by adding an extra taste, I will overlook it for this one, nicely done.

Mannoir (Quebec) which I believe is Tomme du Manoir Affines au Cidre de Pommes 

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This one is a little mysterious. It’s a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese, but I can’t find any reference to a “Mannoir” from Quebec, yet there is a Tomme du Manoir Affines au Cidre de Pommes- which looks a lot like my mystery cheese, so let’s go there. I first attempted this cheese straight, and once again, didn’t care for it. Then it occurred to me that this is also likely a raclette, so I melted it, and presto, delicious! There’s a little lesson there, if a cheese seems weird to you, melt it, you just might be eating it the wrong way. If this is the Cidre de pommes, it was finished in apple cider, which explains the sweet note-not bad when melted, do NOT eat this one cold.

 Black Mountain Cheddar (Wales)

This attractive cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk by the Coombe Castle company. It’s named for the Welsh Mountain Range where it is produced from Welsh cheddar, white wine and garlic and herbs. This one is cheating, clearly, it has onions, herb and garlic right in it-and I didn’t notice this it until it was too late. Still, very nice surprisingly soft paste for a “cheddar”, great balance, with a nice onion tone, a friendly cheese.

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So that’s it, 8 cheeses in 8 minutes-have a great weekend, see you soon!

Cheese 148 Fiore Sardo: Fine, Foul, Fantastic!

There are many different types of pecorino cheese-and I have reviewed several of them on this site, but today’s cheese, is a very special one. Pecorino Sardo, also known as Fiore Sardo (the flower of Sardinia) It is a DOP (Denominazione d’Origine) cheese given PDO (Protected designation of Origin) status. Many people confuse this special cheese with its more famous relative, Pecorino Romano, but our little flower of Sardinia is a richer and less salty version. It’s also the traditional cheese used in pesto, providing a nice balance to the garlic and basil.This ancient cheese actually predates the more famous Pecorino Romano. Where Pecorino Romano can be a “tad biting,” Fiore Sardo tends to be less overpowering and delicate-or so they say.

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Fiore Sardo is a firm cheese, traditionally made from raw sheep’s milk specifically from the Sardinian breed of sheep. This is a truly ancient cheese, said to have originated during the  Bronze Age!  This cheese is traditionally made in small mountain huts by shepherds. The natural smoke from open fires in the huts give this cheese its characteristic smoky taste.

After the cheese is formed, it is briefly brined and then placed on a  natural rush mat suspended  above the fireplace of the mountain hut. This is old-school cheese smoking, and thus, I approve. I actually can’t stand “smoked” cheeses normally, but I must make an exception for this mountain-hut smoking. After this smoking, the cheese wheels are transferred the roof of the hut before going underground in a cellar for the last couple of months, where the wheels are flipped and rubbed with olive oil (!!!)

WARNING-THE INFORMATION AHEAD IS SLIGHTLY VILE

Fiore Sardo can be processed further into the most infamous cheese in the world-Casu Marzu, which is a fly maggot infested version of this cheese. As Casu is illegal, even in Sardinia, I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to review it, so this is about the closest I’m going to get. So shall we-for a minute, discuss dear Casu Marzu? This fabulous cheese goes for beyond fermentation into decomposition, this occurs via the digestive track of the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei. The rind of the Fiore Sardo is cut open and the larvae are deliberately introduced. The fermentation of the larvae digestion breaks down the cheese fats making the cheese very soft and liquid. The live and translucent worms are ingested (live!!!!) along with the cheese. These larvae can jump up to 15 centimetres in the air so people cover their sandwiches with one hand as they eat their bread and cheese. I really wish I was joking!

Alas, today’s cheese is the non-maggot infested version of Fiore Sardo, although I must confess something. When I sat down to write this review I thought the cat had been sick somewhere near the computer. After searching for a few minutes, I realized it was the cheese. This is not a joke. It actually smells exactly like cat-sick, and this is WITHOUT the addition of fermentation and maggots. I just hope you appreciate the lengths I go to bring you the latest of cheese on this blog.

