From the archives: Originally posted April 19th, 2012:
Bent River Camembert, from the Alemar Cheese Company in Minnesota, is a cheese I’ve been on the prowl after for a while. I was curious to try this cheese after reading Janet Fletcher’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle, but the last time I went looking for it, Lucy’s Whey had already sold out and I couldn’t find it at any of the other cheese mongers in town. Lucy’s Whey recently tweeted that they had some, so I finally got my hands on a half wheel.
Keith Adams, the maker behind Bent River, came to cheese making after years in the bagel business and prior to that as a stockbroker in San Francisco. Although a relative newcomer, he’s obviously a quick study (you can read more about him here, from Minnesota Public Radio). This soft-ripened bloomy rind, inspired by the traditional Camembert de Normandie, is made from the milk of a local farm and a mix of Holstein, Normandy, Jersey, and Guernsey cows.
With a luxuriant, velvety paste, buttery and smooth, in flavor it is milky and barnyardy but in a very subtle way, reminiscent of damp hay after a rain, with herbacous and floral hints and a full, mushroomy body.
It took a while to get my hands on, but it was well worth the wait. Definitely a cheese to seek out.
Purchased at Lucy’s Whey.
Sadly, I missed last weekend’s Big Cheesy 2013 (see my post from last year’s event), but SeriousEats has a good slideshow of the competing grilled cheeses. Melt Shop was declared the big winner for the 2nd year in a row, but all the entries look pretty darn tasty to me:
This weekend, Openhouse brought back their grilled cheese cookoff, The Big Cheesy. There were some heavy-cheese-hitters lines up, namely (the returning champion of cheesiness) Melt Shop, Milk Truck, Lucy’s Whey, Murray’s Cheese Bar, Say Cheese, Sons of Essex, and ‘wichcraft.
We scoped out the event to bring you a blow-by-blow roundup of what NYC’s grilled cheese masters had to offer. Click through the slideshow to see!
An event not to be missed: Edible Manhattan will be bringing together many of the makers, mongers and farmers featured in their most recent Dairy Issue for a night celebrating the best that Dairy has to offer in and around New York City. The event will be held at Openhouse Gallery, who recently hosted the Big Cheesy grilled cheese grill-off event.
More information and EventBrite ticketing here.
Bayley Hazen Blue, from Jasper Hill Farm
Heading optimistically into 2012, some leading specialty food retailers and cheesemongers see a year of continuing passion for fine American cheeses as customers delve deeper into artisan styles and distinctive flavors…the “local” emphasis is a theme repeated over and over by other retailers. Not surprisingly, Steve Ehlers of Larry’s Market in Milwaukee finds that his “customers love to support local producers. There tends to be good support with local media also in supporting Wisconsin business so it works both ways for us and the cheesemakers.”
Some professionals extend the “local” trend to include cheeses made throughout America. “There are so many great American cheeses—more and more every year. Our customers like to support small producers,” says Amy Thompson, head cheesemonger for Lucy’s Whey in Chelsea Market, New York City. In fact, she relates, Dutch customers come back and ask for Marieke’s Goudas,” farmstead cheeses made in traditional styles and flavors in northern Wisconsin.
Recently at Lucy’s Whey, I attended a cheese tasting featuring traditional and new cheeses from Mexico (as well as Mexican-style cheeses from the US).On the plate were six wonderful cheeses, Queso Cremoso, Queso Oaxaca, Hoja Santa, Queso de Bola de Ocosingo, Queso Blanco with Chiles and Epazote, and Queso Cotija, ranging in flavors and styles from wonderfully light, milky and sweet in the Queso Cremoso to the smoky, meaty, herbacious Hoja Santa to the crumbly, salty bite of the Queso Cotija.
The class was led by Carlos Yescas, cheese expert and consultant and member of the North American chapter of the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers, as well as one of the driving forces behind Lactography.com, “a small family-owned consultancy firm dedicated to the promotion of Mexican artisanal cheeses around the world”. Carlos, working with his sister Georgina, is dedicated to the development and growth of cheese making in Mexico as well as the education of those outside of Mexico as to the wonderful variety and quality of cheeses available.
As he explained during the class, one of Mexico’s biggest challenges is that of perception: due to a few highly publicized cases of food contamination — related to queso fresco produced illegally in the US under substandard conditions — (you may have heard of the outbreaks related to “bathtub cheese”), all Mexican cheeses have been unfairly tarnished and have thus faced difficulties in penetrating the larger cheese market.
As was demonstrated in the class, however, Mexico has a vibrant (and growing, in part due to the efforts of Carlos) artisanal cheesemaking scene, producing delicious, high quality cheeses in both state of the art facilities and traditional cheese rooms and using the milk of sheep, goat and cows.
I highly recommend taking a class with Carlos if you get the chance (and seeking out Mexican cheeses even if you don’t!). Below are his tasting notes from the handout that accompanied the cheese:
Rancho San Josemana — Queretaro, Mexico
Only in production for two years, this fresh cheese won a silver medal at the World Cheese Awards in 2011 The paste is fresh and smooth, with a lactic (milky) aromatic smell and light full flavor It has notes of butter and milk soda and distinct hint of sheep’s milk. It pairs wet with sparkling wines, light whites, lagers, and mezcal. It’s perfect on toast and honey.
