Belgium has been woefully underrepresented in the American cheese case for a long time, but that’s changing now; in NYC, cheesemongers such as Formaggio Essex, Bedford Cheese Shop and Artisanal in particular seem to be been making an effort to carry more cheeses from smaller and farmstead Belgian producers, judging from their cases. I even purchased a raw milk, Camembert-style, under-60-day Belgian cheese at one of the counters in the city recently, although I’m not going to name where I found it (although it should be said that they were surprisingly cavalier in advertising the cheese’s black-market status).
One of the cheeses for which Belgium is best known are “Trappist” style, cow’s milk cheeses washed in, Belgian beer; legend has it that the monks of the Trappist monasteries developed these cheeses as a full-flavored substitute for the days on which they were required to abstain from consuming meat. Le Charmoix is another cheese in this family, from La Fermiere de Méan in Maffe, in the Wallonia region of Belgium (I previously reviewed the Cabricharme, also from the same cheesemaker, whose recipe is essentially a goats-milk version of the Le Charmoix).
Made with raw cow’s milk in the Spring and early summer, the wheels are lightly pressed and then aged for four to six weeks, getting a regular beer brine wash. The final result is a a pungent, soft wheel, the golden, lightly sticky-gritty rind giving off a hoppy, sour aroma. The paste is ivory-colored and smooth-textured, the wheel settling and bulging as it warms. The flavor is mild in the young Charmoix, but this wedge had definitely had a chance to develop a beautiful stink, with a yeasty, fruity, meaty flavor and notes of onions, hardboiled egg, hay and barnyard.
Purchased at Formaggio Essex.
In the New York Times, Jeffrey P. Kahn, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, looks at the origins of beer, and the roll fermented beverages may have played in “civilizing” us:
Five core social instincts, I have argued, gave structure and strength to our primeval herds. They kept us safely codependent with our fellow clan members, assigned us a rank in the pecking order, made sure we all did our chores, discouraged us from offending others, and removed us from this social coil when we became a drag on shared resources…these same lifesaving social instincts didn’t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation — the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization.
To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative — or at least let us suppress our angst when we did.
We needed beer.
Luckily, from time to time, our ancestors, like other animals, would run across fermented fruit or grain and sample it. How this accidental discovery evolved into the first keg party, of course, is still unknown. But evolve it did, perhaps as early as 10,000 years ago.
Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread.
Pondhopper, from cheesemaker Flavio DeCastilhos at Tumalo Farms in Central Oregon, is a beer-washed, firm goat’s milk cheese made in the shadow of the Cascade mountains with the milk of Alpine and Saanen goats. Aged around three months, the curds are soaked in local microbrews before going into the mold for pressing, allowing the hoppy flavors to infuse deep into the paste.
The paste is a pale white, lightly eyed, mild in flavor but with a milky, sweet flavor with nuttiness and a bit of sharpness and lemony tang. The beer soaking adds strong notes of yeast and hops, but not much stink; because the curds are washed once, rather than the rind being washed repeatedly, the flavor and aroma development is more controlled and limited, and expresses itself in a more immediately “beery” manner. I would assume that, as with washed curd cheeses like Gouda, the washing raises the pH of the curds, but I’m not sure how the alcohols, sugars and yeasts of the beer counterbalance or influence that.
(Note: Keeley’s Cheese Co. has a cheese called “Across The Pond” — previously reviewed — and it seems as though they used to have one called Pondhopper, which shouldn’t be confused with the Tumalo Farms cheese.)
Spotted at the cheese counter of Artisanal Bistro: Cabricharme, a washed rind, raw goat’s milk cheese from La Fermiere de Méan in Maffe, in the Ardennes region of Belgium. Belgium has been woefully underrepresented in the American cheese case for a long time, but that’s changing now; in NYC, cheesemongers such as Artisanal and Bedford Cheese Shop in particular seem to be been making an effort to carry more cheeses from artisanal Belgian producers, judging from their cases. I even purchased a raw milk, Camembert-style, under-60-day Belgian cheese at one of the mongers in the city recently, although I’m not going to name where I found it (although it should be said that they were surprisingly cavalier in advertising the cheese’s black-market status).
One of the cheeses for which Belgium is best known is Chimay, a “Trappist” cow’s milk cheese washed in the Belgian beer of the same name. Cabricharme is essentially a Trappist washed rind cheese made with goat’s milk, and based on the same recipe used for Le Charmoix, another washed rind cheese developed by Fermiere de Méan.
