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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Cheese 140 Etorki-A Modern Basque Twist on an Ancient “Sheepy” Favourite

When we think of the noble beasts who give us cheese, what kind of images come to mind? Cows? Of course. Goats? Maybe, but how many of us think of sheep?  Poor, maligned sheep are really the progenitors of cheese. That ancient mythical shepherd who forgot a skein of milk in a cave that became the world’s first cheese… that would have been sheep milk. Yes, the first cheese was a sheep’s cheese. Shepherds herded sheep, (and sometimes goats) but really, cows are very new on the scene, yet they have all the glory. That’s kind of sad for a sheep cheese lover like me.  One almost has to go back to the “Old Country” to find a decent sheep cheese, and there’s nothing more “old country” than Basque.

Today’s cheese, Etorki, is a Basque cheese, named in homage for the great history of sheep cheese making in this region. In fact, the word “etorki” is a Basque word meaning “origin.” Basque sheep farmers have been making a cheese kind of like this, for close to 4000 years.  Alas, or perhaps, luckily, my cheese is not 4000 years old. Etorki was first created in the 1970’s (like me) and is produced by the  Fromagerie des Chaumes at Mauléon, in southwestern France. Etorki is a pasteurized cheese, made in the style of ancient Pyrenees cheese, but this time with a few modern conveniences-such as pasteurization and vacuum packing- thrown in for good measure.

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Local, black or red-faced Manech ewes provide all of the milk for Etorki cheese. In total, flocks of 620 local shepherds and dairy farmers pool their milk to make this cheese.  It takes a total of six gallons of milk to produce just one wheel of Etorki, which is an awful lot of milk when one considers the size of a sheep’s udder. It’s udderly impressive! Etorki is made in a limited run- only from late December to mid July. As is traditional in this region, Etorki curds are pressed but not cooked. After they are unmolded, the cheese is brined for 2 hours before being dried and having salt rubbed on the rind. This rind salt-rubbing happens several times during the first week, then the cheese is vacuum-sealed  before going into affinage for three to six months.

My Etorki has a rusty, bumpy natural rind because of the molds formed during pressing. The rind is orange with white speckles and according to sources-inedible-so I shall stay away. The interior paste is creamy and has small eyes. The smell is faint, yet inviting. It’s mysterious and delicious smelling, but subtle and beckoning. I can wait no longer…

Oh, my jaw just squelched! Do you know that funny twinge you get sometimes with cheese? That’s actually your salivary glands going a little crazy. It’s a creamy, voluptuous, caramel-tasting cheese. It’s much softer than I anticipated, more like a very young gouda. It melts in the mouth and yields to the teeth. There’s something almost floral in the taste. It’s very subtle, yet completely compelling. Actually, I love this cheese, the texture is perfect and the taste mysterious and well-balanced. I was worried about all that salt-brining and rubbing, but stay away from the rind and it’s not an issue.

I will definitely be eating Etorki again, it’s a keeper!
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Cheese 139 Ashley-by Albert’s Leap

I discovered a new cheese shop in Vancouver yesterday, which shocked me. I thought I knew of every slice of cheese in this town  but Pane e Formaggio somehow slipped me by. It’s a cosy bread and cheese shop and deli with a small selection of cheeses- but the staff there were extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and that’s really what I’m looking for in a cheese shop. Please, talk cheese with me.  I so appreciate people taking the time to indulge me in a little cheese chat. Bravo, Pane e Formaggio, I shall be back!

One cheese there which caught my eye was Ashley, by Albert’s Leap. Ashley has a line of ash running through it-get it-“Ash” ley. This line of ash theme is a common one in cheese-and basically a cheese nod to the  great French cheese Morbier– traditionally made with a layer of ash running through the middle.    Once upon a time, Morbier was made in small batches by monks in the dark ages in presumably dark monasteries.  The line of ash separated the morning milk from the evening milk, keeping a rind from developing-like an ash band-aid. My Albert’s Leap was made in  Ontario, probably in the light of day-but I appreciate the effort and the nod to tradition, nonetheless.

