Tag Archives: cowgirl creamery

Some great cheeses from Des Moines (ACS 2016)

 

We tasted a lot of great cheese in the judging room.  I’m sure there were dozens of cheeses in categories I didn’t get to try or that finished a close second in their categories.  Here are a few cheeses that I judged that I gave serious consideration to voting for as “Best of Show.” For info about the judging process, see my previous post “ACS Cheese Judging” and the post by Janee, “The Mobile Monger,”  “Judging and Competition.”

Little Mountain, Roelli Cheese Company, Best of Show

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Check out the paparazzi!

You all know I like the Roellis. Heck, I devoted most of a chapter in Cheddar to their story because it exemplified the realities of cheddar-making so well: a family factory making commodity cheddar just can’t stay in business anymore unless they find other cheeses to make. Little Mountain is an Alpine-style cheese, originally modeled after Appenzeller, but modified to work with the local environment of Shullsburg, Wisconsin. (Jeanne Carpenter did a great write up of this here that you should read.)  This cheese was made to honor the Roelli’s family cheesemaking heritage and we all know Chris Roelli has been struggling to make this cheese perfect for a long time. Looks like he finally did it! Not a dry eye in the house when Chris and Kris walked up to accept their Best of Show ribbons, especially theirs.

Buff Blue, Bleating Heart Cheese, tie 2nd place

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What can I say, I love these cheeses and Seana Doughty does California proud with every cheese she makes. My personal fave is the drought-friendly Double Down, a sheep/cow blend but this buffalo milk blue is really special: rich and meaty in an uncommon way and not afraid of being moldy. Heartwarming too because Bleating Heart was on the ropes not too long ago. On a personal level, I hope that this win puts Seana’s cheese in counters all over the country. She deserves it.

St Malachi Reserve, The Farm at Doe Run, tie 2nd place

Artisan cheese is still regional to some extent, and I so hadn’t heard of this cheese before this conference. I have carried some soft Farm at Doe Run cheeses, so when this was announced I didn’t even realize it was in my own top tier of cheeses while judging. I was sitting in the airport at Denver, waiting for my connecting flight, when I was all, “OMG this is that amazing aged gouda!” Caramel, toasty, meaty, and salty/sweet/sharp. I would say that this is the best gouda made in the USA if not for my love for….

Jeffs’ Select Gouda, Caves of Faibault, tied for 3rd

This is a seasonal, grass fed cheese that I have loved for a long time. The apostrophe is not in the wrong place, it’s the project of two Jeffs: Jeff Jirik and Jeff Wideman. Again, sweet and earthy and caramel and sharp. Glad to see this cheese get some recognition after all these years.

Greensward, Murray’s Cheese/Jasper Hill, tied for 3rd

This is basically a small format Winnimere, made for Murray’s cheese and it’s every bit as awesome as you’d expect. One of the most complex soft cheeses you will ever try and I have written about it a few times over the years. This is the kind of cheese that just wasn’t made in this country 20 years ago. That’s why I keep talking about the cheese renaissance!

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Harbison, Jasper Hill

The complexity of flavor and incredible balance of this cheese makes it just an incredible accomplishment. Just another one of America’s best cheeses.  I have loved this cheese for a long time now and, honestly, I thought it was the best Jasper Hill cheese in the competition, though it was a very close call.

Providence, Goat Lady Dairy

I had no idea what this cheese was until, like the St Malachi Reserve, I figured it out in the Denver airport. I don’t know much about this cheese, but based on the sweetness, I would guess it’s based on a goat gouda recipe. This is just an excellent aged goat, very complex with great depth of flavor, and wonderful texture.

Bella Vita, Firefly Farms

This is an aged goat milk cheese with the delicate complexity of a great Sardinian Pecorino (Yes, I know that comparison switched milk types). A little more subtle than some of the winners, but a cheese with an aftertaste that may have been the best aftertaste of the show.

Labne, Karoun Dairies

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OK, it’s unlikely a fresh cheese will ever win Best of Show at ACS because it’s hard to compare the complexity of an alpine or washed-rind cheese to a “simple” one, but man, this is the best Labne I know of in the USA. I just want to let you know, Labne, I see you. I see you. I eat this at work almost every day with honey and fresh fruit. (This is an old picture. I think it costs $2.39/ea now.)