My thin slice of Fiore Sardo is dry and robust. The paste is textured throughout with small crystals. The paste is creamy in the interior, then gets darker brown near the rind. This is a naturally smoked cheese, and you can smell that smoke (through the cat-sick smell) as you get closer. It’s, um, pungent. I’m actually a little afraid, but at least there are no maggots leaping up to 15 centimetres from it, I must take small solace in this fact.

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Here goes…

Holy crap! FLAVOUR!!!! INTENSE!!!! It’s sharp, very sharp, and salty, and astringent and sheepy and crunchy and then smoky. It’s completely over the top. I think my husband would actually not be able to eat this one without immediate expiring . This is probably the most intense cheese I have tasted-and that’s saying something. It basically kicks you in the face, over and over again. It’s like every strong cheese taste in the world has been distilled into this one cheese. But, actually, it’s really good. Mmmm. It’s so freaky that it’s fabulous. It’s disgusting, but in a completely compelling way. This one is definitely NOT a starter cheese, but if you are looking for something to strip down your taste buds and reconfigure your idea of what is edible, go for it!

Cheese 147 Hirten for Hirtenkäse: a Yummy Mountain Cheese

I stumbled across a new cheese yesterday, in the cheese remainder bin at Whole Foods. I’m overly fond of the remainder bin, and always spend a couple of minutes rooting around in it for something special. Today’s find was a new one to me, Hirten by Castello. Hirten is cheese giant Arlo (Castello’s) version of Hirtenkäse, or “herder’s cheese”,  a distinctive cow’s milk Mountain Cheese cheese made in the Allgäu area of Southern Germany. Hirten was made available for sale in 2012 in North America, which explains why it’s flown under my cheese radar thus far.

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Traditionally, cow herders bring their cows from the Alps down into the valley in Allgäu each fall, which marks the official start of the Almabtrieb, or descent. This special day is celebrated with a festival. During this festival the “lead cow” of each farmer is decorated with flowers as the herd is lead down from the mountains to their barns. Passers by great and cheer on the cows. Seriously! That’ s a sight that’s going on my bucket list.

That’s where the name Hirtenkäse comes from. It is German for “herdsman‘s cheese”. Hirtenkäse cheese was traditionally made from the milk from these cows, and has been made here for centuries from the pooled milk of many of these small farms.  The milk was pasteurized before the cheese was created, and then aged- traditionally only aged for 8 months prior to sale. The “Hirten” version I’m tasting today is an homage-I suspect- to this traditional Hirtenkäse: similar recipe, similar milk, but I’m not convinced that “Hirten” and “Hirtenkase” are exactly the same cheese.

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My little wedge of remainder Hirten looks quite dry and aged-I would have guessed this cheese was older than 8 months. There is a wax rind which I shall remove, of course. The interior is a creamy yellow, shot through with tyrosine (crystals) and it kind of looks like a Grana Padano or a Parmigiano-Reggiano a handsome, bold looking cheese, and quite showy. The smell is mild and, well, cheesy.

Here goes…
Mmmmm. This is a true Mountain cheese. It’s like a Comte crossed with a Gruyère. It’s creamier than it looks, it doesn’t crumble in the mouth, it dissipates. It’s a nice balance of sweet and salt, the faint crunch of crystal is there, but again, quite restrained. As you approach the rind, the taste gets a little funkier. That may be a mild understatement, ok it gets really funky towards the rind. Mmmm. Actually, I really dig this cheese, everything is perfectly balanced, it’s a big, handsome cheese with a strong cheese taste, but nothing pops, it’s all smooth sailing.

I quite like this Hirten, but I would love to compare it to the artisanal version- Hirtenkäse, as it’s hard to say how close this one comes to the original. I do like to think of the lead cow being covered in flowers coming down from the mountain, I’m just a little worried that this maybe didn’t happen in this case. Regardless, it’s a delicious cheese, and could be a proud addition to any cheese board.

