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 123-Louis d’Or Vieille

 

It’s getting harder these days to really excite me about a new cheese. I’m perhaps a little jaded, 123 cheeses into this strange little foray of mine…but yesterday-my heart stopped.  While at my local cheese shop looking for something “sexy, Canadian, and hard” (yes, those were my criteria, don’t laugh) my eyes fell upon something I had somehow missed before.  It was a large handsome cheese: hard, firm, Canadian…organic, unpasteurized, and a gold medal winner…breathing harder, yes…this is the cheese I have been looking for, and it was right under my nose.

You see, it turns out that I really am mad for Canadian cheese-all things being equal-which they aren’t, of course.  To find a great cheese made in my homeland just seems right.  There’s supporting your fellow Canadians, then’s there’s the carbon footprint, et cetera, but really, why not eat Canadian cheese?  Especially when Canadians are so damn good at making damn good cheese, especially the French-why?  Why is it always Quebec?  This is a great mystery to me.

I digress.  Today’s handsome (and hard and Canadian, I did mention that, right) cheese is a Comte look alike (and I love me some Comte) made by the Quebecois Fromagerie du Presbytere.  It’s a cow’s milk cheese made with organic milk right on the farm.   It’s rare to find such a large Mountain Style cheese made here in Canada as it takes quite a commitment to make and then store a cheese of this size. I reviewed another cheese by this groovy fromagerie back in my early cheese days-Laliberte which was an unctuous and yummy triple cream brie, but today’s cheese is their eponymous headliner-and I tend to think that when something is eponymous, it’s really special!

I’m kind of stealing this next bit from my old review, but it just bears repeating, and it’s not theft if it’s from yourself. “The farm of Louis d’or, is a family run company operated by four generations of the Morin family.  Even better, it’s  artisanal, family owned, and organic.  This family turned to organic farming in the 1980′s, which makes them early adopters.   The farm has a herd of Holstein and Jersey cows which graze in the organic pastures of clover, timothy grass, bluegrass and other organic grains. These cows are never given antibiotics or hormones. In 2005 this Morin family decided to remodel an old church rectory called Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick. It was located just in front of their farm.  All their cheese is now made in this refurbished building and the family only makes artisanal organic certified cheese. Wow, this is sounding like an ad for this fromagerie.  But come on, a refurbished cheese rectory.”

This beautiful cheese is remarkable for its size- it’s made in 40 KG wheels, and has a washed rind and a firm pressed cooked paste.  It is made from raw milk, so pregnant ladies we warned! Typically this cheese is served at the 9 month age-and this is the one that won all the prizes, but my little sample is the Vieille or aged and is 18 months old.  Yes, be jealous of me, that’s perfectly understandable. Louis D’Or (at the 9 month age) is a big winner taking the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Grand Champion as well as best in class in firm cheese, farmhouse cheese, organic cheese too, and the American Cheese Society best of show third place, along with numerous other awards.   Are you impressed yet?  How can we ask for more?  It’s an award winning  family made cheese based on happy organic cows and a refurbished rectory.  I’m sold.

 


My long slice of Louis d’or Vieille which from the sounds of it I was lucky to find-due to the popularity of this cheese, is an attractive creamy yellow with a dark brown natural rind.  I see other reviews referencing eyes in this cheese, but my sample does not contain them…mine is also the 18 month version, so I am unclear if this is the cause.  It appears as though there is some crystallization or tyrosine throughout the paste-which makes me crazy with desire…I love me some tyrosine!  It smells wonderful, nutty and deep and really for all the world like a Comte.  It’s a mellow and mature cheese, it’s begging me to enter into a conversation with it…and I shall.

Here goes…

There’s so much going on here, I don’t even know where to start. First, it’s floral, and sweet, I’m so shocked!  It’s very mellow and round, but ultimately very, very sweet and benign more like a great Gruyere than anything else.  There are no sharp or uric notes whatsoever, it’s just totally mellowed out, it’s like a Zen master of cheese. Sweet, round, mellow, pleased with itself and the balance it has achieved in this world.  The texture is fabulous, it’s firm to the teeth, but enjoys a little chew before dissolving into a sweet milky paste-there’s a faint fleck or tyrosine, but that’s not the show stopper here-the show stopper is the taste, it’s really unlike anything I have ever tasted before, it’s clover, sunshine, friendship and happiness. It’s a revelation in cheese.  Unlike many cheeses this one should be eaten by itself, with nothing else-it’s cheese in the purest form: complex, developed, wise, sumptuous.  If you can get your hands on this cheese, do it, you can thank me later.

