Thursday, May 24, 2007

Better Cheddar

The key to good cheddar cheese is age. Young cheddars are invariably bland. Aged cheddars, however, have a depth and intensity of flavor most people have never experienced in a cheddar. In my opinion, a cheddar needs to be aged at least two years before it becomes even moderately interesting.

The cooking and "cheddaring" of the curds are what give this cheese its distinctive flavor and texture. The cheddaring process involves cutting the curds into very small pieces and then stacking and pressing them together several times. This expels much of the liquid whey and gives the cheese its characteristic firmness. Cheddar is also a high-acid cheese, which can produce a gripping sensation on the tongue. About ten pounds of milk go into each pound of cheddar cheese.

Below are some of the cheddars I've tasted recently. They are organized from mildest to strongest.

Grafton Village Cheddar (Vermont). This award-winning American cheese is made from unpasteurized Vermont Jersey cow's milk. This milk is higher in butterfat content that some other kinds of milk and gives the cheese a rich, creamy flavor and texture.

Grafton's "Classic Reserve" cheddar, which is aged at least two years, is available at Buffalo area grocery stores. Although this cheese has garnered many awards, I found it to be too bland for my tastes. It might, however, be a good place to start for someone who is not already a serious cheesehead.

The folks at Grafton offer the following serving suggestion: "Slices of tart apples and pears provide a crisp foil to the creamy richness of the cheddar. Medium-bodied red and white wines bring out the earthy qualities of the cheese. Toasted walnuts, cured olives, grapes, whole grain crispbreads, crackers - and crusty breads are other classic accompaniments, and for good reason; these foods all have flavors assertive enough to stand up to the strength of aged cheddar."

New Zealand Cheddar. This cheese, which I believe is made by Mainland Cheese, is aged for at least two years but has the full flavor of a four year cheese. It has a softer texture and melts a bit more in your mouth than other cheddars. I think its flavor strikes an ideal balance between being too strong and too bland. It also has a lower price tag than almost any comparable cheese. Premier always has some of this cheese on hand.

Old Quebec Vintage Cheddar. This full-bodied cheddar is aged at least five years. Unlike some other cheddars of that age, it is not crumbly and still has that distinctive cheddar cheese texture. When I tasted a small sample of this cheese at Premier, I enjoyed it very much. However, when I took it home I found it difficult to eat very much of this cheese at one sitting because of its strong flavor. I still recommend trying this cheese because the experience of tasting an older cheddar can be very interesting and enjoyable. This cheese is also very reasonably priced. A cheese store in California offers the following serving suggestion: "Fabulous with a ripe pear, a piece of apple pie, a juicy burger or grilled between two slices of crusty bread. Also terrific on its own with a fruity red wine."

Cheddar trivia: White House historians claim that U.S. President Andrew Jackson held an open house party where a 1,400 pound block of Cheddar cheese was served as refreshment.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Carr Valley Mobay

Carr Valley Mobay Cheese is one of Wisconsin cheesemaker Sid Cook's many original creations. It combines a layer of sheep milk cheese and a layer of goat milk cheese with a layer of grape vine ash down the middle.

This cheese is fabulous! Its flavor is mild enough so that cheese novices can enjoy, but it has far more personality than most other mild cheeses. The wedge I brought to Jenn and Ken Shockley's party last weekend disappeared within mintues.

The inclusion of vegetable ash is now a popular thing among artisan cheesemakers, but I have been unable to obtain any reliable information about the nature of this product. The only thing people tell me is "Don't worry, it's edible." That's nice to know, but I would like to learn more about how it is produced. For example, the ash used in Carr Valley's Mobay is more flavorful than the ash found in some Cypress Grove Chèvre. The Mobay ash has a "blued" flavor, as if the penicillium molds that produce the blue veins in blue cheese were introduced to the ash.

To be honest, I'm not certain whether the whiter, more strongly flavored half of the Mobay is the sheep milk cheese or whether the milder, more yellow-tinged half is. Even the staff at Premier has been unable to reach a consensus on this matter. Conventional wisdom has it that goat cheese tends to be whiter than sheep cheese. However, the whiter half of the Mobay tastes a bit like the Italian sheep cheese Pecorino Romano.

I purchased my Mobay at Premier Gourmet. It can also be ordered from the Carr Valley website. I guarantee you will like this cheese.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Brunello di Montalcino

I've been drinking some very nice wines at the expense of my employer recently. One is a 2001 Brunello di Montalcino by Caparzo. This wine is made from the Brunello grape (a clone of the more familiar Sangiovese grape) in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino in Tuscany.

Like the name "California Cab," "Brunello di Montalcino" denotes not only a grape variety and a place of origin but also a particular style of wine. However, unlike its American counterpart, Italian wines that enjoy the "Brunello di Montalcino" designation must also meet rigorous standards that control the planting, cultivation and fertilization of the grapes, and the aging and bottling of the wines.

Caparzo's Brunello di Montalcino was aged 36 months in Slovenian and French oak barrels and one year in the bottle before being released to the public. The producer describes the bouquet of the wine as "penetrating, very full and varied, reminiscent of wild berries." I thought it was a wonderful full-bodied wine. It combined richness and complexity of flavor with accessibility to one's palate. I'm glad Jorge Gracia recommended it.

This great wine can be purchased for $50 at, but we (or rather, my employer) paid $75 for it at Tempo.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Buffalo's Best Cheese Shops

Here are the best places to buy cheese in Buffalo, NY:

1. Premier Gourmet. Premier has a wonderful selection of cheeses from around the world. It is hands down the best cheese shop in the area. You can give yourself an extensive education in cheese simply by sampling a new variety of cheese each time you visit. They also have a helpful and friendly staff, with a very knowledgeable head cheesemonger, Amanda. Their prices are quite reasonable, and they are willing to place custom orders.

2. Wegman's. Most Wegman's stores (Buffalo's higher-end grocery chain) carry an amazing amount and variety of cheese. In fact, the Wegman's by the Boulevard Mall carries more gourmet and artisanal cheeses than Premier. There are two reasons, however, why this greater volume does not make Wegman's the top place to buy cheese. One is that Wegman's prices tend to be higher than Premier's. Also, at Wegman's you will not likely receive personal service from someone with a deep knowledge of cheese. The experience of buying cheese should, in my opinion, be accompanied by free samples and informative conversation about cheese. Premier is the best place for that. But if you're just interested in browsing through lots of cheeses, Wegman's can be a good place to visit.

3. Lexington Co-op. The Lexington Co-operative Market, Buffalo's best natural foods place, carries a nice selection of fine cheeses. They carry a variety of blue, soft-ripened and local artisan cheeses. While their selection is not as extensive as either Premier or Wegman's, you can still find some nice cheeses there.

If anyone knows of another good place to buy cheese in Buffalo, please let me know. I always love discovering a new cheese shop.