U Bel Fiuritu, a semi-firm, washed-rind sheep’s milk cheese, is made by the Pierucci family of cheesemakers of Sarl Fromagerie Pierrucci, in the Casinca region of Corsica. Run by 4th-generation cheesemaker Michel Pierucci, the fromagerie collects the milk of as many as 80 farms in the region, transforming them into their line of cheeses, both traditional recipes and new interpretations of Corsican classics. I previously reviewed their A Casinca, a washed-rind goat’s milk cheese.
The name, U Bel Fiuritu, means “Small, Beautiful Flower”, and the ewes, grazing on the scrubby, redolent “Maquis” of the Corsican hillsides, imbue the milk with a wonderful herbal fragrance. The amber-red rind is frosted with patches of white mold, sticky and a bit gritty from regular washes during the 4-10 week aging. The paste is white in the center turning ivory towards the rind, scattered with small eyes.
The creamy, rich paste is complex in flavor, milky, herbaceous, sweet and nutty, sheepy and meaty and with a wonderful pungent bite and spice. This is a cheese that becomes exponentially stinkier the longer it ages: this wheel was near the sweet spot, still a bit firm at the center but ripening inwards, strong in aroma but well-balanced in flavor and with a mild finish.
Purchased at Formaggio Essex.
This gooey, fluffy ball is the Saint Nuage, a cow’s milk triple-creme from acclaimed French affineur Hervé Mons. “Nuage” actually means “cloud” in french, so this is the “Saint Cloud”, an appropriate name when you experience the texture.
The St. Nuage is a cow’s milk triple-creme, made by a Burgundy cheesemaker, and affinaged in the famous Mons tunnels before being sold exclusively through Whole Foods. I’m not sure if this is actually the first one, but I don’t recall seeing Mons cheeses with custom packaging and the Hervé Mons logo prominently displayed prior to this, at least on this side of the pond. I’ll certainly keep my eyes peeled for others.
When warmed to room temperature, the St. Nuage is almost unmanageably soft and must be moved with care lest the skin tear open in your hands. The rind, butter-yellow with a thin white mold layer, rippled and puckered, opens to reveal an incredibly gooey, delicate interior, the texture almost whipped in consistency. If you’ve ever baked a cake, the texture is kind of like the room temperature butter after sixty seconds of creaming, it’s that soft and fluffy; pretty impressive for an aged cheese — albeit briefly aged from what I can tell.
The flavor is mild but intensely buttery and rich, milky, a little tangy, with hints of mushroom, a nice salt balance, the paste melting in your mouth. Terms like “decadent” tend to be abused in the cheese world (including, admittedly, by yours truly), but this is a cheese that truly deserves that descriptor. I usually prefer my cheese neat, no bread or crackers, but this is a cheese that is tailor-made for slathering on a crusty baguette or with fruit. This is not a challenging or complex cheese, but it definitely puts the “creme” in triple creme.
This little crottin resembles some of the classic goat’s milk cheeses of the Loire Valley, but actually hails from Kempense Geitenkaas, a creamery in Lichtaart, Belgium, north of Antwerp in the region of Flanders. Paul D’Haene and Veerle Minsaer have been making cheese since 1979, focusing on goat, in country that is known almost exclusively for its cow’s milk cheeses (the trappist style cheeses being the best known, such as the Le Charmoix, recently reviewed). Paul even says that “the goat is the cow of the poor farmer”, but there’s nothing impoverished about the cheeses that he’s making with their milk.
The aged 5oz crottin has a textured, stony amber exterior, opening to reveal a chalky white interior, the paste creamy and fudgy with a bit more proteolysis at the rind. The aroma is yeasty and fruity; the flavor is milky and bright with citrus notes and a distinct sour, tangy, overtone.
Purchased at Formaggio Essex.
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.
