Made in America-Cheeses!
In the best sense of the phrase, some cheese producers in the
United States have turned back the hands of Time. Once again, small
dairies are producing some cheeses of outstanding quality, thanks
to education, caring about their craft, and a willingness to tread
"the road less traveled". Forget that funny-colored, rubbery
stuff we grew up eating as children; these cheeses are the real
thing. I have listed a few of the cheeses I've found this year,
as well as their producing creameries. Although many of them make
other cheeses as well, I describe only those I've tasted. Please
be aware that these are small operations who have limited amounts
of their products to sell!
A note is due here about raw milk cheeses. Some of the cheeses
listed here are made from unpasteurized milk, because I have found
that these raw milk cheeses have wonderful characteristics. By law,
raw milk cheeses must be aged for sixty days before they are sold
here, ensuring that harmful bacteria will be destroyed. Despite
this, some people are still jittery about consuming them. You'll
have to make up your own mind here. As for me, I'll keep eating
the raw milk cheeses unless someone can prove to me I need to stop!
If you know someone who lives in or near Vermont (or can travel
there) and loves cheese, you're in luck! Henry Tewksbury has written
a wonderful volume entitled The Cheeses of Vermont (The Countryman
Press: Woodstock, VT, 2002), which includes how cheese is made,
descriptions of Vermont-made cheeses, profiles of the cheesemakers,
touring information, and much more. Just flipping through the pages
is enough to start you planning a trip!
Look around for a cheesemaker or good cheese store near you; both
are popping up all over. Remember that most of these cheeses are
not inexpensive; you are paying for time and nurturing, and neither
should come cheap. Ask a knowledgeable cheese merchant about good
pairings with wine or fruitsdon't forget that a cheese plate
makes a wonderful dessert. I list here only the sources for getting
these cheeses via mail-order, and my listings may not be complete,
but where more than one source is given it will always pay to compare
prices. These listings are in no particular order.
--Crème Fraiche (Kendall Farms, no website, (805)
466-7252). You must give me your word of honor that you will try
Sadie Kendall's drop-to-your-knees-delicious crème fraiche.
It is so far superior to other products of the same name that I
place it in a category all its own. Honey-smooth, thick but spoonable,
unimaginably rich and creamy, it has a definite piquancy but lacks
the noticeable sour taste of other crèmes fraiches. Sweeten
it slightly with your favorite honey for the ultimate berry topping,
or try serving it with caviar and other accoutrementsRussian
aristocracy never had it so good! Available through Petrossian,
(www.petrossian.com under "Caviar" or (800) 828-9241);
Zabar's (www.zabars.com or (800) 697-6301 outside of New York State,
(212) 496-1234 within area codes 212, 718, and 917,); or Dean &
Deluca (www.deandeluca.com under "CaviarService &
Accoutrements" or (877) 826-9246).
--Vermont Shepherd, Timson (Vermont Shepherd, www.vermontshepherd.com,
(802) 387-4473). Cynthia and David Major got into cheesemaking via
a rather circuitous route, but their cheeses will render you grateful
for the twists and turns of Fate. Their Vermont Shepherd, an aged
farmhouse sheep's milk, is mellow and not sharp, but it has a definite,
full flavor. Some slices of this cheese, grapes or pears or crisp
apples, a good wholegrain bread, and a dark beer or good stout will
make a lunch or simple supper you won't soon forget. The Timson,
a washed rind cow's milk, is, I think, a bit milder but no less
worthy of mention. Online ordering.
--St. Pete's Select (Faribault Dairy, www.amablu.com, (507)
334-5260). Aged in caves of St. Peter sandstone, St. Pete's Select
is an honest cow's milk blue. Not overly salty or sharp as are too
many other blues I've tried, this is very rich and lusciously creamy
with a pronounced blue taste. Try a wedge with a little very dark
honey drizzled over the top, use it in a salad, spread it on an
apple slice, or just eat it straight. Lovely.
--Cream Cheese, Sharon Hollow, Manchester (Zingerman's,
www.zingermans.com, (888) 636-8162). Oh, so that's what Cream Cheese
is supposed to be like! Sure, I grew up on the silver-foil-wrapped
brick, too, but comparing the two is almost an insult. This Cream
Cheese has real flavor that stands up to a good crusty bread or
bagel and other sandwich components. It also has no gums or fillers,
no preservatives or anything artificial, and no sweeteners. Manchester
is a double cream with a rich, spreadable interior that I think
does best in a savory mix of ingredients. And Sharon Hollow, which
Zingerman's describes as "very basic and very traditional",
is spiced with either Garlic and Chives or Tellicherry Black Pepper;
one of my friends, after receiving a wheel of the black pepper variety,
announced that it was an ideal cheese for cooking and that she was
"hooked"! Online ordering.
