Cheese 126 Cave Aged Vermont Cheddar (Trader Joe’s)


Why Yes, I am reviewing another Trader Joe’s spotlight cheese. This one is Miss May, and it’s called “Cave Aged Vermont Cheddar Cheese.”

It’s actually a good thing that I stocked up on cheese when I was in the USA last week, as apparently the bridge on the I5 has just collapsed-the very bridge that connects my house to Trader Joe’s (I do not jest!)  Perhaps somehow I knew that I would soon be cut off when I made my excessive cheesey trip there last week. Maybe it was just gluttony. Who knows?

I digress. As mentioned last week, every month Trader Joe’s (or TJ’s to its intimate circle of friends) has a Spotlight Cheese. These tend to be cheeses a little off the eaten path, not your typical cheese aisle offerings, and I think that’s great. They are also really dirt cheap and I think that’s even greater! Anything to encourage people to try new cheese is fantastic as far as I am concerned.

Plus, they had me at Cave Aged.

How I wish that I were cave aged, instead of simply aged by life.

There’s something about the phrase, “cave aged” that just send s a shiver of pleasure down my back. What happens in the cave? Do the walls of the cave themselves imbue some special power?

Alas, it seems these days most “caves” are actually dark rooms with lots of fans and special ventilation, not real caves after all, but I do like to imagine that these so-called cave aged cheeses really did just emerge from a dank cave somewhere, it’s a dream.

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This cheese is somewhat mysterious. It says on  the label “deep underground Vermont’s green pastures our Cave Aged Vermont Cheddar Cheese is matured.” But it doesn’t say if it’s a REAL cave. Sigh. Just something “deep underground.” Oh well. It also doesn’t say who the maker is, but they must have had some decent capacity to make enough cheese to be a spotlight item for TJ. It’s too bad the maker isn’t identified in these spotlight cheeses, but I’m sure there’s a reason for that. This cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk, which makes me a little sad, but that may have something to do with American rules. To tell you the truth, I have yet to figure out Canadian vs American rules for unpasteurized cheeses. It just seems, in general, that cheese is made from pasteurized milk unless it’s something really, really special. This one’s also young for a cheddar, only 10 months old.

But back to the cheese. It is a handsome cheese. It’s creamy and has a nice looking natural rind. I doubt this one is cloth-bound as they would have mentioned that, that’s the kind of thing to make a turophile swoon!

The cheese has a mild nutty smell, no hints of anything offensive at all.

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Here goes:

I’m loving it. The texture is really creamy and buttery-chewy, a fantastic mouth feel. The cheese is nutty, mild and not astringent in the least. It’s pretty benign. There’s no tyrosine crunch, a little surprising, I would have expected it, but this cheese is only 10 months aged, so I’m curious to know if it would show up in a year or so. It’s actually quite sweet and really smooth. Wow, if you live close enough to a TJ and all the bridges are intact, go and score some this month. For a cave-aged cheddar, this one’s pretty tame, but I’m pretty sure you could feed this cheese to just about anyone and they would dig it.

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Cheese 125 Pont L’Eveque

About once every two months, I like to go cross-border shopping into Bellingham, Washington. It’s only 1.5 hours from Vancouver, and-unlike Vancouver-it has a Trader Joe’s store- full of Canadians. The parking lot is awash with BC plates, it’s almost laughable.

Trader Joe’s features a new “Spotlight” cheese every month. This cheese is sold as a killer special deal,  and their cheese, in general, is about half the price of the same cheese in Canada. You can imagine what I like to stock up on (along with the lacy chocolate cookies and coconut ribbons-I digress.)

Yesterday I picked up April’s special, Pont L’Eveque. Now, it is May, not April, so I’m really hoping that this cheese is still good. It’s a little risky buying a famous and fragile cheese like this. It’s really a cheese that should be cherished and purchased lovingly from a cheese monger who slices off a morsel, wraps it in cheese paper and passes it to you-but here it is bought in bulk.  Image

Pont L’Eveque is a French cheese made of (in this case) pasteurized cow’s milk. It carries the DOP label (appelation d’origine protegee) so that means it’s the real thing. I confess to being a little confused over whether or not this cheese is normally pasteurized-web sources seem to contradict themselves. However, this Trader Joe’s version is pasteurized, that may have been done to allow sale into the USA-not sure.

It’s a washed rind cheese and one of the very oldest of the French cheeses-and that’s saying something. A famous French poem from the 13th century makes reference to this cheese, so people have been eating and loving this one for a long time.

ImageSome believe it is named after the Norman Abbey monks who first introduced it in the 12th century. Pont l’Eveque was originally called Angelot cheese. It’s also called Moyaux cheese. Why it needs three names is unclear, but you can just interchange them at a dinner party and people will think you are amazing!