Holy Hannah Louis D’Or, you are most definitely my slice of cheese, bravo!

 

Cheese 110-Tomme de Savoie

 

I almost feel as though my cheese journey has come full circle.  My interest in cheese was first piqued by my daughter’s trip to France and subsequent interest in French cheese.  In reciprocity for her stay in France, we recently became hosts to our very own French exchange student, a charming and bright 17 year old girl.  This girl is so bright and charming that she brought her new Canadian mommy FOUR cheeses from France, yes, that’s right, four.  This clearly illustrates to me that this young lady knows the way to my heart.  It’s simple people, just bring me cheese.  While I have actually previously sampled and adored two of her cheese gifts, Beaufort (mmmmmm) and Abondance (oh yahhhhhhhhh) she also brought the next two beauties I shall review for me-neither of which I have seen in Canada for sale.  You may just have to appreciate these darlings on the page here, I’m not sure if they ever make it to our fair shore- but what an excuse to go to France (does one need an excuse to go to France?)

I have run into the word “Tomme” before in relation to cheese, and have previously reviewed Tomme de Montagne, Tomme Haute Richelieu and Tomme Alsace Fermier.  So what’s with all the Tommes?  It turns out the word “Tomme” (not Dick, not Harry) is a generic cheese word which generally refers to cheese made from many herds mixed, or small alpine cheeses, or skim milk cheeses, or some combination of the three (sorry, that’s as clear as it gets).  The word Tomme is followed by a place name to clarify it’s point of origin.  Hence Tomme de Savoie, is from the …Savoie region, now you get it!

This Tomme is a true Mountain cheese made from skim raw cow’s milk,  milk left over from making cheeses like Beaufort or Gruyere, which are from the exact same region, and tend to hog up all the full-fat milk.  I’m actually all for a skim milk cheese if it gives me that nice cheesy mouth feel, it’s only those wretched low-fat so-called mozzarella type cheeses that have spoiled the whole skim milk cheese thing for me.  It’s good to be open minded about this sort of thing. A girl who loves cheese like me, and is also attempting to watch her weight, needs to be careful-my sample has 30% fat which seems just about right.

According to my research, there are actually many Tomme de Savoies, virtually every village in the area makes one, and the name isn’t controlled by one village.  This cheese does have a designation type that is new for me. I have discussed, at length the AOC designation, a designation that protects the name and terroir of a cheese, but Tomme de Savoie has Protected Geographical Indication or PGI (IGP, Indication Géographique Protégée) which seems to be an “AOC lite” type designation, meaning that this cheese is certified  as being traditional or a typical speciality from a clearly defined region, but without the controlled specification of the AOC.  That’s my best shot at explaining it, folks.  One source online source stated that Tomme de Savoie is currently being considered for an AOC designation but isn’t there yet. Tomme de Savoie obtained the “Protected Designation of Origin” label in 1996.

Tomme de Savoie was first produced by local farmers as a way of using left over skim milk hundreds of years ago and continues to be made in small batches using the same techniques.  The inhabitants of the Savoie region are terribly fond of this cheese, and will eat it with their coffee for their afternoon snack. Tomme de Savoie is made from the milk of Tarine or Abondance cows. After the curd is pressed it is matured for 2-4 months in a traditional cellar, which produces the thick rind and adds flavor. Tomme de Savoie is salted, rubbed and turned over twice a week-lucky!  My lovely stinky wedge of Tomme de Savoie travelled a long way to make it to my table.

This is one of the most fabulous looking cheeses I have ever seen-and that’s really saying a lot this far into my cheese journey.  The rind is dark and forbidding, the interior creamy and pocked with tiny holes.  It just looks like a cheese ought to look-like an authentic cheese, I can imagine a farmer or shepherd munching on this Tomme 1000 years ago on the side of a hill-it just reeks of authenticity and is clearly not a factory-made cheese.  It’s perfectly hideous and unabashed in its cheesy glory.

My French student informs me that the rind is not typically eaten with this cheese, so I shall avoid it-truly it is a little daunting.  While I do enjoy a raunchy rind on my cheese this one is mottled black and brown and a tad too zombie-like for me. Tomme de Savoie smells fabulous in that unwashed toes and uric acid sort of way that I adore, it simpers beside me warming and off-gassing, proclaiming to all that it is a little stinker.