--Harvest Moon (Bingham Hill Cheese Company, www.binghamhill.com,
(970) 472-0702). A washed rind raw cow's milk beauty, this semisoft
cheese is, according to the website, "reminiscent of an East
Coast cheddar". I could eat this cheese all day. Too good for
sauces or casseroleseat it straight, as part of a dessert
course, or paired with a robust bottle of something drinkable. Shine
on, indeed. Online ordering.
--Camembert (Oregon Gourmet Cheeses, no website but e-mail
at: firstname.lastname@example.org, (541) 928-8888). Disclaimer: I know both
the founder and her significant other socially. Connie and George
are gracious and hospitable, but more importantly they are willing
to persevere in the name of good cheese; they suffered a number
of setbacks on the road to getting their cheeses produced. Now that
they are established, a single herd of Jersey cows produces the
milk for their lovingly-tended products, including a small wheel
of silken-textured, creamy Camembert that could be a meal for two
with just some good bread, fruit, and wine.
--Trade Lake Cedar (Love Tree Farmstead Cheese, www.lovetreefarmstead.com,
(715) 488-2966). Mary Falk is passionate about what she does-just
as well, for being a smallscale artisan cheesemaker is not
an easy life. She and husband Dave produce the suave, aromatic Trade
Lake Cedar, a semifirm raw sheep's milk cheese, on their Wisconsin
farm. Aged on cedar boughs, it has a complex flavor and a wonderful,
"just one more slice" texture. The Falks were recently
named "Food Artisans of 2002" by Bon Appetit. Online ordering.
--Berkshire Blue (South Mountain Products, no website).
Hey, what gives? No website or phone number? Nope. There is a phone
number for this company, and if you search you can find it, but
the operation is so small I don't want them to have to spend time
answering the phone; try this cheese and you'll want to make sure
South Mountain continues to devote all of their waking hours to
cheesemaking, too. This is an easy-to-eat cow's milk blue, moist
and creamya fabulous table cheese. Available through Zabar's
(www.zabars.com or (800) 697-6301 outside of New York State, (212)
496-1234 within area codes 212, 718, and 917).
--Capricious (Capricious Cheese, www.capriciouscheese.com,
(707) 442-3209). I don't like my goat cheeses too aged, as the flavor
tends to become very strong and quite
well, goaty. But here
is a youngish, milder, semihard farmstead goat, a terrific product
for people who have tried other goat cheese and thus labor under
the delusion that they don't like the stuff. Also a nice way to
introduce young 'uns to a goat cheese, I'd think. Wonderful served
plain or as part of a cheese plate.
--Pleasant Ridge Reserve (Uplands Cheese, Inc., www.uplandscheese.com,
(608) 935-3414 or (866) 588-3443). Unpasteurized cow's milk with
a washed rind. Pleasant Ridge Reserve has won several awards, and
I can understand why. Lots of flavor here, but nothing too forward
or pushyjust a thoroughly pleasing blend of aromas and tastes.
Complex but not complicated. Online ordering.
--Claire de Lune (Pure Luck Grade A Goat Dairy, www.purelucktexas.com,
(512) 858-7034). Another semifirm goat cheese; according to the
website, this "tastes like brie, slices like cheddar, can be
grated like parmesan". Not too goaty nor devoid of flavor,
this is another example of the amazing things you can do with milk
when you're willing to follow a process from beginning to end and
devote lots of time and care to it. Online ordering.
--Cheddar (Keswick Creamery, no website but temperamental
e-mail at: email@example.com, (717) 423-6758). Disclaimer: Melanie
Dietrich Cochran is in charge here, and I've known her husband for
some years. The milk of Jersey cows is used here to create cheeses
as diverse as feta (including tomato & basil feta), Dragon's
Breath (jack cheese with jalapeno, habanero, and birdseye peppers),
and Brie. Try the regular Cheddar (wonderful with autumn fruits
and good bread) or the uniquely-named Wallaby (sorry, it's not made
from marsupial milk).