Cheese is a holiday entertaining favorite, but with all the varieties available today, many are befuddled on what to choose. To help inspire us the next time we go to the market, we asked some cheesemongers from around the country what cheeses are on their minds -- and in their bellies -- this holiday season.
Committed to caring for quality, hand-crafted products, Farmstead has one of New England’s best selections of imported and domestic artisan cheeses, and an array of hand-selected foodstuffs and other treats for pairing. For Matt, “choosing three [cheeses] is like discerning between your own children,” but he’s shared three favorites – all from Vermont – with us.
1. Jasper Hill Farm’s Winnemere: A personal favorite of mine. This is a very special, limited release, washed rind cow's milk cheese from Greensboro, Vermont. Styled after a Swiss cheese named 'Forsterkase', Winnemere is washed with Belgian ale and wrapped in Spruce bark cut from Northeast Kingdom trees. The flavor profile is funky, musky, piney, creamy, and balanced.
Pairs perfectly with: Matt’s housemade candied nuts. They’re addictive.
2. Cobb Hill’s Ascutney Mountain: Ascutney is a fascinating cheese. Crafted by a 'community' of those who want to explore the 'challenge of living in ways that are materially sufficient, socially and ecologically responsible, and satisfying to the soul.' That's right – a commune.
Cobb Hill’s amazing cheeses are crafted using raw whole milk from the farm’s small herd of grass fed Jersey cows. The cheeses are made without chemical fertilizers, feeds or additives. The flavor profile is nutty, sweet, with hints of caramel, fresh grass and notes of warm cream and toffee.
Pairs perfectly with: Charcuterie and Farmstead’s Baboo’s Mustard, a German-style mustard made from Matt’s Great Grandmother’s recipe.
3. Dancing Cow Farm’s Lindy Hop: Is made with uncooled raw cow's milk from a single milking, Lindy Hop is a very approachable, mild, creamy blue with a natural rind. Lindy Hop's unique flavor highlights the high quality raw cow's milk, while adding a bit of spice from the blue veining. Named after a 1920's dance that originated in Harlem, the Lindy Hop was very popular in Blues and Jazz clubs. Aged on premises in a temperature controlled 'cave' at Dancing Cow Farm in Bridport, Vermont, a minimum of 60 days. Flavor is spicy, racy, zesty, but with a backbone like the best fudge you've ever tasted. Decadent and heavenly.
Pairs perfectly with: Hamann's Autumn Harvest Honey, made by Jim Hamann, and available in our shop. This first-rate honey is a deep, dark mahogany, with hints of toast & nut.
President, Tony Caputo’s Market and Deli, Salt Lake City, Utah.
There isn’t much that Caputo’s doesn’t have. From their state-of-the-art cheese cave, to a large selection of ultra-premium chocolates; dozens of proscuitti and salami crafted by house salame maker Cristiano Creminelli, to imported Italian and Southern European specialty products, Caputo’s is arguably one of the best specialty markets in the U.S. Matt shares two of his favorites – and of course, a salumi, because “what is a cheese plate without salumi?”
1. Caputo’s Butter Bound Cheddar: This is a joint project between Beehive Cheese and Caputo's. They sent us 50 wheels of a fresh raw milk cheddar, which we wrapped in butter-soaked bandages and aged in our high-humidity cheese cave for eight and a half months. Its flavors are unlike any other American Cheddar, more akin to a true English Cheddar, with strong notes of asparagus and sweet horseradish. Pairs wonderfully with any full bodied red, or for explosive amounts of tertiary flavor, pair with a robust Spanish Garnacha.
2. Scoparolo: These small wheels of Sheep's milk cheese from just outside of Bologna are made by Antica Cascina and aged in the castle's renovated brick cellar. Unlike any of our other two dozen pecorinos, it is blatantly barnyardy yet still approachable by the uninitiated. With nuances of the farm, grass and honeycomb and a texture that has bite but quickly melts like butter. Serve at room temperature with acacia honey and crusty bread for appetizer or dessert.
3. Dehesa Cordobesa's Cabacero Iberico: From Valle de los Pedroches, north of the province of Córdoba in Spain, this cured meat product is imported by Forever Cheese. Their small line of cured Iberian products is from only 100% pure bred Iberian pig. This product’s hauntingly savory and woody flavors and buttery texture instantly transport me to a medieval farm house on the edge of the Andalucía.
Owner and Fromager, Darien Cheese & Fine Foods, Darien, Connecticut.
Walking into Darien Cheese, one is immediately transported to a charming fromagerie somewhere in Europe. Ken, and his wife Tori, opened the store over 36 years ago, and offer some of the finest artisan, raw-milk cheeses from around the world. Fresh baguettes are always available, and the walls of the shop are lined with cheese accoutrements for every taste. For a cheese plate with a dynamic array of flavors, and festive presentation, Ken suggests these holiday favorites.
1. Sleight Farm’s Cardo: This cheese from Somerset, England, is a raw goat’s milk cheese with a semi-soft texture, and rich, pungent, herbal flavors. A favorite of both cheese lovers abroad and here in the U.S., this is a special cheese ideal for holiday entertaining.
Pairs perfectly with a slice of membrillo, or quince paste.
2. Sparkenhoe Farm’s Red Leicester: A raw cow’s milk cheese from Lestershire, England. The Clarke family started making Red Leicester from the milk of their grass-fed Holstein-Friesians about five years ago. Carefully hand-crafted, the cheese is mold-ripened on beechwood shelves, and has a dense, cheddar-like texture and rich, wholesome flavor.
3. Collingthwaite Farm’s Stichelton: This raw cow’s milk cheese from Nottinghamshire, England is based on the original recipe for Stilton as it was 25 years ago. Cheesemakers Joe Schneider and Randolph Hodgson, of renowned Neal’s Yard Dairy, have teamed together to create this classic blue cheese from unpasteurized milk at this new dairy. With a firm but creamy texture, the blue culture used to make the cheese is gentle but savory, and full of toasted buttery and caramel flavors.
Pairs perfectly with a slice of raisin nut bread and port wine for a festive after-dinner treat.