Here goes…

Mmmmm, ohhhhhh.  Much more mild than I was expecting.  It’s a little lemony, that surprises me, there’s also a balance of salt and toes that’s just freaking divine.  Oh!  It’s creamy, much more so than the other Mountain cheeses I have sampled which tend to be semi-hard, this one’s actually quite soft and toothsome, there’s not a lot of chewing involved, it’s perfectly tensile and springy.  I can’t believe this is a low fat cheese-you would never, ever know, the mouth-feel is just as perfectly unctuous as any other full-fat cheese.  It’s actually sticking to my teeth, cleaving to them, it’s made best friends with my tongue, why, “hello!”  There’s a real feel of forest terroir and dank cellars in Tomme de Savoie-make no mistake-while it is relatively mild you can’t deny that hint of mystery and dark places and mushrooms-but it’s all held in perfect balance. This cheese is freaking unbelievable, why doesn’t everyone eat it?

Oh Tomme de Savoie!  You are so scrumptious and low fat, why aren’t you available to me here?  You are definitely my slice of cheese.

Day 93-Asiago D’Allevo-DOP

I am just going to out myself right now.  Today’s cheese, Asiago has a special place in my heart.  It was one of the few non-cheddar cheeses that my family regularly ate while I was growing up.  My mother will still insist that I pick her up some Asiago every time I go to Costco.  Asiago changed the food landscape of my childhood from the banal to the sublime-thank you, Asiago.

The origin of Asiago cheese is ancient and goes back to at least the middle ages, around 1000 years ago in Italy.  It was originally a sheep’s milk cheese but during the fifteenth century, sheep started to be replaced by cattle in the region, and cow’s milk replaced ewe’s milk.  Asiago is now only made from cow milk.

Asiago DOP is a raw cow’s milk cheese made only within officially recognized production areas.  the cheese is named of after the Asiago Plateau, in Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy.  Asiago comes in two varieties: Asiago Pressato made in low-lying pastures, soft with irregular eyes (I haven’t been able to find this one) and Asiago d’Allevo (today’s cheese) which is harder and made from mountain-pasture milk. Both types of Asiago cheese are known as “mountain cheeses” because of their similarity to the Swiss Emmental and the French Comte.

Either type of Asiago DOP, Pressato or d’Allevo, can be made in small mountain dairies or larger factories. The co-operative dairies and the DOP regulations insure the quality of the milk regardless of its exact production area. Raw milk is coagulated then cut and reheated to expel the whey.  After the cheese is put into molds for pressing it receives the DOP stamp in the rind.  After this, the cheese is either brined or salted before being moved into maturing rooms for affinage called  Frescura. The younger Mezzano cheeses are aged a minimum of three months and are relatively pliant and mild, whereas the aged cheeses are called Vecchio or Stravecchio and have a firmer texture and stronger flavour. These cheeses can be grated and are often substituted for Parmigiano.

The Consorzio Tutela Formaggio Asiago,  based in Vicenza, was set up in 1979 to control the quality of Asiago cheese.  This consortium controls the designation, markings and seals on the cheese and insures that they are used correctly.  It also functions to raise awareness of the cheese in Italy and abroad and represents more than forty cheese makers. For the record, why doesn’t every cheese have its own consortium?  These Italians have it right!

The problem with Asiago is that while it is a DOP, or a protected name cheese, it also isn’t.  For some reason the DOP designation does not apply to this cheese when made outside of the European Union.  Thus an awful lot of cheese is being made elsewhere and calling itself Asiago.  Um, Consortium Tutela Formaggio Asiago, get on it!  Do you think the Parmigiano Reggiano consortium would let anyone get away with that bullshit?  Nuh-uh. I notice that my mother’s Costco Asiago says “made in Canada.” And you know what that means?  It means it’s a big fat old fake, I hate that in a cheese!

Well today’s Asiago certainly isn’t a fake, it bears the DOP designation, and no one has the tenacity to fake that. It has a yellow paste with tiny eyes and a thin natural orange rind. It’s quite firm, although it can be cut without crumbling, but just barely.  Mind you, this is the Mezzano version of D’Allevo, so it is younger.  If I forgot this for a couple of months in the fridge it would be time to break out the grater.  It’s a very mild smelling cheese, nothing offensive here.

Here goes…

How strange!  This Asiago changes flavour as you chew it, that’s a first.  Initially it was kind of astringent, then it moved into sweet, then it changed into salt.  How do they do that?  It’s like one of those gob-stoppers with different flavoured layers, except it’s cheese. This is definitely not the fake stuff I have been eating from Costco.  Asiago D’Allevo is crumbly on the palate, it takes a good chew before dispersing.  There is also a fantastic pop rocks like tyrosine crunch in this cheese.  It’s an extremely fascinating eating experience, it almost has Multiple Personalities…another bite, now it tastes like grapes!  Weird.  I like it! Yes, Asiago, little darling, I shall only buy you in DOP version henceforth- you are definitely my slice of cheese.

