Cheese 130 Valdeon (Queso de Valdeon) DOP

 

I recognize that blue cheese isn’t for everyone. First, it looks kind of vile: it’s mouldy and blue and we humans generally don’t eat blue things because blue things are usually moldy, and moldy things usually make us sick. We are actually hard-wired to avoid blue foods (I’m sure I read that in a magazine somewhere.) Also, blue cheese kind of tastes like vomit, and I mean this in the very best way. As mentioned previously, the enzymes found in some blue cheeses are actually identical to those found in vomit, so it’s not JUST a coincidence! However, if one can get beyond these simple facts, there is a sumptuous world of blue cheese out there. Alas, my own immediate family cannot seem to move beyond the facts of blue mould and vomit, so I often eat blue cheeses all on my own. Don’t feel sorry for me though, I don’t want to share my blue cheese. After I review it, it spends the rest of the week crumbled in the daily salad, if you must know, and that blue and I really do enjoy the week together.

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I’ve been looking for a good Spanish blue to review for a while, Spain being renowned for their Blues.  I happily stumbled across today’s cheese, Valdeon at a local cheese shop-at long last.Valdeon is a traditional Spanish blue cheese produced in the valley of Valdeon in the province of Leon, Spain. The climate is less humid here than other regions of Spain and this results in (according to web sources)  a “less virulent mold” and hence a less intense tasting blue than some other Spanish blues, specifically the infamously raunchy tasting close cousin of Valdeon, Cabrales. Can we just perseverate for a moment on the phrase “less virulent mold?” That’s the kind of thing that makes cheese newbies run for the hills, so perhaps you might want to keep that little morsel of information to yourself when presenting a Spanish blue on your cheese board.

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The rind of a Valdeon is wrapped in the leaves of the sycamore tree, which allows certain bacteria to penetrate the cheese adding a unique and complex taste profile. If there are no leaves, it’s not a Valdeon.  Valdeon has DOP (PGI) or Protected Geographical Status. That means that all Valdeon is really Valdeon or someone’s in trouble. Valdeon can be made seasonally from cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or a mixture, so it’s hard to tell what kind of Valdeon I have, as I ‘m not about to run a DNA test on it. The mold used in this cheese is our old friend, penicillium roqueforti, and the milk used may be raw or pasteurized. Maturation takes place in real mountain caves for 2-4 months. And who doesn’t love a cheese matured in a real bona fide mountain cave, I certainly do. Usually.

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My little sticky wedge of Valdeon DOP is quite fascinating to behold. It looks a little like a Stilton, the creamy grey paste is shot through with a healthy (might one almost say virulent) looking blue mold. There is black leaf wrapping around the cheese. As I peel back this sycamore wrapping it’s kind of sticky and mouldy and somewhat grim, honestly, it feels like an autopsy. The wrapping does not wish to be separate from the cheese, but off it goes. Once it’s removed, the cheese awaits me. It smells divine, kind of like a mushroomy, reek, sordid, naughty, dark. It almost seems wrong to eat it in the morning, this is a mysterious nighttime cheese.

Here goes…Raunchy! Salty! Spicey! Mouldy! Holy hannah, if this is the milder version Cabrales how do people eat that cheese? Wow, Valdeon is kicking ass and taking numbers. Definitely NOT a starter blue. It’s burning my throat, and making my tongue go numb-incidentally this throat and tongue numbing is caused by  mycotoxins (fungal toxins) in the decomposing penicillium roqueforti, don’t worry, it’s not an allergy!  (I hope). OK, honestly, I admire this Valdeon, but it scares me. I want to drizzle it with honey and eat it with a pear or a chocolate bar, or something, but just off the plate it’s even a little virulent for my palate.

Wow. I’ve met my match.

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Cheese 129 Roaring Forties-King Island Dairy

Last year I attempted to visit Keso Cheese Shop in Whiterock, BC (a city outside of Vancouver.) I was stopped at the door by the police! Alas, the store had just been robbed a minute earlier. As I stood outside, peering at the cheese between the boys (and girls) in blue, I promised Keso I would be back. Yesterday, was that day, and what a great road trip. Proprietor and fellow turophile Mauricio Kremer was happy to chat cheese with me, extolling the virtues of cheeses he and I have loved, and imploring me to give my cheese nemeses, Tete du Moine and Stinking Bishop another go. Nice try, Mauricio.