Red Hawk, Cowgirl Creamery

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In the Bay Area, sometimes people forget how damn good this cheese is. Tasting it again amongst the best of categories, I was reminded how good and grassy and rich and slightly pungently balanced this cheese is. We are lucky to have it as a local standard.

Prufrock, The Grey Barn

I have literally never heard of this cheese before. If you are near Massachusetts, I would seek it out. Incredibly well-balanced washed rind cheese: a touch pungent, fatty, and nuttier than one would expect for the style. I didn’t think about it much but when I tasted it, I assumed it was Canadian. Cheese people know, that is a huge compliment.

 

There were lots of other great cheese but these were the cheeses that spoke to me in that room. Remember that cheeses in competition are the best of that day, and so results may vary – both directions — at stores. Overall though, every year I judge there are more serious contenders for Best of Show and higher scores overall through every one of my categories.  Amazing job everyone!

 

 

Wisconsin vs. California

So, I did a class at the Cheese School that was a battle between Wisconsin and California. I figured it would be a fun class, because, hey, why not stoke the rivalry? I almost got a Wisconsin food blogger kicked out of his home state because (his idea!) we bet on the Niners/Packers playoff result. When my Niners won, he had to go put up “California Cheese is better than Wisconsin Cheese” on his facebook page. I felt so bad for him… he got hundreds of comments, many very nasty, and people were unfriending him in droves.

The Cheese School folks suggested a Super Bowl Cheese class but we had to cancel it when Baltimore got in from the AFC. There are some good Maryland cheeses, but none are available out here and it just didn’t excite people the way that a battle people the top milk and cheese producing states would.

No, Wisconsin vs. California is the real battle. Since they will never get to battle in the Super Bowl (Sorry Raiders fans), I decided that it would be fun just to have a battle at the Cheese School.

I didn’t hype the class at all because it sold out really fast. So, I was surprised when people started lobbying me about what cheeses should compete. I am known as a Californian, so it did NOT surprise me that the lobbying came from Wisconsin. Was I going to set up a California victory? Would I battle some cold pack cheese spread against Humboldt Fog? An Aaron Rodgers-shaped mild, waxed Cheddar against Fiscalini bandage-wrapped aged for 18 months?

From others I got dismayed reactions about having the cheeses fight against each other. Can’t we all just get along? My answer to that is that in a cheese case (or a buyers desk) these cheeses are in competition every day. This doesn’t mean we can’t cooperate and work together, but a customer, unless doing a horizontal tasting, does not want two traditional Cheddars, Two aged sheep cheeses, two blues etc and they are going to have to choose one. It’s my job, behind the counter, to help them figure out which one to choose, presenting them with tastes, stories and contexts. So really, this is a more real-life situation than my average cheese class.

I’m not the most prompt blogger, but I promised results to folks. I tried to pick categories that would be a fair fight. I conceded block Cheddar to Wisconsin. I claim ripened goat cheese for the Californians. Here’s what happened with the match-ups I chose.

Round 1:
Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped 18 Month Cheddar vs. Bleu Mont Dairy Cheddar

I did my samples anonymously and switched the California/Wisconsin order around so people couldn’t stack the deck. I thought that there would be a lot of Wisconsin people there because the class sold out so quickly, but it was mostly because a law office was having a night out together. I was a little disappointed because I had planned a bunch of Wisconsin-baiting but there were only 3 Badger-Staters in attendance.

People loved both these cheeses. We were definitely starting out strong with two giants of the cheese world. The Fiscalini was the first non-English cheese to take home the award for Best Extra Mature Traditional Cheddar at the World Cheese Awards. Bleu Mont is an amazing traditional Cheddar from organic pastured cows aged in a cave made by cheese genius Willi Lehner. CheddarSharp or sweet.? Moist or shard-y? Who will win?

Me and Mariano from Fiscalini. At least Mariano looks good.
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I was shocked when I counted the hands. It was an absolute tie. It didn’t seem fair to go all Speaker-of-the-House and be the tie-breaker, so I let it stand.