Day 92-Jarlsberg

For those of you who have been following my blog, I am happy to report that my neck is much improved.  A day at home with hot pads, Advil and mindless television seems to have worked.  Oh, and lots of cheese, of course.  I have to admit to a little cheese binge yesterday.  But it has calcium, right?  It must be good for bones, and thus necks as well, as they contain bones, right?

Today is dedicated to Jarlsberg, my first Norwegian cheese.  Actually, it’s my first Norwegian cheese to be reviewed here. I did sample another Norwegian cheese whilst in Iceland called Gjetost, which looks like peanut butter, is often served with whale (I wish I was kidding), and tastes like a combination of all things horrible-but I digress, no Gjetost today!

Norway has a long history of farming.  Norwegian farmers first started to keep cattle more than 6,000 years ago. Their chief dairy product was butter, which was actually used as a kind of currency. Modern dairy production was established in the early 1800’s, when Norwegian farmers decided to branch out from butter and approached some  experienced Swiss cheese makers to teach them how to maximize their cheese production.  Thus, in many ways, Norwegian cheese is a direct descendent from Swiss cheese.

Jarlsberg is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and is aged from 1-15 months.  A version of this cheese  was first produced in the 1860’s in Jarlsberg by a Anders Larsen Bakke, a farmer and  pioneer in Norway’s dairy industry.  Bakke’s cheese shared similarities with Emmenthal  and other mountain cheeses except that it was sweet!  It was the first Norwegian re-imagining of Swiss cheese.  Bakke’s cheese had some popularity, but eventually all but disappeared.

The Jarlsberg cheese known today is kind of a revival of that cheese.  It was the result of intensive research and development by the Dairy Institute at the  the Agricultural University of Norway.  This group of top-secret dairy scientists were dedicated to locating the best Norwegian cheese recipe and putting it to work   The current Jarlsberg cheese-making process was developed by professor Ola Martin Ystgaard and his cheese minions in 1956. Ystgaard’s team started experimenting with old cheese recipes, including Bakke’s original Jarlsberg. They succeeded in combining old cheese-making traditions such as Bakke’s with modern technologies.   The team called their new cheese creation Jarlsberg . Hence, Jarlsberg is a relatively modern formation.  The recipe as well as the name are trademarked, it is technically Jarlsberg® .   The recipe for Jarlsberg currently in use is also top-secret!  Production of this top-secret well-researched university-based cheese began in the 1960s.

The largest producer of Jarlsberg today is the TINE factory in western Norway.   TINE is one of the twelve agricultural cooperatives in Norway and the largest  Norwegian dairy cooperative. Jarlsberg accounts for 80% of TINE’s total export.  Jarlsberg is also produced in the United States on license at Alpine Cheese in Ohio, and by Dairygold in Ireland, also under license. Jarlsberg is actually a very successful cheese.  It is the 3rd largest export product from Norway. Jarlsberg comes in original, lite, special reserve (aged) and smoked.

My little slice of Jarlsberg original is certainly taking its cues from “Swiss Cheese.”  It is almost a caricature of Swiss cheese, in fact, there should be a mouse posing beside it leering suggestively. It’s a semi-hard looking cheese with no discernible natural rind, although there is a thin orange plastic coating which says “Jarlsberg” on it.  It has one massive eye winking at me, so I think we can safely assume that during the processing of this cheese, bacterial gasses are released, forming eyes.  As everything about Jarlsberg is really top-secret, I’m not sure how it is made, or even how old my little slice is.  As it is rather supple and not all that gnarly smelling, it is probably a couple of months old: not too young, and not too aged.  The smell is mild, but reminds me of Emmenthal.  It’s piquant but not repugnant in any way.

Here goes…

Not so crazy about this one.  God, I’m difficult.  But really, it’s just weird to me. I know I bitch all the time about cheese not being sweet enough, but this one is too sweet. It’s like Emmenthal that someone stirred a bunch of sugar into.  It’s like cheese-flavoured candy.  It has that mountain cheese alcohol-taste, but then it’s so sugary, almost everything else is lost. The texture is cool, it’s chewy and nicely elastic, and melts on the palate, but the taste is so sweet I find it utterly distracting.

I love you, Norway, but Jarlsberg, you aren’t my slice of cheese!