Cheese 135 The Farm House Natural Cheeses-Brie


Sometimes, when something is so good, it’s hard to find the right time to share it. I have been aware of today’s cheese and cheese-maker for over a year now, but it’s just never seemed like the right time to let this little secret out. But enough is enough, welcome-cheese friends, to The Farm House Natural Cheeses.

About an hour and a half outside of Vancouver, lies the sleepy town of Agassiz, in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Last year I was lucky enough to go and visit The Farm House Natural Cheeses to interview their cheese maker and have a tour of their premises. Yes, thanks for asking, it was awesome. At the risk of sounding like an overly star-struck cheese lover, let me just say, that this was potentially the best cheese experience I have had to date.

Everything there was just as you would want it to be. Cows and goats produce the milk on site, and the cheese is made a few steps away: true terroir. The beautiful mountains of the Fraser Valley loom overhead, and the fields of hay shimmer below. Besides that, the whole family is involved too,  from daily milking and barn chores, hay-making and field work, to cheese making. It’s a real family affair.

The co-owner and head cheese-maker, Debra Amrein-Boyes, is one of only twelve people in western Canada and US to be inducted into the prestigious French Cheese Guild, the “Guilde des Fromagers Confrerie de Saint-Uguzon.” This guild  recognizes those who protect and continue the tradition of cheesemaking around the world. And because of this honour, Debra actually has her own patron saint of cheese, and what’s not to love about that? Yes, you did just read that, a patron saint of cheese. Besides that, she’s a lovely lady with a true passion for cheese, who showed me around her fastidiously clean facility and her sumptuous affinage caves. I was loath to leave.

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So how does a cheese maker in a little sleepy valley in BC get such an honour, you might wonder? It’s likely partially because Debra authored her book, “200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes-From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt” which was nominated in 2009 for a World Gourmand Cookbook Award and is available for purchase in many book stores, or online. If you have ever wished to try your hand at home cheesemaking, this is the book for you. No, I don’t own it yet, and yes, it’s on my Christmas wish list.

Right, I have gushed enough. Can you tell I’m a fan?

The Farmhouse Natural Cheeses makes a number of cheese products, most of which I have sampled (lucky me) but when I saw today’s Brie for sale, so deliciously close to the “best before” date (remember, this means “best on” date,) I knew that today was the day, and this was the cheese.

This round of Brie is rather diminutive, it’s about 2 inches in diameter. It’s made from pasteurized cow’s milk, sourced on site. It’s an authentic, naturally ripened Brie, hand-ladled, with a lovely, fully developed white mushroomy rind.The smell is inviting, a warm combination of mushroom and straw. When I cut into it, the paste is astonishingly yellow, the milk from the cows must have been very rich, it makes a handsome contrast to the white rind (which I shall eat, aways eat the rind on a brie!)
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Here goes…

Mmmm, it’s salty and smooth and creamy and fantastic. It’s a delicious balance of fat, salt and mushroom. The rind is fabulous, with a real texture to it, and when you mix it in with the paste it makes for an amazing experience. It’s Fraser Valley terroir at its best. It’s perhaps not as gooey as I hoped for,  but it’s only been out of the fridge for 15 minutes, so I’m leaving it out the rest of the morning, and hope to see this little cheese run. It’s a mild and inviting locally sourced Brie, made by a local cheese master (with her own patron saint of cheese.)  What’s not to like about that? Go out and buy some, and thank me later.

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Cheese 133 Blarney Castle Cheese

Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to look for a really sexy cheese. I start to worry about what the people at the cheese shop think of me if I’m there too much (and I am.) Do they think I’m sort of cheese junky?  Do they think I’m obsessed?  It worries me.  That’s why, from time to time, I like to buy my cheese at the supermarket. It’s just so delightfully anonymous. No one is monitoring my shopping, no one judges my cheese choices. And sometimes, you can find interesting cheese at the market.

I stumbled across todays’ cheese on such a cheese shopping trip. It’s Blarney Castle by Kerrygold-the ubiquitous Irish cheese maker. I thought it charming, with its old-timey wrapper (I’m such a sucker for an old-timey wrapper) and it’s adorable name. I reviewed Kerrygold Dubliner cheese a while back, and you can read my review here. It was a sweet, slightly odd cheese-also in an old-timey wrapper (nice consistent branding. ) Kerrygold uses all “natural” and grass fed milk for its cheeses.  Although it’s a big company, they do try to source locally, and what’s not to like about that?