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I was only in the shop for a minute when this little beauty caught my eye.  Roaring 40′s has actually been on my “must try” list for over a year, but this is the first time I have seen the real thing. Did you think I made a mistake and meant “Roaring 20’s?” OK, I actually thought that was an error too, but no,  Roaring 40’s refers to the strong westerly winds that hit the fromagerie on King Island, found in the Bass Straight south of Melbourne, Australia on the 40 degrees latitude. This wicked wind, called the “Roaring 40’s”  is responsible for many shipwrecks, but also for the terroir that eventually makes its way into the cheese. According to cheese legend, (I love me a cheese legend) the King Island grasses were actually seeded from straw mattresses washed up from these same shipwrecks. So truly, this cheese does belong to the Roaring 40’s! The cattle of King Island nibble shipwrecked straw and kelp all day, but that’s about it, truly shipwrecked terroir!
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Roaring forties is made by the eponymous  King Island Dairy  from cow’s milk. It’s aged 10-12 weeks and is inoculated with blue pencillium roqueforti. Basically it’s a Roquefort, but made with cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk, and with an Australian shipwrecked mattress twist. A thick coating of blue-black wax covers the cheese, and this acts to limit which bacteria can enter the cheese and also keeps the cheese sweet and fruity. It also keeps it quite moist and protected inside, which is a good thing as Australia is a long, long way from Vancouver. Despite the challenges I have had tracking it down,Roaring 40’s is pretty well-known in the world of cheese, it’s won a ton of awards, but most recently  the 2012 Champion Trophy in the Australian Grand Dairy Awards

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Roaring 40’s is an extremely sexy looking cheese. Blue/black thick wax covers the exterior with a creamy paste shot through with mould, what’s not to like? As I peel back that thick wax (don’t eat it , silly, it’s not a rind) I’m kind of drooling. It’s a handsome cheese, it looks like Stilton to me with that lovely creamy cow’s milk yellow. It really is moist for a blue, that wax did a good job. This cheese smells fabulous, pungent and cheesy, it’s a little sticky to the touch. Enough, I must taste.

Mmmmmm. Wow. Oh yah! It’s really smooth and unctuous, yet slightly crumbly in the mouth. There’s a tiny little crunch in the paste, is it salt? Is it calcium? Who cares, it’s great. It’s salty and fruity, almost caramel sweet but with that unmistakable spicy blue mould hit. It’s really a terrific blue, and not overly terrifying. It’s actually pretty mellow for a blue, I MIGHT be able to talk to blue-phobic husband into this one…nah, I’m keeping it for myself.

Cheese 128 Isle of Mull Cheddar

I recently asked one of my favourite cheese sellers to name his favourite cheese. I realize that this is a cruel question. People ask me this cruel question all the time, and you might as well ask me who my favourite child is, it’s just wrong. Instead, ask me what my favourite washed rind cheese is, or my favourite mountain cheese, or perhaps, my most beloved cheddar.Still challenging, but much more realistic.

However, my cheese seller, when pressed (that’s a cheese pun) admitted to one favourite and that favourite is today’s cheese, “Isle of Mull Cheddar.” It’s taken me quite a while to track some down, as this is a very rare and precious cheese, but for you, readers, and for cheese, I will do just about anything.

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Isle of Mull cheddar is made by one family only, the Reades. They are the only family with a dairy herd on the Scottish Isle of Mull, which lies along the coastline of west Scotland. The island is quite “wee” with a population of no more than 3000. Proprietors Jeff and Chris Reade have been making cheese here since 1979. Their cheese is made from the milk of their own herd of cows, and due to the small area of the island, this milk is very affected by terroir-limited grain, and limited grass. To supplement the available food, these cows are fed the “spent grain husks” from the nearby whisky distillery, which is added to their feed (lucky cows). Apparently, this adds a slightly yeasty and perhaps alcoholic tang to this cheese. Wow! I mean, most of us have heard of wine and cheese, but this is the first whiskey IN cheese I have run across.

This is a relatively young cheddar, aged about 18 months, and it’s wrapped in cloth. Can I just say here  how mad I am for a cloth-wrapped cheese? I believe this is only my third cloth-wrapped cheese in the over 130 I have reviewed. Maybe I’m sentimental for the days of yore when more cheeses were wrapped, or maybe it’s that  funky smell the cloth gets when the bacteria move in, but I really give extra bonus points for this. More cloth please, cheese-makers of the world!

OK enough waxing on, now a word of warning. This is not a cheap cheese. Do you see this slice? Yes, it’s a tall slice, but it cost $8.00 here in Canada. That’s kind of crazy. It is a raw milk cheese (I’m not sure if it’s organic, it doesn’t say) and yes, it comes all the way from a wee Scottish Island where the cows drank spent grain husks all day, but this is one of the priciest cheeses I have sampled to date. Don’t grate this cheddar into your mac and cheese!  SAVE  IT FOR A RAINY DAY AND A GOOD FRIEND.

 

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First, this is a handsome cheese, that’s the best way to describe it. It’s an old-fashioned cheddar, with a creamy coloured paste but it’s very pale-much more pale than most other cheddars, and darker as it approaches the rind which I am thrilled to say is wrapped in cloth (don’t eat that part, for heaven’s sake.) You can see the texture of the cheddaring in the paste, a little pattern of pressed curds with tiny cracks. It’s a firm cheese, but a little moist, it’s not crumbling like some cheddars. The smell is crazy! I can actually smell whiskey in this cheese, I kid you not, these cows must have been truly “lit” as we say here in Canada. I know human moms who are breast-feeding aren’t supposed to drink as the alcohol passes on through the milk…that’s what has happened here folks. I can absolutely smell booze in this cheese, it’s so interesting!  Talk about terroir.