California: 0, Wisconsin: 0, Ties: 1

Round 2
Bleating Heart Fat Bottom Girl vs. Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op Dante

I love both of these cheeses, but let me start with the unexpected: This was the best piece of Dante I have ever tasted and we have carried this, on and off, since soon after they started making it. It was an incredible balance of sweet caramel, sharpness, and earthiness.

Here are some of the co-op members
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I love the Fat Bottom Girl a million different ways and think that it is one of the best versions of Basque-style cheese in the USA but its more subtle nuance, and grassiness could note compete with the hammer smash of this particular wheel of Dante. I don’t know how it would come out next time, but this time the winner was Dante.

California: 0, Wisconsin: 1, Ties: 1

Round 3
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk vs. Crave Brothers Petit Freres

A washed-rind stink off. Who would win? Our local hero and past ACS Best of Show winner? Or the little, underrated washed rind from the family dairy with one of the biggest methane digesters in the US cheese business?

I like the Freres a lot, but Red Hawk may be unbeatable in this category. Red Hawk, I should note, just keeps getting better and better. It’s another cheese I have eaten pretty much since it was invented and every time I try it, it seems better than the last. I should note, that this was the only cheese of the evening that people could recognize.
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California: 1, Wisconsin: 1, Ties: 1

Round 4
Pt Reyes Farmstead Bay Blue vs. Roelli Dunbarton Blue

To decide it all two cheese that have little but blue in common. Bay Blue is the new Blue from Pt Reyes Farmstead which has been a huge hit since we started carrying it. Natural rind, richer than Original Blue and with more depth of flavor despite being pasteurized. The Dunbarton is basically a traditional Cheddar with Blue veining. Pretty original as cheeses go, and made by one of my favorite cheesemakers. This was the only category where some folks said that they might actually buy both for a cheese plate (eve if we cheesemongers know that only about .01% of customers would actually buy two blues at one time) 😉
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This one was close, and I thought we might have another tie on our hands, but when everyone was counted Dunarton Blue was victorius, bringing home the overall win for Wisconsin.

California: 1, Wisconsin: 2, Ties: 1

It was a close one. I hope to schedule a rematch soon with different cheeses. After all, I am a Californian.

*I do have an upcoming class at the Cheese School, if you are interested.

Thanksgiving cheese

Hey there. I went into my typical pattern of internet silence around the big food holiday. Too much to do in the week before Thanksgiving, as all U.S.-grocery store workers know. You have to wonder about anyone who works in retail food who has time to blog in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

On the “Culture Magazine” facebook, they asked, “What cheeses are you serving for Thanksgiving and I responded, “Whatever doesn’t sell!” That’s true to a point. I would have brought, for example, the Nettle Meadow Kunik if we hadn’t have run out but I wasn’t going to buy any out from under customers, at least for Thanksgiving when the cheese is not the main focus of our food table.

But I did buy the Uplands Creamery Rush Creek Reserve, a raw milk Vacherin Mont D’or-style cheese from the folks who are the only three-time winner of the American Cheese Society Best in Show (for Pleasant Ridge Reserve). True, it didn’t sell, but they didn’t arrive in the store until Wednesday at 1 PM so they were hardly neglected.

Anyways, here is artsy photo of the cheese plate from the Thanksgiving thing in our apartment:
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Here’s the more detailed picture:
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From top left: Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel/Tumbleweed, Uplands Creamery Rush Creek Reserve, French Fromager D’affinois*, Swiss Antique Gruyere, and Croation Paski Sir** You can’t really seem ‘em but there is a huge selection of Potter’s Crackers from Wisconsin that went along with this.

I forgot to take a picture of the cheese I brought to my parents’ house but that’s ok, right? Feel free to share your Thanksgiving cheese thoughts or pictures in the comments.

*As someone once wrote, “like flystrips around dairy cows, the D’Affinois draws the casual cheese eater at parties away from the expensive stuff”
**This was a free sample that I just got so I threw it on the plate. I am breaking a long-held policy here of not mentioning cheeses that people ask me to mention, but this is a really good sheep milk cheese that we will try and carry when it becomes available. You can read about it here