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But back to Blarney. The real Blarney Castle or Caisleán na Blarnan is a partially ruined medieval  stronghold in Blarney near Cork Ireland. My Irish Nash relatives are also from Cork Ireland, so I truly do feel a connection to this cheese. This castle  dates from before 1200 in some form or another. The famous Blarney Stone is found in this castle, also known as  “the Stone of Eloquence.”  It’s a magical stone! People  hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which gives the gift of bullshit. As I mentioned, my people come from this area, and I suspect this gift has also been passed down generation to generation. Perhaps even finding its way into this very blog! Full circle.

What does this all of this have to do with cheese? Probably very little. It’s a catchy name and an Irish cheese, and you have to call it something, right? The cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk from Irish cows who hypothetically graze in the area, but really, who knows, it’s a bit of a mystery. The wrapper with a charming picture of a milk bucket (old-timey!) claims that it is a “smooth and mild gouda cheese”, which is-of course, a Dutch cheese (not Irish) -so again, mysterious.

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My little block of Blarney Castle is a calm, unassuming cheese. It’s soft and a nice golden yellow colour. There are tiny eyes in the paste. The smell is sweet and mild. There’s nothing to see here folks!  Actually, this is a pretty little cheese, it wouldn’t scare anyone, and that’s important to me. So many of the cheeses I sample are frightening to behold. It looks like cheddar, not real cheddar, but supermarket cheddar, uniform and without blemish.

Here goes:

Sweet, benign, toothsome, yummy. It tastes just like it looks, it’s a simple and unthreatening cheese. I could give this to anyone and they would like it, it’s a perfect starter cheese. It’s actually really yummy, it has a great balance of sweet and salt and the texture is very springy and milky. I don’t know where the “young gouda” thing comes in, it’s not like any gouda I know, it reminds me more of a German farmer’s cheese (which reminds me, I need to review German Farmer’s cheese.) I have just snarfed down my wedge and I’m heading back for more. Who knows the real story here, not me, but if you are looking for a grass fed cow’s cheese at the market and you want to stray from the usual without getting too freaky, give this one a try, and that’s no Blarney!

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Cheese 132 Pecorino Bigio-Il Forteto

I think we have established that cheese-making in an ancient art. We don’t really know how long cheese has been eaten for-it doesn’t leave a great fossil record-but let’s suffice it to say, it’s been a while.

Take Pecorino, for instance, the beloved Italian ewe (sheep’s) milk cheese. It has been around for at least 2000 years in one shape or form or another.  Roman records indicated that it was actually part of a soldier’s rations. It kept well in the heat, and provided the much needed fat, protein and salt on the road-kind of a little sheepy energy snack, Roman-Style.

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I’m extremely fond of a Pecorino, and have reviewed several of them here (for the record, Pecorino isn’t a protected name, it’s the name of a family of cheeses, hard cheeses made from sheep’s milk- in fact, the word derives from pecora meaning sheep.)

And I don’t know if you have ever checked out a sheep  udder, (perhaps a new hobby?) but those things are tiny. These poor little sheep really have to work to produce enough milk to make cheese, especially when compared to a cow. I just feel that sheep cheese is so much more precious than cow cheese. Hence, whenever I see a new iteration of pecorino, I must try it-I am compelled.

Which brings me to today’s cheese, discovered on sale at a local cheese shop, Pecorino Bigio. Now, don’t be alarmed when you see cheese on sale. Often-as with cheeses like brie and camembert-it’s a good thing. It means that the cheese is just right for eating-but I suppose even cheese can get too old and tired (hard to believe) so I was taking a risk picking this one up (50% of.) But I had never seen or tasted it before, and I found it’s aspect compelling-grey and zombie like.

Bigio means “grey and ashy” in Tuscany. Hence, this one of those weird looking grey ash cheeses. Really, this is an old and traditional cheese making process, don’t be alarmed. After five months of  maturation, this Pecorino continues to ripen at least 2-3 weeks after being covered with a layer of burnt oak wood ashes. These ashes were previously used to heat the ovens to bake bread (ok, I found one web reference that said this, I find this a little dubious, although romantic, so I’m keeping it.)  The fact is, cheese has been covered with ash for a long time, it keeps the bugs out and helps preserve the cheese. The ashes prevent the further formation of mould on the rind and accelerated the process of maturation.  The ashes also dessicate the cheese and leave it sweeter and tastier.
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I suspect that this Pecorino Bigio is a relatively new version of a traditional cheese. This is not a traditional name, but more of a trademarked name, but it’s using an old technique, so I’m cool with that. It’s made by the Il Forteto Cooperative in the Tuscan town of Mugello.

According to web sources,  Il Forteto is an agricultural cooperative  founded in only 1977. It was established by a group of 16 young students with the assistance of  their professors. Their goal was to help the more unfortunate, including handicapped children, by raising money through agricultural products and sales. Wow!  They started off by growing and selling agricultural products at their local markets, and today Il Forteto has grown to 96 members as well as a staff of 30 employees. Their  products (including this cheese and several others) are shipped all over the world.