Pardou Ardi Gasna has an easily scrambled name (I kept remembering it as Asni Garda), but a memorable flavor. This Sheep’s milk Brebis hails from the Western Pyrenees of France, in Basque Country, and is made on a small farmstead and distributed by Fromagerie Pardou, Affineur in the Vallee d’Ossau in the town of Laruns. Pardou specializes in working with the small-scale cheesemakers of the region, who often are working with herds of just 20 or so sheep, often of rare heritage breeds of the region. The name, “Ardi Gasna” actually just means “sheep cheese” in Basque, the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. Basque is actually considered a “language isolate”, a descendant of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe and with no linguistic ties to the Romance languages that surround it on all sides.
This pressed cheese, coming in 10lb wheels, is similar in style to the classic sheep’s milk Ossau-Iraty. The golden rind encloses an ivory-yellow, firm, supple, slightly eyed paste with the oily sheen of a sheep’s milk cheese. The aroma is nutty and buttery, while the flavor is sweet, grassy and lanolin, with flavors of toasted butter, hazelnuts, caramel and hay and notes of wild herbs.
Purchased at Formaggio Essex.
Il Pastore, from Latteria Sociale Santadi, is a brown-waxed sheep’s milk cheese made in Santadi,a commune in Sardinia, Italy. The color of the wax evokes the old tradition, from the region, of packing a layer of clay and mud onto the wheels of cheese to protect them, in the days before wax was in ready supply. Made with raw sheep’s milk cheese and aged for at least 3 months, this pecorino is similar to Manchego and is an excellent substitute for the Spanish classic.
The brown, mottled rind peels back to reveal a firm, golden paste turning to light-caramel brown near the rind. The paste is dry, dense, a bit crumbly, with a light oily sheen. The flavor is salty, nutty and complex, with lanolin, gamey and smokey notes and just a bit of peppery bite.
On a whim, I used the Il Pastore in a 3-green Tart recipe ( spinach, chard and kale), mixed with Bulgarian Feta, which worked out beautifully, the Feta, with it’s fresh lipase bite, complimenting the aged Il Pastore nicely.
Purchased at Stinky Brooklyn.
Named for the wild pennyroyal mint flowers that carpet the meadows of their farm, Pennyroyal Farmstead is a fairly new cheesemaking operation, locating in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino, California, about 2.5 hours north of San Francisco, on the sixty acres of Navarro Winery. Sustainability is a high priority for the farm, with electricity supplied by solar panels, waste reclaimed for agricultural applications and an army of miniature sheep keeping the lawns mowed. The goats, in their daily foraging, wend their way through the vines and help keep the weeds at bay.
They’ve been a sheep farm for over 25 years, but the goats only arrived five years ago, and the cheesemaking began in earnest after that, with the first cheeses making it to market only in the spring of 2012. The cheesemaking is still small-scale, with the daily makes happening in a 50-gallon vat, working primarily with goat’s milk but also doing mixed-milk sheep and goat’s milk cheeses as seasonality permits.
I first heard about their cheeses when Kirstin Jackson raved about their Boont Corners cheese on her It’s Not You, It’s Brie blog. I contacted them to inquire about availability on the East Coast; the bad news was that they are not currently available on this side of the country, but the good news (for me) was that they were happy to send me a sample box to try their cheeses! California readers should keep an eye out for them (and see the end of this post for details about their Farm To Table mail order program).
The first cheese I tried was Laychee, a fresh cheese that is made with goat and sheep while the sheep are still milking, but goes to pure goat later on. This is a mild, bright, milky cheese, in the vein of a queso fresco or fromage blanc, with a creamy, lightly grainy texture and a wonderful cottage-cheesey flavor to it. This would make a great breakfast cheese, with fresh fruit or in a crepe, or as a bruschetta topper with honey.
The next cheese was the Bollie’s Mollies, a lactic bloomy rind goat’s milk cheese. The rind is the dusty blue-gray color of a Selles-Sur-Cher, but the cheese itself is firmer, a soft but not runny creamline surrounding a firm, fudgy center. This is a mild, salty cheese with a smooth mouthfeel, a little bit musty in aroma, with subtle goaty and grassy notes.
After that was the Boont Corners, which came in three varieties: Two-Month Tomme, Vintage Tomme (aged four to six months) and the Reserve Tomme, which is aged over six months, and in this case was a mixed-milk raw sheep and goat’s milk cheese (although I’m not sure if it’s always mixed milk). All three were aged in a thin paper layer that covers the rind to protect the interior and control moisture loss.