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Cheese 146 Beautimous Beemster X-0-a Fine Dutch Cheese

Often, when it comes time to research my weekly cheese, I really have to dig. Many of the cheeses I discover are relatively unknown, or obscure. But not today’s cheese, this one is a little rock star. Pages and pages of information on the internet seem to clarify that Beemster XO-now known as Beemster Extra Aged, is a very special-and perhaps more importantly, ubiquitous cheese.

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I have been kind of  ignoring Beemster for a while-because it is so damn ubiquitous. It just seems to show up in every cheese case I see, saying “pick me! Eat me! I’m so yummy!” And that kind of extreme extraversion in a cheese I find a little off-putting, but what can I say, finally I have given in.

Beemster XO (you can check out the Beemster website here ) is a Dutch Gouda cheese made of pasteurized cow’s milk. It is not a super aged Gouda-despite the name-I have sampled Gouda over 4 years of age. This one is matured for 26 months, making it Beemster’s oldest cheese.  According to the Beemster folks, the reason they sell at the 26 age point  is to keep the cheese still a little moist and cuttable, while retaining that famous butter-scotchy aged Gouda taste. 26 months seems to be the tipping point-we shall see!

Beemster is actually a municipality in North Holland and it is also the name of the first “polder” in the Netherlands-which is land reclaimed from a lake bottom after the water was removed via windmills (seriously, can this get more fantastic?) The Beemster Polder was dried during the period 1609 through 1612. This famous Dutch ‘Polder’ was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, making this my first Unesco World Heritage site terroir based cheese, hurrah!  It’s unique terroir is the result of the clay soil left behind in the polder- nutrient and mineral rich,with a distinctive slate blue colour. Apparently, this terroir yields grasses more fertile and thicker and longer than others, giving the milk produced here an especially sweet and creamy quality.

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The cheese makers at Beemster are all local residents of the polder, and the majority have learned their cheesemaking techniques from previous generations. The top-secret recipe for Beemster has been handed down since 1901 (I do love a top-secret cheese recipe, bonus marks for this!)  Beemster is run by a co-op of  farm families, and the co-op itself was formed in 1901. Prior to this, cheese here was made by hand by the farmers’ wives, each in their own kitchens. Forming the co-op streamlined  production, ensured consistency, and made sense financially. Over the years, this small co-op has stood by its original (top-secret) recipe.

Beemster XO is also quite the award winner, in the World Cheese awards of 2012 the Beemster Classic took home the gold and the Beemster Vlaskaas and XO took home silver medals.
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My little chunk of Beemster XO did slice nicely-as promised. Sometimes it is a real drag drying to cut through an aged gouda-but my steak knife did the trick with no complaints. It is a deep yellow cheese, darker towards the rind. There is a wax cover over the natural rind-and I shan’t eat that! The paste is even with small white pieces of crystal tyrosine pockets, which is always a good sign! We do want our aged cheeses to have that extra little crunch that tells us that Father Time has been doing some work here. It smells just great, inviting and cheesy.
Here goes…
Mmmm, it’s like butterscotch cheese! It’s sweet and rich and the texture is fantastic. It’s an intense and cheesy taste experience, not frightening, but the taste profile is substantial and rich.It’s chewy and sticks to your teeth for a while before melting into sweet bliss. It’s just full of crunchy tyrosine pockets. It’s almost like candy in a cheese form mixed with pop rocks. The taste is divine, but the texture is making me swoon. Great job, Beemster, you clearly deserve your place at the head of the cheese case. If you are looking for an easily found, super tasting (and chewing) aged gouda, this is an easy choice.

Cheese 145 Luscious Limburger-a Much Maligned Beauty

My step dad’s parents were great lovers of Limburger in his childhood. One parent or the other would stop-at any point in the day- and inquire, “want one?” If the other agreed, then a sandwich would be created. A specific sandwich: dark rye bread, thick slices of onion, brown mustard and smeared slabs of Limburger. These sandwiches were eaten wordlessly by his parents, but with great enjoyment. To my step dad, this was,  perhaps, the most vile concoction ever created. He never did sample this infamous sandwich, but his parents remained devoted to the Limburger sandwich all of their days. I have known this story for years, and thought it was original to his family. In researching this blog post, I discovered I was wrong. This was in fact, a famous sandwich! The Limburger Sandwich,  one connected with and enjoyed by working class folks around the world for over 130 years.