The rind is rose-pink and sticky to the touch, with the gritty texture of a Trappist washed rind, a bit on the thicker side but not excessively so. Cabricharme has a wonderful pungency, yeasty from the beer washes, with beefy, mushroomy and musty qualities. The paste, bone white, is velvety, creamy and oozing, bulging and collapsing out of the rind as it warms. This cheese has a slightly unusual texture — that I’ve observed in other washed rind goat’s milk cheeses, particularly the Holzeme Geiss (Wooden Goat) from Willi Schmid — an almost marshmallow’y, borderline spongy texture that imparts a delightful, but unexpected, mouthfeel. In flavor the Cabricharme is buttery, with an unusual tangy quality, sweet, meaty, mushroomy and yeasty, with notes of hops and grass, but without any goaty bite.
If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of Belgian cheeses, the Cabricharme is an excellent place to start! (insert painful joke about it being “full of charm”)
Purchased at Artisanal.
Update: Courtesy of a NYC cheesemonger, a photo of the adorable label for the Cabricharme.
This sticky, pungent wheel is the C Local, a collaboration between Old Chatham Sheepherding Co., Brooklyn Brewery and Murray’s Cheese. Starting as a wheel of Kinderhook Creek, Old Chatham’s little wheel of pasteurized East Friesian sheep’s milk bloomy rind, the Kinderhook is then sent to the Murray’s caves, where it is washed with Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 2, a Belgian Style Strong Ale (which itself uses raw honey from upstate NY, another local twist).
The end result is a golden-pink round of cheese, sticky and pungent on the outside, with an assertive, yeasty, wooly aroma.“One sniff and you’ll know why it’s named for the C Train” is how Murray’s describes it, although that description seems a little extreme (trust me: I’ve been on the C train in August). It’s in the same ballpark of stink as a good Alsatian Munster or Reblochon, but maybe not quite up to Bavarian Limburger or nuclear A Filetta levels.
Cutting into it reveals a fudgy, creamy interior, oozing gently as it warms but retaining the dense, spreadable texture for the most part. In flavor The C Local is tangy, nutty and complex, with distinct flavors of hops and yeast and floral, grassy, barnyard notes and the distinctive sheepy, gamey finish of a sheep’s milk washed rind.
Purchased at Murray’s.
Looking for good beer and cheese pairings? Brooklyn Brewery has a weekly Cheese Pairing series on their blog, with recommendations for which cheeses to pair with their beers. Martin Johnson, the man behind The Joy of Cheese as well as the Cheese, Charcuterie, Beer and Wine Manager for Gastronomie 491, brings the cheeses to the table. Check out the full series here.
Brooklyn Daily reports on a whale of a naming disagreement between Brooklyn microbrewers Narwhal Brewery and Sierra Nevada (full disclosure: the Narwhal founders are friends of mine so I’m not entirely unbiased):
A nascent Bushwick brewery says one of the nation’s largest beer companies has stolen its whale of a name and started using it — all before the two-person Brooklyn brand could even sell its first pint.
The Brooklyn beer guys behind Narwhal Brewery decided last year that their startup would honor an obscure tusked cetacean that great whale penman Herman Melville once described as “curiously named.”
At first it was smooth sailing for Narwhal Brewery — that is until its owners claim they got harpooned by the California beer-makers at Sierra Nevada.
“We heard that Sierra Nevada was going to release a ‘Narwhal’ beer and I was like, ‘What a coincidence,’ ” said Narwhal Brewery co-founder Basil Lee, who hopes to set up shop in Bushwick in 2013. “We really like the name — to have them come in and take it is really frustrating.”
Lee and his colleague Kevin Stafford registered Narwhal Brewery as a limited liability corporation with the state in April 2011, but the rookie owners — who still work day jobs — didn’t think to file for a federal trademark.
Up comes Sierra Nevada — the famous progenitors of craft beer who turned microbrewing into big business. Sierra Nevada filed a federal trademark to name an imperial stout “Narwhal” in June 2012.