The Il Forteto Foundation was created in 1998 to officially support  their  social commitment to supporting the less fortunate. Apparently, all of the original founding members are still around and  still play an active role in its management today. And as one who has spent time on a commune or cooperative living situation, let me tell you, that’s kind of a miracle all on its own.

I’m already feeling warmly towards this cheese. It’s made from sheep’s milk, and it’s politically correct. Alas, this is a pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese, but I shall attempt to overlook this.

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My wedge of Pecorino Bigio was quite hard and dessicated. The ash has done an excellent job of removing any hint of moisture from this cheese. It really is ashy-it’s not just for looks, the ash comes off on my hands-I wouldn’t eat that part. The cheese has a faint smell-it’s pretty tame-it’s pretty desiccated, did I mention that? Actually, I couldn’t cut this cheese (insert snicker here) it’s by far, the hardest cheese I have encountered, I just kind of chipped away at it and it crumbled slightly. It’s hard to tell if it’s supposed to be that way, or if, in fact, the reason this cheese was on sale is it’s just too old. I think this one needs to be grated.

Here goes: Mmmm. It’s a sweet and chewy cheese, salty, sheepy, inviting. It’s very tame and friendly, it’s a warm round mouth feel that invited you to chew, which is kind of a shame as I can’t see really serving this as anything but grated. It’s quite dry, but once you start to chew it gives up it’s flavour. I can imagine that this one could live quite happily in a Roman soldiers bag for a couple of months or so, it’s really just inert and benign, yet yummy. This one’s a bit of a mystery to me, it’s got a nice taste, but I can’t figure out how one would deliver it to a cheese taster, perhaps next time I will stick to the full price version.

Cheese 131 14 Arpents-Fromagerie Medard

 

 

You know how some people like to shop for cars, or jewellery, or clothes?  I like to shop for cheese.

Every time I’m in a new store, I’m drawn to the cheese section, and my children mock me for this. Last week they accused me of being “addicted to cheese.” And that’s just unfair. I mean, addicted? Addicted means that I think about it all the time, I obsess about it, I can’t live without it. Shit. Maybe I AM addicted.

Last week when the whole “mom’s addicted” issue came up, I was elbow deep in our local Whole Foods cheese section. I do like to look for cheese here as they tend to have a decent selection, and they also have a basket of smaller “amuse bouche” tastes of cheese, which is a great way to get into cheese without making a huge commitment.

It was here that I noticed today’s cheese for the first time, a Canadian cheese, from Quebec and as it is Canada Day (Happy Canada D’eh!) I thought it an excellent choice. It’s an interesting looking square cheese from the Quebec Fromagerie Medard called 14 Arpents (FYI, that link is in French, so best of luck to you.)


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If my high school French serves me correctly, 14 arpents means 14 acres, as in “14 acres of land” and the lady at the cheese counter told me it refers to the road bordering the fromagerie, called Le Chemin 14 Arpents. It’s a whole milk, washed rind  cheese made from the milk of the farm’s own brown Swiss cattle-and this one’s pasteurized (alas.) This is a true farmstead cheese as it is made from the cattle that live on the farm.

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The milk for this cheese is sourced from the attached  Ferme Domaine De La Rivière,  established in  1881 when the Quebec government gave  families with at least 12  children (yikes) extra funds to settle and develop the area. The eponymous Médard (of Fromagerie Medard) was the son of one of these establishing families. The  Fromagerie Medard,  opened in 2006 took his name, so there’s a true thread of farming, history of the land in the cheese and in the cheese name, and I like that.

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This is a handsome cheese, it has a lovely orange washed rind and a creamy yellow interior, spotted with eyes. It seems rather alive- it oozed slightly when I cut it, and as it warms up, it really does reek quite pleasantly. There’s that delightfully foul odour of unwashed feet that captivates me. Alas, so many are scared off by that initial “hello” from a washed rind, that’s just the bark! Don’t be afraid of the bite!  Move in, I implore thee.
Mmmmmm. This is the love child of Taleggio and Oka! It’s a round tasty flavoured cheese, with just a hint of bitter from that salty washed rind. It’s toothsome and chewy, it sticks to my teeth, it plays with my tongue. Although the smell is a little fierce, the taste is mellow, yet complex. I think this one would work on just about any cheese board. It’s salty and creamy and nutty and pleasurable in the mouth. It’s just slightly “gym-socky” but in an ever so friendly way. My only regret? I only bought a small chunk.
Go out and grab some, and Happy Canada Day

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.

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.

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.

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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!