The Two-month had a stony, textured tan rind, and an ivory, moist paste, moderately eyed. The flavor was mild, milky and salty, a little bit tangy, with gamey and herbaceous notes.
The Vintage tomme, although in theory just an older Boont, had a different rind from the Two-month, smoother, with less irregularity and texture. The paste as well was smoother, with fewer eyes and a creamy, denser, dryer texture. The flavory was more developed and multilayered, a bit saltier, the tanginess of the two-month aged out, with wonderful subtle smokey and meaty notes and a mellow finish.
The Reserve Tomme, with the addition of Sheep’s milk, resembled a good pecorino, with a rind similar to the Two-month Boont but a paste that was golden colored, moderately eyed, and with a harder, dryer, crumbly texture, with trademark hints of buttery oil from the sheep’s milk. The flavor was salty, rich and nutty, with caramel, lanolin and grassy notes.
All of the cheeses I tried from Boont were great, with the Vintage Tomme being the real standout. Unfortunately, as noted, they’re not available on the East Coast, but Pennyroyal has a “Farm To Table” mail order program that you can subscribe to, which entitles you to a shipment of three seasonal cheeses, five times a year. Learn more at www.pennyroyalfarm.com/table/.
“Hello My Name Is”: Tasting Notes
Coach Farm has created a new, raw goat’s milk cheese, and now they have partnered with Culture Magazine to find a name for it! As part of the “Hello My Name Is” competition, they have sent a big box of samples of this new cheese to 6 cheese bloggers — including yours truly — to taste and review the new cheese, post photographs, and even feature a giveaway of Coach Farm goodies. See the previous post for the full details and a little bit about the history of Coach Farm! But now let’s get into the cheese:
Tasting: Raw Goat Cheese
The wheel is large, around 8 inches in diameter and 4 inches in height. The Rind is firm and thin, an even blanket of snowy white mold over a pinkish-brown underlayer. There is a thick ivory creamline just under the rind, the sign of proteolysis beginning to breakdown and liquify the paste, but oozing is minimal even as it warms, just a light bulging outwards and no liquid runniness, indicating a balanced aging. Beneath the creamline the paste is evenly developed, smooth, and crumbly with a beautiful fudgy texture, a little bit chalky.
The aroma of the cheese is bright, citric and milky, with a distinctly yogurt-y quality and hints of mushroom and mold. The flavor is well-balanced, excellent salt levels, tangy and creamy, with subtle mineral and floral notes, and a touch of gamey sharpness and bitterness at the creamline. This is a mild but complex cheese with a very clean finish; the best bite includes a bit of paste, creamline and rind.
I tried the cheese with a few pairings as well; the first was with Kimchi (hat tip to cheese master Tia Keenan for introducing me to the kimchi/goat cheese concept); the fiery bite of the kimchi was tempered by the cheese while also bringing out fruity and sweet notes in the cheese. The second was a pickled beet, which was also lovely, although it’s hard to go wrong with the beet and goat cheese combo, they just pair very naturally. The third was with honey from the Brooklyn Honey CSA; while the components of the pairing were delicious on their own, the cheese was a little lost under the assertive, complex sweetness of the honey.
I have to say, I’m quite curious about the culture blend and the aging protocol that’s being used with this cheese: being a raw milk cheese, they are required to age it for at least 60 days, which would normally be a long time for a cheese of this style. The development of the creamline, the moisture levels and the intensity level of the flavors are closer to what I would expect from a younger cheese of this style. There’s clearly been a lot of tweaking and finessing with the make and affinage, to create a wheel that can age for that long a period without over-ripening, either in the direction of being overripe, or hardness.
So now, it’s your turn! Do you have any ideas for a name for this cheese? Get over to the Hello My Name Is page on the Culture Magazine site, and submit your naming ideas! You can read my previous post to get a sense for the history of Coach Farm (or check out their site), perhaps that will inspire you as well.