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Ashley is a bloomy rind, ash dusted pasteurized goat’s milk cheese brought to us by Quality Cheese , specifically their Albert’s Leap brand. I confess to finding their website a little confusing. Firstly, it doesn’t mention Ashley at all. I have looked closely at the Ashley label, and it clearly is made by this company, so why the company does not describe it on its website is a little mysterious. Feel free to shed some light on this if you know the reason for the omission. The internet is also strangely mum about Ashley, so it may have been a limited run, or just a new product-who knows?

The site does reference this company being run by the Borgo family, specifically brothers Joe and Albert (who sometimes Leaps) who are carrying forward the tradition of cheese started by Italian Almerigo Borgo, who, “left for Canada in 1954 and by 1957 he decided that cheese was his passion and that he would begin his own venture.”  Almerigo built the Quality Cheese company and mentored the next generation of Borgos to carry on his tradition.

Ashley is an attractive, showy cheese.  As with all soft goat cheeses, this one has ripened from the outside in, so there’s a nice creamy yellow gooey rim, and a whiter chalky interior. It’s an attractive cheese, and would look great on a cheese board.The odour is mild and faintly farm-like, as it should be.

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Here goes…

Hmm. There’s a lot going on here. It’s sticky and creamy and goaty, but doesn’t have the sweet note I was expecting. The rind is almost a little bitter-or maybe that’s the ash. The rind is also quite surprisingly chewy, but then there’s that gooey first layer, and chalky finish. It’s good, and I like the three textures, but I think I would want to eat this one with a little something sweet-fruit perhaps, or a quince jam?

Ashley is a real looker that would make a great compliment to any cheese board-but make sure you have a little sweet to go with this darling.

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Cheese 138 Gouda Van Giet-Goat’s Pride

Last weekend I did something REALLY exciting: I went to visit a goat’s farm and fromagerie. I recognize that this may not be a top 5 on everyone’s bucket list, but that’s just sad-it really ought to be. Goat farms are fabulous, go and find one and visit it now, I command thee!

I’ve been kind of obsessing over Goat’s Pride “Blue Capri” cheese now for over a year, you can read my review of it here. But that review doesn’t really do it justice, and it certainly doesn’t explain the hankering I have for that cheese, like all the time. All I really want to do all day long, is eat Goat’s Pride Blue Capri. Alas, it’s darn hard to find, so I decided to go to the source- a small goat farm out in the City of Abbotsford, in the Lower Mainland of BC.

As we drove up the meandering driveway, I saw goat’s cavorting. Seriously! And these are tiny, wee goats, not the large goats I was expecting. They were knee high at best, and literally cavorting amongst fields of clover. It was ridiculously perfect. My heart filled with goat-loving joy, one could almost say, pride…Goat’s Pride.
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Goat’s Pride is a family run business. The son is the cheese maker, and mom seems to run the store. She graciously showed us around the farm stand and explained the lay of the land. Basically, organic goat’s milk is almost impossible to source. All of their goat’s milk comes from their own small herd of (ridiculously cute) goats, but that’s not cutting it. They may have to look at alternative sources and alternative cheeses as they expand their line of products.

For the time being, Goat’s Pride continues to make a limited run of cheese including today’s Gouda Van Giet, and yes, I did also buy three blocks of the Blue Capri for my own private joy.

According to their wrapper, Van Giet means “from the goat” in Dutch. As Gouda- and the Goat’s Pride family- are all Dutch, it seems only fitting. This cheese truly is “from the Dutch.”

Gouda Van Giet is a certified organic cheese, and the milk and cheese are processed directly on the farm. This Gouda is aged about a year-if memory serves me correctly. Unfortunately, their website is currently down, so I can’t double check, but let’s go with that. I’m assuming they pasteurize their milk, as it doesn’t say “raw” anywhere, but it’s made on the farm from happy goats, so for me, that’s about as good as it gets.

