All right, as long promised, welcome to my first epic cheese post. A word of warning to the wary: this is no place for those whose palate favors only the bland, the unassuming, and the basic. Or those who are lactose intolerant.
To start off, of course I have to be a bit narcissistic and recommend to you my Favorite Cheeses of the Moment (in no particularr order):
1. Humboldt Fog - king among unusual, indigenous-to-Northern-California goat cheeses, this delicious specimen is ash-ripened and aged. For more information, visit CypressGrove.com.
photo / Cowgirl Creamery
2. Cana de Oveja - a rarer, sheep's milk version of Spanish Cana de Cabra, this Bucheron-like cheese is both buttery and sharp. I had it for the first time as a part of Absinthe's cheese plate, paired with white-wine-apricot preserves. Three words: To. Die. For.
photo / Cowgirl Creamery
3. Casatica di Bufala - A water buffalo milk cheese! According to Cowgirl Creamery, water buffalo milk "has twice the cream as cow's milk." It makes for a fantastic, bloomy-and-aged on the outside, soft-and-rich on the inside cheese.
photo / Murray's Cheese
4. Cabot Sharp White Cheddar - I first discovered this via a bowl of chili with my friend Kristin K. I thought that our bean-and-turkey-and-veggie-with-a-splash-of-beer chili couldn't get any better, and then then not only did we toss some fresh avocado on there, but she pulls out a hunk of white cheddar and proceeds to blow my mind. This cheese is seriously addictive - be careful!
photo / Cabot Vermont
5. And finally, last but certainly not least, Abbaye de Belloc - semi-hard, smooth but a little bit of a bite to it - the perfect cheese to eat with some membrillo. I love it, I love it, I love it. According to Cowgirl, it's made in the Western Pyrenees.
photo / Cowgirl Creamery
Apparently, you can buy all of these cheeses on Amazon! Can someone explain to me how that works? Does a man in a jumpsuit just arrive at your door with a refrigerated case? "Houston, we have delivered the package. Over and out."
Things to eat with your motherlode of cheese that you have undoubtedly purchased by now:
Mitica membrillo - I found this at Whole Foods but you can also get it online.
This post is ideally just an overview, but in case you get impatient waiting for me to write a "how to assemble an awesome cheese plate" post, here are a fewgoodones from Joanna Goddard of A Cup of Jo.
Clearly you need Cheese Supplies:
Cheese paper - ideally this keeps the cheese "alive," instead of suffocating it in plastic. I've found that plastic keeps the cheese fresher, but using paper deepens the flavors. Hmm, might have to write a post on the pros and cons of cheese paper - stay tuned!
Cheese box - I mostly want one of these because it's adorable. But I imagine if you have some super stinky cheese, it would contain the smell and make it so the rest of your fridge doesn't smell like death.
Cheeses on my bucket list:
Azeitao - tough on the outside, creamy on the inside Spanish sheep's milk cheese.
Bucheron - tangy French goat cheese coated in ash.
Carmody - made with buttery Jersey cow milk, dense and smooth. (just bought a wedge! so excited!)
Types of Cheese AKA Whole Foods' CHEESE 101 Note: I didn't write any of this, all courtesy of Whole Foods. So useful!
Like bread or wine, cheese falls into basic categories based on its texture and the process with which it's made. Luckily for cheese heads like us, the categories are simple:
Fresh: Think of these cheeses as the ones without rinds. This category is where you'll find casual favorites like goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, ricotta and cream cheese.
Semi-Soft: If you're making a grilled cheese sandwich, consider these guys. Semi-soft cheeses—ones like Gouda, Provolone, Havarti and Jack—are great for eating out of hand and even better for melting.
Semi-Hard (a.k.a. Semi-Firm): Cheddar is the king of this category, which includes tasty favorites like Edam and Gruyère.
Hard (a.k.a. Firm): Grating cheeses (see Cheeses that Grate) and cheese tray stand-outs like Mimolette and aged Asiago rule this category.
Washed-Rind: Cheeses like Tallegio, Limburger and Muenster bathe in salty brine, sometimes with a little beer, wine or liquor added to gild the lily. The brine in turn helps cheese to form an edible rind around its soft or semi-soft interior.
Bloomy-Rind: These cheeses are purposely exposed to mold spores to create a gently fuzzy rind on the outside. The rinds on these cheeses, like those of Brie and Camembert, are generally edible, though some folks choose to skip to the creamy insides.
Blue: Love it or hate it, blue cheese is here to stay. These pungent, delicious cheeses are marked with blue mold, introduced when mold spores are injected or added to the cheese. Stilton and Maytag Blue are stand-out examples of blue cheese done right.
The Cheese Mecca - always an adventure! Take a number, and then be helped by an enthusiastic cheesemonger who only wants to get you the most delicious cheeses. Tell them what you're looking for or what you're planning to eat/drink with the cheese, and they'll take care of you.
Locations in the SF Ferry Building and in Pt. Reyes, among others.
In Conclusion (Now that I have overwhelmed you with yumminess):
All right, bat's all for now, folks. Hopefully I have inspired some excitement in the cheese-loving members of my limited readership :) If you love it, share! If you have any ideas or feedback or cheese recommendations, comment! I always love to hear from people.