Monday night found me at Murray’s Cheese for a tasting/reading event with Kirstin Jackson, author of “It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese”. Kirstin’s book — and blog of the same name — offers a unique perspective on the domestic cheese scene, exploring the vats, caves, fields and milking parlors of artisan and farmstead cheesemakers across the nation, introducing readers to unique and often quirky characters behind the rinds. Jackson takes an unusual approach, breaking the book into chapters along what could perhaps be described as personality lines rather than strictly technical definitions; rather than “Mold-Ripened”, “Washed Rind”,”Thermophilic” or “Chevres”, we have chapter titles like “Prepubescent Cheese”, “The Strong and the Hard”, “American Originals” or “Washed and Smeared Rinds: What the Hell is Going on in the Kitchen” — a bit irreverent perhaps, but capturing the spirit of the book perfectly, which combines in depth tastings, informative interviews and engaging history with cheeky humor and and sometimes bawdy asides. The book is both an excellent primer for cheese newbies and, for the more experienced turophile, a rich source of background stories and anecdotes about your favorite cheeses.
The class was Kirstin’s chance to share her “dream American cheese plate”, a selection of cheeses from top cheesemakers across the country, paired with unique wines and beers from both West and East coast. Some beers, like Brooklyn Brewery, are hard to find on the West Coast, so Kirstin took this class as an opportunity to explore pairings that might be hard for her to make normally, even as she was introducing the students to new flavor profiles and combinations.
The cheeses, with their pairings, were as follows:
1. Hoja Santa, The Mozzarella Co., TX, paired with Scholium SC Vipolze, Red Hook Winery, Brooklyn.
Made by Texas cheesemaker Paula Lambert, Hoja Santa has garnered accolades and attention since it came out (it was also featured in my Mexican cheese class with Carlos Yescas and my Master Class with Max McCalman). Wrapped in the leaf of the Hoja Santa herb, this fresh lactic goat’s milk cheese is bright, sweet and citric with flavors of mint, oregano, grass and most distinctly, sarsaparilla, aka root beer flavor, which comes from the Safrole oil that is in both the sarsaparilla root and in the Hoja Santa leaf.
Complimented nicely by the “orange”, Slovenian-style skin-fermented wine, the unusual style that has in the last decade made waves in the wine world. the herbal and honey notes of the wine worked well with the citrus and safrole notes of the cheese. (Note: Red Hook Winery was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy, losing much of their stock, so this might be a tough one to find)
2. Green Hill, Sweet Grass Dairy, GA, paired with Broadside Chardonnay
Made by the Wehner family in Georgia on a farm that is one of the pioneers of rotational grazing in America, the rich, high-fat milk of the spoiled Jersey cows make the perfect foundation for this gloriously decadent double-creme bloomy rind (you’d probably guess it was a triple-creme if you didn’t know better). In color, texture and flavor it resembles fresh cultured butter, with a velvety, spreadable texture and earthy notes of mushroom and hay.
The “wild-fermented” Chardonnay from California brings out the silky mouthfeel of the cheese and compliments the meatiness of the paste.
3. San Andreas, Bellwether Farms, CA, paired with Edmund St. John’s Bebame
San Andreas is a raw sheep’s milk Pecorino-style cheese, made with the milk of East Friesian Sheep on the Bellwether farm, along the Pacific Coast in Sonoma County, California. Made in the style of a Tuscan Pecorino, with a smooth golden rind, the paste is ivory-hued and scattered with eyes, smooth and creamy in texture. The flavor is mild, sweet and tangy, with the trademark sheep’s milk gamey, lanolin characteristics, nutty and grassy notes, and a pleasantly sour finish.
Made in the Sierra foothills of California, the Bebame is a Cabernet Franc/Gamay blend, herbal and fruity without being too tannic or jammy. It stands up nicely to the gamey flavors of the San Andreas and brings out the nuttiness.
4. Grayson, Meadow Creek Dairy, VA, paired with Captain Lawrence Golden Delicious Tripel
Made by the Feete family in Virginia (cue “smells like Feete” jokes), Grayson is a Taleggio-style washed rind made with Jersey cow’s milk, and Meadow Creek is one of the makers that put the American South on the cheese map. A seasonal cheese, only made from April-October, this cheese is best enjoyed when extremely ripe and the pungency has achieved it’s peak levels. The ivory-gold paste, enclosed within a reddish-amber rind, is velvety and oozing, with a robust but not overwhelming aroma, and a rich, buttery, meaty flavor with notes of smoked bacon, hay, mushrooms and broth.
This pairing worked really well: the fruity flavors of the Tripel, combined with the meaty cheese, immediately brought to mind the apple in the mouth of a roast pig.