Gouda Van Giet is white-very white-goat’s milk is whiter than cow’s because it lacks beta carotene. That’s that carrot colour that makes cow’s cheese kind of yellow. For some mysterious reason, goats convert beta carotene into Vitamin A, colourless. See, goats are magic!

I digress, my vitamin A rich Gouda is a stark white, it’s firm without discernible texture in the smooth paste. It has no rind. The smell is faint and slightly goaty. It beckons me. Yes, it’s not Blue Capri, but a very close cousin, “try me,” it says.

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Here goes…

So complex! It’s like one of those gobstoppers that changes flavour as you go down a level. Initially, salty and goaty, but then, a caramel undertone emerges. It’s rich and salty. It’s also salty, did I mention that? The texture is not as smooth as I expected, the paste holds up to chewing, keeping its integrity. It’s pretty mellow for a goat’s cheese, nothing scary here. It’s chilled out and toothsome.

OK, I like this cheese, but I’m not completely obessed with it, as I am with their Blue Capri. But that’s ok, not everyone appreciates mouldy goat’s cheese, I get that. This is a beautiful, organic, family and farmstead made goat’s Gouda. Try it, it just might be your slice of cheese.

Cheese 137 Mopsy’s Best-a Raw Milk Sheep’s Cheese

One of the great things about being obsessed with cheese, is that people tend to send me cheese tidbits. Alas, not edible cheese tidbits, but links, stories and photos of cheese. Last week a friend sent me a story about extinct words of the English language, including tyromancy. Tyromancy is the art of  divining the future through cheese!  How in the world did this work? Was it like reading tea leaves, only with cheese curd? Were all cheese types involved, or was there a special, powerful cheese used for this purpose? Most importantly, why did tyromancy die out?  Today, here, on “My Blog of Cheese”  I declare the return of tyromancy: I gaze deeply into a beautiful sheep’s milk cheese, and this is what I see…

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Sheep’s milk (sometimes known as ewe’s milk) cheese, is a very special cheese to me. It has a wonderful barny taste, but more than that, ancient cheese munching shepherds were not herding cows, they were herding sheep. Thus it just feels right to me to eat sheep’s cheese, I feel somehow that I’m getting closer to what cheese really is supposed to be. Plus, sheep have tiny little udders, so they really have to work a lot to make milk, and I also appreciate that. It’s good for so many reasons.

On my recent road trip to Washington state, the cheese monger I spoke to recommended that I try today’s cheese, “Mopsy’s Best.” “Oh you must, try it,” she said, “It’s a local, raw milk,  sheep’s cheese.” And really, local, raw or sheep alone would have been enough for me, but the three together is like a cheese yahtzee.

Mopsy’s Best comes to us from the Black Sheep Creamery, and I urge you to visit their website, as it is fantastic and full of great sheep pictures, and who doesn’t like that? The folk at Black Sheep craft their sheep milk cheeses on their farmstead from the milk of their own flock of Rideau-Arcott and East Friesian sheep who graze near Chehalis, Washington- as well as additional milk from the Tin Willows Farm in Eastern Oregon. In case you forgot, my name is also Willow, see: tyromancy at work! Let’s call this a “Cascadian” terroir” as they are mixing milk from 2 states, but it’s all coastal, so it’s all good.

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This cheese appears to be a family run affair. They got their first three sheep in 2000 when their second child had a sensitivity to cow milk, but was able to tolerate sheep milk, (can I just comment here on this being really exemplary parenting, most people would just score some soy milk from the store, but these people went out and bought sheep.) One of their first ewes was  ‘Mopsy” (who now does her best.) One thing lead to another, and  they have been making and selling cheese since about 2005.

Mopsy’s Best is a semi-firm raw cheese aged at least three months. Sheep’s milk has more butterfat and protein than goat and cow milk, and this helps to give it that complex flavour I’m so crazy about. The fact that the milk for Mopsy’s Best has not been pasteurized means that the flavour is more complex yet, as the milk is able to fully develop without any pasteurization getting in the way.  My little wedge of Mopsy’s Best is a firm medium yellow cheese. It has a natural brown rind with a cheese cloth pattern in evidence. The colour is darker closer to the rind, and there are some small eyes in the cheese paste. The smell is rich and barnyardy (is that a word?) It smells sweet and kind of funky, but mild over all. I can’t wait.

