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Special Section: Made in America—Cheeses!

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Special Section:
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 fruits—don'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 accoutrements—Russian aristocracy never had it so good! Available through Petrossian, ( under "Caviar" or (800) 828-9241); Zabar's ( or (800) 697-6301 outside of New York State, (212) 496-1234 within area codes 212, 718, and 917,); or Dean & Deluca ( under "Caviar—Service & Accoutrements" or (877) 826-9246).

--Vermont Shepherd, Timson (Vermont Shepherd,, (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,, (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,, (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,, (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 casseroles—eat 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:, (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,, (715) 488-2966). Mary Falk is passionate about what she does-just as well, for being a small—scale 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 creamy—a fabulous table cheese. Available through Zabar's ( or (800) 697-6301 outside of New York State, (212) 496-1234 within area codes 212, 718, and 917).

--Capricious (Capricious Cheese,, (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.,, (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 pushy—just a thoroughly pleasing blend of aromas and tastes. Complex but not complicated. Online ordering.

--Claire de Lune (Pure Luck Grade A Goat Dairy,, (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:, (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).