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Limburger is perhaps the most infamous of all cheeses for its stench. So let’s unpack that now, shall we?  That “something died in my toes 3 months ago” smell  of Limburger, is actually caused by a unique bacteria. Limburger is a washed rind cheese, and this bacterium is applied several times during the ripening. It functions to decompose the cheese, and by doing so it transforms the cheese in a few months time from a fresh curd- similar to feta- into  a stinky one that eventually smells a little like pee. This bacteria, Brevibacterium linens, is-in fact, the very same one found on human skin. Brevibacterium linens is also partly responsible for body and foot odour, so that familiar smell is no coincidence. It really does stink like feet, and armpits, and……

Originally made in the Belgian area of Limbourg-hence the name, Limburger is widely made and enjoyed in Germany as well. Limburger accompanied German and Belgian immigrants to America in the late 19th century. It was a taste of the old country and a nostalgic food that connected them to a home they had lost.  Limburger  was closely related and associated with these new immigrants, and jokes about the cheese and about the immigrants went hand in hand.  Vaudeville comedians called it the “cheese you can find in the dark.” The new world hybrid dialect of English, German and  Dutch was called “Limburger English.”  Limburger symbolized the lower class and also comedy. These new immigrants, they were so funny! They couldn’t speak correctly, and they ate weird cheese! Limburger and new immigrants were often maligned. In fact, in 1902, the Louisville, Kentucky’s health officer, Dr. M.K. Allen, banned Limburger and promised to prosecute any and all Limburger dealers. Determining that its bacteria made it “unwholesome.”

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As if that wasn’t enough, then Prohibition came, and virtually brought an end to Limburger. It was traditionally a pub cheese, served in a sandwich with beer, and when the taverns closed, there was such Limburger excess that it had to be fed to the hogs! (Lucky pigs.) Really, the story of Limburger is the story of the North American palate. As our appetite for cheese in North America has become more sanitized, our taste for Limburger has plummeted. That along with a century of jokes and insults make it no wonder that poor old Limburger is hard to find these days. Once the great cheese of the working man, Limburger has been relegated to the back of the cheese case.

My sample of Limburger is from the St. Mang company, in Germany. It’s made from pasteurized milk, and is in a pretty red foil package. When I peel back the wrap, I smell an ever so pleasant odour of feet, and perhaps just a little crotch-I shall admit that here, but it was simply charming! It’s no worse than a Taleggio or an Oka, and it is nowhere as gnarly as an Epoisses or a Stinking Bishop. I don’t know what all the fuss is about!  This is hardly the stinkiest cheese I have smelled, it’s just one of the many washed rind cheeses that use bacterium linens, and when you have bacterium linens, my friends, you have body odour. That’s just the way it is.

My Limburger is sticky and slightly orange and brown on the outside rind. It’s a rectangular cheese with a pattern of the cheese mould slightly imprinted. My cheese is “best before” 2 days from now, so I know it’s just perfect. It’s ready to smear on some rye bread with onions, which, alas, I do not possess. What a shame! Yes, this cheese does reek, let me be clear, but why is reeking such a bad thing? Why do we have to pretend we live in a world where yummy things don’t stink? I refuse, I embrace the reek.

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Here goes…

Mmmm. It’s like meat, and cheese, and asparagus, and salt, and arm pit, and shoes all rolled into one. Actually, it’s freaking great. It’s relatively mild…relatively…yes, the rind is more intense in flavour compared to the much milder interior paste, but the interior is just cheesy goodness. The rind is giving me wafts of uric acid (that means pee, by the way) and ammonia, but I really dig it. I really dig it! Did I mention I dig this? Holy Hannah, this cheese is really great, one million immigrants couldn’t be wrong. Go out and get some, pick up some rye bread, onions and brown mustard and get connected to your roots. Limburger, you are a keeper!

