A cheese that needs little introduction at this point: The Flagsheep from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, winner of the Best In Show ribbon at this year’s American Cheese Society “Cheese Rally in Raleigh”, which took place in Raleigh, NC in early August. Although I’d had — and enjoyed tremendously — Flagsheep previously, this particular wedge came from the batch that took Beecher’s to cheese-world glory. I had tried it at the Festival of Cheese in Raleigh (you can see the ribboned wheels in that blurry third photo above), but by the time I’d gotten around to it, my taste buds were pretty much blown out after consuming easily over a hundred other cheeses, so I was happy to get another chance to experience it properly and in a civilized manner.
Flagsheep is a hard aged clothbound made with a mix of cow and sheep’s milk cheese (Beecher’s signature “Flagship” cheeses are pure cow, hence the name). Unlike many of the past winners of the Best in Show ribbon (Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Rogue River Blue) — and despite being aged well beyond the 60-day limit — Flagsheep is made with pasteurized milk. The cheese has clearly not suffered from it, an accomplishment of its own.
The cheese is a clothbound wheel, with the texture, firmness and dryness of an aged cow’s milk clothbound cheddar, with a tendency to break into long, flaky shards when cut; at the same time it has the surface oils one associates with sheep’s milk cheeses like Manchego. The paste is scattered with “flavor crystals”, aka the little pockmarks of crystallized amino acids that develop in hard cheeses as they age. The flavor is deep and complex, sweet and salty, grassy and meaty and with a balanced sharpness and notes of caramel, lanolin and toasted nuts. Despite the sharp and sheepy flavors it has a mellow and sweet finish.
This is an excellent cheese, and well deserving of the honor, especially when one considers that they’ve only been making the Flagsheep for a few years now. Sadly though, it could be hard to get your hands on in the near future — as one Beecher’s team member told me during the Festival, they had somewhere in the neighborhood of only 20 wheels of the Flagsheep on hand when the award was announced. Needless to say, those will probably all end up at Beecher’s two locations in Seattle and NYC, and are not available online. But we can assume that Beecher’s will be sharply upping the output of the Flagsheep in the near future, and perhaps even adding it to the production line at the NYC location (currently it’s only made on the West Coast by cheese maker Brad Sinko).
Purchased at Beecher’s NY.
(Update: Flagsheep was recently featured in a New York Times piece.)