Here goes…

How interesting! It changes flavour as you chew it. Initially it’s a round salty sheep taste, but then a hint of caramel emerges. Crazy! The paste has a really interesting texture, it kind of falls apart in your mouth, like it gives up the game the second it touches your tongue, and then it just kind of dissolves into this cream…wait, now it tastes earthy, and closer to the rind it gets more intense with the hit of mushroom funky fungus taste that I dig.

It’s sweet, salty, funky, sheepy and crazy good. My skills of tyromancy tell me that there’s a great future for this little cheese, bravo, Black Sheep Creamery.IMG_2570

 

Cheese 136 Blue Mountain Blue

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It’s rare that a cheese is also a palindrome: Blue Mountain Blue. OK, I guess it’s not technically a palindrome, but it practically is, and that is a very special thing in a cheese.

Another really special thing in a cheese, is when a cheese monger personally recommends it. I recently made a road trip to Seattle, Washington and visited the charming Calf and Kid cheese shop. It’s always such a thrill for me to find a brand new cheese shop, and I was lucky enough to bring home three local Washington cheeses all recommended by the staff there.

The first of these is the new hot cheese in the shop this month, Blue Mountain Blue. The cheese monger told me it’s fantastic and has been selling like crazy. Honestly, she had me at “Blue.”  Blue Mountain Blue is a new blue-veined cave matured cheese from the eponymous Blue Mountain Blue Cheese company from Walla Walla (another almost Palindrome!) in Washington State.

According to their website,  (which you must go and see, it’s beautifully done) Blue Mountain Blue debuted on 4 July 2013, so it’s practically a cheese newborn. It’s made from the raw milk of a small herd of Irish Shorthorn-Holstein cross dairy cows. The herd is lead by a cow named  Old Blue. Old Blue and her sisters cows graze on natural  stands of lush grasses, and are solely pasture-fed, establishing the terroir of the cheese. I do love it when a cheese is named after a cow, Blossom’s Blue from Saltstpring Island is also named after a cow, and there’s something lovely about that. In fact, I recommend more cheeses be named after cows.

Blue Mountain Blue is a raw milk cheese made with natural rennet. After being formed, the cheese curd is sliced with a special multiple-blade knife.  Sea salt is sprinkled into the cubed curds which are stirred to break down their size further. A “proprietary complex of several strains of Penicillium roqueforti”  is introduced into the curd with stainless-steel needles, creating pathways which permit air (and mould spore) to get into the interior of the cheese. The cheese develops its veining for 120 days, then the rounds are transported to a solid-basalt cave in the Blue Mountain range above the Walla Walla Valley to continue their affinage over 12 months. Wow, a solid basalt cave. I would like to see that with my own eyes.
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This all sounds fantastic to me: 12 month affinage, raw milk, great terroir, happy cows, solid basalt caves, a cheese named after cows, a swanky website, and a proprietary mould….

But what about the cheese?

Well, this cheese is an attractive  blue cheese. It has a nice creamy yellow looking paste shot through with light blue and green mould, but there’s still a lot of creamy looking paste there. You can clearly see where the stainless needles pierced the cheese as the veining develops along those lines. There’s no discernable rind. The smell is gentle, yet absolutely divine. I’m drooling a little as I type, you can smell that cheesy blue aroma with just a hint of alcohol.

Here goes…

Mmmmmm. smooth, creamy, salty, round and spicy. It’s very much like a Stilton, but a little more salty. Actually there are chunks of sea salt in it that are just sumptuous and kind of crunchy. But it’s got a sweetness from that raw cow milk that helps keep the spice of the blue in balance. Really, it’s fabulous, very nice and very approachable for a blue. It’s so well-balanced and not overly aggressive that it should be welcome on any cheese plate.
Great job, Blue Mountain Blue, I can’t wait to see what you are up to next!
Yummy, it’s Yummy.
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