Cheese 144 A real “Dutch Treat” Opulent Oplegkaas-Boeren Goudse

One of the biggest issues for me in becoming educated about cheese, is that my family is getting educated about cheese too. In the past, I could simple buy a big block of cheap orange crap and throw it in their general direction-and they were happy. But oh, how things have changed. Last week, my teenager begged me for some gouda. Some very pricey gouda. A rare, raw milk, gouda. “Oh mommy, it looks so yummy, oh please!” She said.  And I relented, even though I wasn’t in the mood for expensive, raw milk gouda. Teenagers can be so demanding!

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Thus, today I bring you-literally out of the mouths of babes (because that’s where it’s going once I complete this post) a fabulous looking (and pricey) gouda: Oplegkaas, from Holland. Boeren Goudse Oplegkaas is a traditionally made gouda. It is typically aged 3-4 years before sale (opleg means ‘aged’ in Dutch.) Alas, I don’t know how old my sample is, but let’s assume three years minimum. It is  made from raw milk, and only from milk sourced during the summer season, when cows are grazed in the pastures of the peat meadows of the “Green Hart” region of Holland-between the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht.

Gouda has a kind of great origin story. The actual town of Gouda became a central cheese market in the seventeenth century. The first “weighing rights” were granted in 1668 in the town of Gouda. Farmers and traders were obliged to weigh their cheeses here and taxes were imposed. It was a cheese based economy of sorts. Over the next 200 years or so dairy cooperatives took over most cheese production in Holland from individual farmers. Fortunately, the Gouda cheese makers resisted, and traditional farmstead cheesemaking has persisted in this region. Approximately 250 farmers in the Gouda region, still produce raw milk farmstead cheese (called boerenkaas). Their numbers are shrinking, so go out and get some, if you have a hankering for the real thing.

Like all Gouda, Boeren Goudse Oplegkaas is a washed-curd cheese. Washing the curd helps to removes part of the lactose, which reduces the acidity and bitterness in the aged cheese leaving it sweet and caramel-like in affinage.This Oplegkaas-Boeren Goudse is a true raw milk product. This means the milk and curd are not heated above 40 degrees celcius during the production, resulting in this cheese being labelled with the EU label for guaranteed Traditional Speciality (GTS). And for the record, gentle readers, that means I am back on raw milk cheese-who could stay away?

Only a handful of cheese makers still produce Gouda in this  traditional way, making the cheese in wooden molds lined with natural linen. The rind of the cheese forms naturally with a minimal use of plastic. No, this is not that red plastic covered crap you see in every market claiming to be “Gouda.” This, my friends, is the real thing.

My tiny sample of This Oplegkaas-Boeren Goudse-wrestled away from a teenager, is a handsome, tall chunk of cheese. I couldn’t get a shot of the larger round-sadly, but it’s clear that this came from a large cheese. It’s very firm and aged, and was challenging to cut-hence the crumble in the second shot. It smells just divine when I remove the wrapper. It’s been waiting for me, for years!  It’s a creamy yellow cheese, darker near the wax rind, there are some large eyes and it’s crusted with tyrosine crystals (mmm).

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Here goes…

Dry. Sweet. Crunchy. Caramel. Salivary glands working over time. Intense! Aged. Complex.Melting butterscotch. Hint of mould Crazy! WOW! OPLEGKAAS BOEREN GOUDSE!!!!!!

Go out there and support a Dutch tradition, with this ” Dutch Treat.” I’m keeping the rest of this one for myself.

Cheese 143 St. Albert Cheddar-Extra Old and Extra Yummy

My husband returned home earlier this week from a business trip in Ontario. Like all good husbands returning from a business trip, he brought me a gift, but like the best husband in the word, this gift was a cheese not available locally! Take this to heart, fair readers. If you are returning from abroad and considering which gift to bring home, why not cheese? Cheese says “I love you” more than silly jewels or horrid flowers.