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Now the tasting-it’s so complex! It’s actually really hard to explain. The texture is a nice cheddary chew, yes, no crunch, but the taste. It’s meaty, salty, boozy. There’s no tang that I sometimes taste in cheddar, that tang is replaced by an alcohol note. It’s not sweet either, despite it being a raw cheddar. It’s fruity, but without any sweet, like a savoury fruit. It’s completely unlike any cheddar I have ever tasted.It’s funky and yeasty and aggressive. It’s boozy and sexy and weird. I don’t even know that this is cheddar, I don’t even know what it is, it’s kind of out of this world.

Wow, Isle of Mull Cheddar, I think, for once, I’m kind of speechless, or maybe I’m just drunk from eating you. Crazy!

Cheese 127 Beecher’s “Flagship” Handmade Cheese

Have you ever longed for something a very long time-fantacised about it-wondered what it would be like to have it as your very own thing? I mean, who doesn’t?

But is that longed-for thing ever a cheese for you?

You see, for me, it often is. Perhaps that’s why I have a cheese blog and so few other people do. When I start thinking about a cheese, I just can’t get it out of my mind. I must have it. I must possess it! I must ingest it! his is how I feel about today’s cheese, Beecher’s Flagship.


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About a year ago I made my annual pilgrimage to Pike Place market in Seattle. It’s a vibrant if not overly crowded and touristy indoor/outdoor market full of fruit vendors, craft vendors, and men flinging fish. Across the street from the market is Starbucks store number 1 with its devotees lining up in pilgrimage, then a little further down this store, Beecher’s. A cheese store, with its own line up! When I was there last the line up was out the door, and I didn’t have the time to wait, so I was stymied. Why were they all lining up for cheese? This seemed so cruel to me. Apparently there was a sort of cheese making museum behind these lines-with a matching one in the Flatiron district in New York- where cheese making can be observed first hand, and I do SO APPROVE  as cheese making as entertainment, more places should do this

At long last I have managed to procure my own Beecher’s cheese, and it awaits me now. The label says, “semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, robust and nutty, straight from Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market” (I told you that bit already). I’m not sure if all the cheese is actually made there on site, or if this is a demonstration kitchen with another kitchen doing the heavy lifting elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine how that much cheese comes from such a little space, but maybe they make it work-I’m not sure.

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It’s apparently “pure, all natural and additive free and aged 15 months.” This cheese is pasteurized and made of cow’s milk, for those keeping tabs of these sorts of details. Beecher’s is the brainchild of turophile Kurt Beecher Dammeier. He opened his doors in this business in 2003. 1% of all sales go towards the Flagship foundation providing education about the benefits of healthy eating and nutrition to kids-sweet, like the healthy eating of cheese. Nicely done, Kurt!

Just in case you were wondering what exactly this  “flagship” cheese is, I notice that it won second place in the 2009 American Cheese Society “Aged Cheddars” so there’s your answer, it’s a cheddar. I notice from the Beecher’s website that there’s also a 4 year aged version and a smoked one too. Flagship also comes in a raw milk cheese, and a cloth bound raw milk version called “reserve”-bummer, I didn’t manage to score that, but now I have another goal, I must get me some of that cloth bound reserve.

My little slice of cheddar, erm, Flagship sits beside me. It’s not raw milk, or cloth bound, but it’s still a lovely cheese to behold. It crumbled ever so slightly when I cut it, and I do so love that. It has a lovely looking texture with a faint echo of curds in the paste. It’s a uniform light yellow throughout with no rind. The smell is totally mellow and chilled out. This is, after all a pasteurized cow’s milk cheddar, even my husband couldn’t complain about this one. Incidentally, there’s a LOT of complaining at times around this house at the cheese I bring home, I mean, really.

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Here goes: Salty, tangy, meaty-it’s a nice cheddar. There’s just the slightest hint of tyrosine crunch in this cheese, which makes me very happy. I bet the 4 year version is delightfully crunchy. It’s a nicely balanced cheese-the tart and salt are in great balance, and it has that happy cheddar hit that everyone loves, I mean really, who doesn’t love a real cheddar. My only complaint would be that perhaps it’s a little tame for my taste buds. Now that I know there’s an aged and a cloth bound version, I long for that strong mouldy taste as you approach the rind. I appreciate that may not be for everyone, but it sure is for me. This one is a perfectly lovely and friendly cheese, it’s a starter Cheddar and certainly won’t scare anyone away-and for those of us who like to kick it up a notch, there are more gnarly options, and THAT’S a very good thing.