The Mozzarella Company — Dallas, TX
This pasta filata (or pulled curd) cow’s milk cheese is the original string cheese. Unlike the commercial versions, this cheese is full of flavor. It has a milky sour taste with herbal notes of the cow’s grazing pastures. While the original cheese is made with partly skim raw milk, this Texan version uses full fat pasteurized milk to produce a very substantial cheese. It pairs best with bitter beers and light wines. It is perfect for quesadillas with some epazote leaves.
The Mozzarella Company — Dallas, TX
A modern interpretation of a French Saxon, this cheese is Made in Texas with goat’s milk in replication of a popular cheese made in the Gulf states of Mexico. The paste is fresh with a complex finish from the hoja santa, which gives a smoky smell and taste. This is a perfect “botana” (appetizer) cheese to eat along a cold ale or a medium aged white wine or a cider.
Queso de Bola de Ocosingo
Quesos Laltic — Chiapas, Mexico
A unique cheese, this Chiapas original is three cheeses in one. The cheese is covered by two chewy, meaty, odorless skins made of skimmed milk pulled into form. The paste is sharp and milky with a subtle herbal aroma. Because it is so salty, its often used as an ingredient (such as in dips) or as an accompaniment to other foods. The first skin is perfect to stuff enchiladas, and the second skin to make chicharrones de queso. This cheese must be paired with a full-bodied red or a bold beer to stand up to the taste.
Queso Blanco with Chiles and Epazote
The Mozzarella Company — Dallas, TX
A “botana” (appetizer) cheese this style of cow’s milk with additives is very common in Mexican coastal states with warm climates. The flavor is distinct of a farmer’s cheese with hints of epazote and serrano peppers for a spicy and herbaceous taste. The paste is firm and chewy and the smell is fresh and green. Perfect for a tequila and salt or a light wheat beer.
Meson del Cotija — Michoacan, Mexico
This cow’s milk cheese is a big boy! Weighing 40 pounds, the wheels of this cheese are aged between 5 and 36 months in natural caves in Michoacan, Mexico. The flavor is buttery, salty and sharp. The paste is crumbly but fresh with some remaining moisture and has a distinct cave-aged aroma. It pairs well with sweet wines or milky stouts.
This weekend saw the arrival of The Big Cheesy two-day grilled cheese grill-off at Openhouse Gallery in Soho. Featuring fromage concoctions from Murrays, Casellula, Big Daddy, Melt Shop, Little Muenster, Lucy’s Whey and Tartinery and beer from Sixpoint, it was a nonstop festival of oozing cheese and unusual toppings. $25 got you very generous portions (2nd’s and 3rd’s were encouraged), free beer and other foods and wines at the stalls, plus a portion of the proceeds went to City Harvest.
Picking a favorite was a real challenge. Not a one of the sandwiches was a disappointment. My top 3 would be Murray’s Atomic Bomb with Taleggio and Braised Short Ribs, the Lucy’s Whey Prairie Breeze, Fig Jam and Olive Oil, and the Little Muenster Gruyere/Taleggio/Fontina with membrillo paste and prosciutto.
Close behind were Casellula with their Fondue Sandwich with Pickled Pepper Radish, Melt Shop’s Fontina and Goat with Wild Mushrooms and Pesto (they also had two other sandwiches on offer, a Sharp Cheddar with Pulled Pork and and a Blue and Cheddar with Cranberry Pepper Jam), Tartinery’s bistro-perfect Croque Monsieur, and the Big Daddy Mac ‘n’ Cheese Sandwich (which, in fairness, was more Mac than sandwich).
In the end, my personal top choice (and it was only by the narrowest of margins), was the Little Muenster. For me, it was the one that exemplified the essence of the classic grilled cheese most perfectly. The mixed cheeses were velvety-smooth and bubbly, the sweet of the membrillo balanced perfectly with the meaty saltiness of the prosciutto, and the bread was perfectly browned, crackling on the outside while still soft beneath. It wasn’t the most unusual or inventive sandwich at the Cheesy, but it was close to grilled cheese perfection. The Murray’s sandwich was amazing, but the cheese was a little bit lost under the meltingly delicious braised short ribs, which was the real star of the sandwich. The Lucy’s Whey sandwich captured best the cheddary grilled cheese niche, which I loved as I enjoy the addition of some sharpness and tang, but the fig jam and olive oil got a bit lost in the thick bread (in my samples at least).
And the official winner: Melt Shop! Their sandwiches (plural) were excellent, and any one of them was a strong contender for top cheese, but I found it a little odd that they were allowed to submit THREE different sandwiches, not just one. In a true head-to-head it should be one competitor, one sandwich, period. If all of the competitors had submitted a mixed-plate of sandwiches, and been able to simultaneously court voters across markedly different flavor preferences, it might have altered the results. On the other hand, if the rules allowed it, then lesson learned for next year to the other competitors, I guess.
All in all a great event for grilled cheese lovers, although I seriously needed a nap after so much cheese, butter and meat. The jello shots at the Big Daddy stand probably didn’t help either…
Kudos as well to Openhouse and the competitors for running a tight ship. The event was busy, but never obnoxiously crowded and waits were minimal for samples.
the New York Times also had a story on the event.