I have never seen this cheese before, as it seems to be available only in Ontario. This charming-looking cheddar has an old-timey wrapper-which I do appreciate. It’s from the St Albert Cheese folks, in Ontario. According to their website, people have been making cheese here under the auspices of St Albert since the end of the 19th century, and not just any cheese- but a “highly renowned Cheddar” the St-Albert.
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Since its humble beginnings, five generations have continued the tradition of cheese making in St Albert. St Albert is actually run by the St-Albert Cooperative Cheese Manufacturing Association. The cooperative came together with the “collective will of a handful of Eastern Ontario milk producers determined to process their own milk,” and also includes a dairy bar, open to thousands of visitors each year. According to a tip I found online, if you go to the dairy itself, you can watch the cheese-making from a glassed-in gallery…and buy cheese “off-cuts” at a reduced price. Sounds like fun.

It looks like St Albert’s is a pretty big deal in Ontario, they have a robust line up of cheeses, and are available widely. Interestingly, it looks like there was a terrible fire last February at the cheese plant that nearly ruined operations. Thankfully, other cheese-makers stepped in (under supervision) to save the cheese. OK, now I almost want to weep, that’s one of the sweetest things ever. The St Albert’s folks also have their very own store for their products, it’s called Cheddar et Cetera . All of the cheese at St Albert’s is made of pasteurized, local (to Ontario) cow’s milk (non-organic.)

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As I remove the wrapper (once again charmed by the old-timey drawing of a cow) a yummy, sharp cheddary smell emerges. Oh goody! It’s a pale white and yellow cheese with faint signs of cheddaring in the paste. I don’t see any crystals. This is the “extra-old” or “très fort”- actually, I like the phrase “très fort” better…but how old is extra aged?

Here goes…

Mmmmm. Damn fine cheese! This is a real cheddar, it tastes like what I want cheddar to be, but so often cheddar isn’t. It’s sharp and is making my saliva glands squeak happily. It’s a great mixture of salt and that astringent aged taste, but it’s also just a tiny bit sweet. It breaks apart in your mouth,  crumbles, and then dissipates. There’s a very subtle crunch of tyrosine in the paste, to remind you that this is cheddar you are eating.  It’s good, it’s really good!

Damn Ontario, they just get everything.

If you see this cheese, buy it and eat it, you will be happy.

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Cheese 142 Le Chimay à la Bière-a Stinky Little Trappist Cheese

Before I started my journey into cheese, I was under the impression that the really stinky cheeses were blue. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was incorrect. Although blue cheeses can be raunchy, the REAL stinkers are washed-rind cheeses, sometimes called “smear-rind” cheese. The reason for this is the extra bacterial goodness they have-because sometimes, internal paste bacteria just isn’t good enough! As these special cheeses age, they are regularly “washed” or smeared with something or other that encourages bacteria to bloom all along the surface. These surface bacteria generally smell something like feet, giving these cheeses that fabulous “I haven’t showered forever and have just walked 20 miles through the jungle and now removed my socks” odour that I am so very fond of.

Thus, I have great hopes for today’s cheese, a beer-smeared Belgian cow’s cheese, made by Trappist monks in their very own Abbey. I’m not really sure why Trappist monks have such a connection with smeared-cheeses, but they do, and let’s not quibble. People who dedicate their lives to prayer and smeared cheese are a-ok in my books, so a minute of quite reflection and thanks for the monks of Chimay.

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Trappist monks have been making cheese in the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont since 1876. Chimay country is cow country, and there is a long history of farmstead cheese-making in this area (just north of the French border.) Chimay cheese continues this tradition, and is made from the milk of local cows around the abbey- although this is a modernized operation, (praise the lord!) The monks of Chimay make four kinds of cheese, but they also make several types of beer. In this case, their cheese is smeared with their beer, bringing together the very best of both worlds. Interestingly, one of the ales made at the monastery is exclusively for the monks. Jealous!