5. Gravity Hill, Roelli Cheese Haus, WI, paired with Stillwater Autumnal Ale
Made by acclaimed Wisconsin cheesemakers Roelli (I previously wrote about their Red Rock and Dunbarton Blue), this cheese gets its name from the legend of Gravity Hill in Shullsburg, WI, where cars are said to roll uphill while in neutral, defying the laws of gravity. The cheese itself is firmly grounded and earthy; based on an English Cheshire and made with sea salt, the paste is dry and crumbly, the flavor is rich, meaty and nutty, with herbaceous and tropical notes and a distinctly cheddary sharpness.
The Stillwater brought out the fruitiness of the cheese and balanced the sharpness nicely.
6. Rogue River Blue, Rogue Creamery, OR, paired with Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout.
Every year brings news of more ribbons won by Rogue Creamery for this Syrah-leaf wrapped blue cheese, and they’re well earned. Deep, complex and earthy in flavor with notes of coffee, barnyard, caramel and sherry, beautifully balanced between sweet and briny with scatterings of tyrosine crystals and a spicy, peppery bite. The interior is sweeter and creamier, while the paste closer to the rind offers a woodsy, herbaceous, more aromatic experience.
Chocolate and Blue cheese: how can you go wrong? The Black Chocolate Stout worked with the Rogue River perfectly.
The cheese didn’t end with the class though: afterwards several of us continued to Murray’s Cheese Bar, where the cheesemongers brought us a couple slates of their best cheeses, including (to the best of my recollections, I’m missing a few): Barilotto Bufala, Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Little Big Apple, Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Hudson Flower, Tomme Vaudoise, Holzhorne Geiss, aka “Wooden Goat” from Willi Schmid, Vendeen Bichonne, Beaufort d’Ete AOC, Rush Creek Reserve, Hafod Cheddar, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue, Rogue River Blue. Oh, and did I mention the deep-fried Buffalo Wisconsin Cheese Curds? ;)
If you want to learn more, check out Kirstin’s book!
Chris Melby, CSU professor and department head for the department of food science and human nutrition, and Tiffany Weir, food science and human nutrition assistant professor, have kept a tight lid on the proposal for a new major in fermentation science and technology.
They didn’t want a flood of students trying to sign up for the Bachelor of Science degree that may never come to fruition. There is that much demand for the proposed degree that still has at least four steps to go through before it is added to the 2013 fall semester offerings.
If the major is approved, CSU would be the first university in the Rocky Mountain region to offer such a specialized degree and could be one of three universities in the United States to have an undergrad program in food and beverage fermentation.
The program would prepare students not just for the beverage and food industry, but also in the science of human health and the fermentation process that takes place inside the human body, said Melby, who noted the major fits nicely with his department’s purpose.
The degree has been about a year in the works. Melby said staff identified fermentation as a hot topic at a retreat. The department agreed it wanted to broaden the area and the new major was born.
The rise of people fermenting their own food is tied to two trends. One is the health food market as people look to eat natural healthy foods. Second is the shift toward local as people are buying into community-supported agriculture as opposed to buying from corporate stores, Weir said.
Aside from beer, fermentation could benefit the dairy, wheat, beef, pork, lamb, grape, hop and barley industries. Northern Colorado is home to 10 breweries as well as MouCo Cheese Co., Leprino Foods and Noosa Yoghurt that could benefit from the degree. Other Colorado companies include bread makers such as Udi’s, which involve fermentation.
Read the full article here.
(Photo ©2012 Coloradoan.com)
I just received my copy of Kirstin Jackson’s new book in the mail, and now comes news that Kirstin will be coming to NYC on December 3rd, to discuss her book and offer a diverse tasting of American cheeses, wines and beers:
It’s Not You It’s Brie: American Cheese, Wine, and Beer With Kirstin Jackson
Mon Dec 3 6:30-8:00 Pm
Kirstin Jackson’s recently released book It’s Not You, it’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Cheese Culture takes readers “backstage” into underground caves, and into funky scents and traditions that link today’s cheese makers to American history. Jackson— a consultant, educator, professionally trained cook, wine bar manager and cheese program director, whose fridge and head is almost entirely consumed with cheese— will lead us through her dream American cheese plate, paired with outstanding American wines and beers, while sharing stories of each of the American artisans whose hard work makes such a delicious evening possible.
Tickets $75.00, but now through 11/30 only $60.00.
Sign up at the Murrays site!