Pont L’Eveque looks like a square brie or camembert, except it is a washed rind cheese, so it’s a little yellow and sticky on the outside-not that velvety white. There are small lines running through the rind. The inside is soft and gooey-I have been letting it warm up, unwrapped on my counter for about an hour (please do let your cheese warm up, it’s so much happier if you do!) It’s slightly bulgy and creamy looking on the inside, there are several small eyes throughout the paste.

Now, the smell. I have read a number of accounts describing how stinky this cheese is. People refer to all sorts of bodily odours in comparison to this cheese, and that’s just silly. Anyone who thinks this cheese smells obviously hasn’t eaten a lot of cheese. Yes, it is a washed rind cheese, which means that there are a lot of happy bacteria on the rind (not just inside) so it is a little funky, but don’t be scared off by reports of it’s reek. They are misleading. It’s a nice, pungent little smelling cheese.

ImageHere goes:

Mmmm. Oh, I like it! It tastes like asparagus to me. Isn’t that weird? It’s pretty mild, with that expected hit of ammonia from any washed rind, but it mixes nicely with the creamy, smooth interior. There’s a great balance of salt, and as it’s a rather small cheese there’s a lot of rind to body ratio-so that stronger rind mixes with the creamy interior and gives a great flavour profile. OK, I’m going to say it-it does taste a tiny bit like pee or maybe belly button (these are both guesses, for the record, I actually don’t know what either of those taste like) but there is something a little carnal about this cheese. It has a nice, “I’m alive and you are eating me” sort of taste, but I like that! I don’t want to eat some dead, wimpy sort of cheese.  I might like it even more with a little slice of pear or apple, it is described as a dessert cheese, and I get that.

Funky, gnarly, yummy, cheap.

Go and get some!

Cheese 124 Tilsit-by Golden Ears Cheeseworks

Did you miss me?

Did you miss the cheese?

Thank you, loyal readers-for staying with me over the past several months whilst I investigated other foods. True, other food is fabulous, but really-this blog is about cheese, and I have re-committed myself to investigating and reporting on new cheeses, whenever and wherever I shall find them.

Yesterday I was driving home from Mission to Vancouver, BC, when it suddenly occured to me that I should attempt to visit Golden Ears Cheesecrafters, located in Maple Ridge. I have noticed their cheeses popping up across stores in the lower mainland over the last year, but had not actually tasted their cheeses myself-such an oversight.

The storefront itself is handsome and inviting-a farmhouse stand with a small restaurant and many locally sourced foods for sale. It had that unmistakable “cows are doing their cow-work smell” welcoming me as I parked, and I just love that in a weird way.
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But more importantly, inside, the cheese…There were about 10 of their hand-made cheeses for sale at the store. Many of them seemed to be variations of flavoured gouda though, and I do try to stay away from flavoured cheese. So I took a pass on those. I chatted briefly with owner, Kerry Davison who told me about the company, and also the cheese making-done on site by her daughter, Jenna, who is relatively new to the world of cheese making, but clearly passionate and talented.
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All of the cheese at Golden Ears is made from pasteurized cow milk, not organic. However, the milk does come from the Jersey farm next door, (owned by Kerry’s brother) so at least the terroir is on point, and it’s really, all in the family.
After hemming and hawing for some time (sorry people behind me in line) I finally decided to try their Tilsit cheese, as I have never before sampled Tilsit.
Tilsit,aka Tilsiterkase, AKA Tilsit Havarti was originally made by Prussian-Swiss immigtrants to the Emmental valley who had a hankering for their beloved Gouda. As they didn’t have the same ingrediants or environment, Tilsit was what happened instead.
Tilsit is usually brick-shaped and smear ripened and often (but not in my case) has extra tastes added to it such as caraway or herbs. Tilsit is popular in Switzerland and Germany and according to web sources, usually aged 12-18 weeks, although my sample is 17 months old-so clearly, it stores well! Interestingly, this Tilsit doesn’t seem to exist on the Golden Ears Website-a limited run perhaps? Oh, I do love a limited run.
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My little wedge of Tilsit is semi-firm and a handsome, strong-looking cheese. The rind is natural, and I can see the imprint of cheesecloth on it. As you get closer to the rind the cheese is a darker yellow, and I do love that. There are some small eyes in the paste. The smell is very faint and reminds me of an emmental-nutty and mellow.
Here goes: Hmmmm. I would add salt. That’s my first hit, it’s remarkably Un-salty-and you know the palate just expects salt in cheese. It’s got a nice mouth feel, it’s chewy and actually reminds me of a Mountain or Alpine cheese with that firm but yielding chew experience. The flavour is really mild and quite benign, but saying that it’s actually delicious. It’s an easy cheese to eat, fatty and warm and yummy-nothing scary here folks, just a nice, mild chilled out little cheese-perhaps good for those on a low sodium diet?
I will be back soon, as I have another cheese from this charming fromagerie to review.