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The store-created label on my sample of cheese says that it is made of raw milk, but the Chimay website refers to pasteurization, so I’m going to go with this one being a pasteurized cheese. If it’s really important to you, check this one out for yourself, as there is some ambiguity.   It’s a handsome cheese, with a gorgeous orange natural washed-rind, a little bumpy, like a yeasty sandpaper created by the development of the Bacterium Linens culture. It almost smells like a bread rising, mixed with a little bit of cheese, mmmm, cheese bread. The interior paste is quite yellow and giving, there are a few small eyes in the paste.

Here goes…

Mmmm, it’s quite supple and smooth, with just a hint of armpit. The interior paste is just divine, the texture is so inviting and springy and sticky. The rind is more intense with a faint whiff of ammonia-but not overwhelming. The rind is ever so slightly bitter, but this is common in beer-smeared cheeses, it’s not off-putting, and has tiny little salt crystal crunch which mixes in nicely with the paste. Actually, it’s pretty tame for a washed-rind cheese. This would be a good “starter” washed-rind cheese for the stinky cheese newbie, one gets that feeling of old feet without being overwhelmed-plus the texture is just divine.

Nicely done!

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Cheese 141 Pecorino Affienato, a Hairy little “Honey” of a Cheese

I just received results this morning for my genetic heritage test, and I am thrilled to learn that I am 1% Italian. I always felt drawn to Italy, and the lovely foods and specifically cheeses there, but now I truly know that it is my blood that is drawn to all things Italian. Thus today, both my blood and I present an Italian cheese-and this one’s a looker.

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Have you ever peered into the cheese case of a store and wondered, “what the hell is that?” I actually do all the time, but this one takes the cake. Pecorino Affientato is a sheep milk cheese that is covered in a layer of hay. Actually, it really looks like fine dry grass to me, hay seems more robust than this . It looks like a weird, hairy, ancient sort of rustic cheese. It’s a little frightening to behold, but I shall soldier on. My Italian ancestors ate this sort of cheese, and so shall I! Sheep milk cheese has a long history in Italy, specifically in the area of Tuscany, where the tradition also occurs of wrapping the cheese in “straw” (which you don’t eat, silly) to give the cheese an extra-grassy flavour.

As if that wasn’t enough, this cheese is ALSO infused with honey-right in the cheese. This pecorino (remember, there are hundreds of pecorino cheeses, pecorino just means sheep milk cheese) is made on a commune in Tuscany. And by commune, I don’t mean hippie-type commune, alas, although “grass” is involved. These people actually produce something besides hazy memories . This commune was started in the 1970’s by a group of friends, and the farm has run as a co-operative since. They do everything on site here, they raise the sheep, milk the sheep, create the cheese, package it, and send it away to be consumed by lucky folk across the world. All the people who work on the farm also live on it.

Il Forteto makes a wide variety of cheese, including some DOP designated pecorino cheese. They made the  Pecorino Bigio which I reviewed previously and wasn’t that crazy for,  and Pecorino Doro which I also reviewed and ADORED, but the Affienato is perhaps the most interesting pecorino. Bigio is covered in ash, and Doro is really aged…but honey and hay, now THAT’S something!

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My little wedge of hairy-looking Pecorino Affientato is simpering beside me here. It’s honey-coloured with a fine rosemary looking hay covering-which I shall not eat. It really smells barny. Like a sheep hanging out in a bale of hay with some honey combs lying around. The paste is firm, there are no eyes.

Here goes…

Hmmmm. This one is goooood. It is sweet and melts across your tongue. It’s herbaceous and grassy, it somehow reminds me of camomile tea. As you approach the rind there is a distinctive grassy note. The sheep taste is present, of course, but it is much moister than most pecorino cheese, I suspect that hay covering was retaining some of the moisture. The honey is quite subtle here, if you didn’t know about it, you might just assume it was from the sheep milk. This is a really groovy cheese and it would make an excellent addition to any cheese board, it’s showy and spectacular.

Bravo!

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