Personally, I like the idea of a name that pays tribute to the terroir of their farm: perhaps Hudson River Goat, or Taghkanic Bloom. But that’s not for me to choose, get over to Hello My Name Is and submit your own ideas! And don’t forget to add a comment to this post describing your favorite goat cheese pairing, for a chance to win the Coach Farm goodie bag.
How would you like to name a cheese? Not just any cheese, but a new, raw, goat’s milk cheese from one of America’s top goat cheese producers? Well now, you have the chance, thanks to the Culture Magazine “Hello My name Is” contest! Check out my review of the cheese in the next post.
The black and red logo of Coach Farm probably looks familiar to you; since Miles and Lillian Cahn started Coach in 1985, they have grown the farm into one of the signature goat cheese brands on the market. The Cahn’s are actually the original family behind the Coach handbag brand and that’s where they first made their fortune, before deciding to “retire” upstate a couple hours north of Manhattan, near Pine Plains, NY, with big plans of a relaxing life restoring an abandoned farm to working order and starting a goat creamery to create French-style cheeses for the New York City market.
Needless to say, the “relaxing” part of the plan never quite happened; they soon realized just how much time, work and dedication it would take to get the farm up and running and the cheese moving. Rather than give up, they sold Coach Leatherware (ironically, to the Sara Lee Corporation, so a large food company was expanding into leather goods even as they were moving into food production) and moved to the farm full time.
The story has a happy ending, as evidenced by the ubiquity of Coach in cheese cases (mostly on the East Coast but expanding healthily) and their frequent successes at the American Cheese Society competitions. Despite the challenges, they have now expanded to a 1000+ herd and are producing a variety of fresh, aged and flavored pasteurized goat’s milk cheeses. If you want to learn more about their journey from high-fashion bags to wheels of cheese, check out Miles’ book “The Perils and Pleasures of Domesticating Goat Cheese” for a behind-the-scenes, and often hilarious, look at the realities of goat farming and cheesemaking.
All of which brings us to the present day! Coach Farm is now working on their first aged cheese made with RAW goat’s milk cheese. After a lot of R&D and trial and error this beautiful cake of a wheel is finally getting close to being market-ready. But now they need a name!
That’s where YOU come in. Coach Farm, in collaboration with Culture Magazine, has selected 6 bloggers — including yours truly — to taste and review the “Raw Goat Cheese”. Readers can then go to the Culture “Hello My name Is” website and submit their own ideas for a new name. Given Coach’s success, it’s likely that the winning selection will be seen in cheese cases for years to come and may garner ribbons at domestic and international competitions, so think hard!
And there’s more: submit your favorite goat cheese pairing in the comments section, and Cheese Notes will select the best pairing and award the winner a Coach Farm insulated cheese bag (perfect for that summer picnic), containing samples of Coach Farm cheeses, including a wedge of the new cheese!
The Cheese Notes review for this cheese will be featured in the next post; submissions to either this post or that one will be considered in the competition, but duplicate submissions will only be counted once.
(Anonymous comments will not be eligible. Winner will be announced on the site and in the comments section, and I will contact you directly if possible.)
Slicing open more of the Bloomy Rind Couronne experiments. This batch was made with raw cow’s milk but without the addition of any fat, so as expected the paste is less creamy-rich than the double-creme Couronne (which I sliced into a week ago). The salt levels on this wheel are definitely low, and there is a slight bitterness, but also some nice mushroomy notes and a hint of barnyard. The texture of the paste is good, smooth and buttery, but the rind is a little thick. This wheel was also a bit over the hill, with the rind starting to sag and dry in a couple spots, but the interior was in good shape. For flavor I definitely prefer the double-creme (and not just because of the “more fat makes everything taste better” principle), but it’s not bad.
Another fix for next time: the stainless steel dowel I used for the hole in the center of the couronne was a little too small in diameter, so when the rest of the rind had stopped sprouting aggressively it was still growing thickly in the hole, where humidity was probably higher. As a result the wheel had a fuzzy little pocket right at its center, which didn’t damage the flavor but was perhaps not aesthetically ideal.