Those of you who are my friends on Facebook know I scored a major find last week at a garage sale down the street. This year’s Super Bowl Cheese Board is being served on that $5 bargain; a redwood burl slab that was destined to become a small table in a woodworker’s shop. I cleaned and sanitized it and then I finished it with Bee’s Wax. A lucky find to add to my growing stack of wooden cheese boards.
With the exception of the Crab Artichoke Dip with Spinach and Parmesan, all of the cheeses we tasted today were made with raw cow’s milk.
The Crab Artichoke Dip is made in-store in the seafood department at Whole Foods. It comes in a ceramic ramekin with directions for heating. The friendly young man who sold it to The Man and me jokingly suggested I be sure and remove the plastic cover before putting it in the oven to heat (350 degrees for 15 minutes makes it warm and oozy). For me, I can always use another ramekin… so it was an easy sell ($7.99 retail)… for The Man… well… had him at “Crab”. We enjoyed the dip during the end of the Phoenix Open (congratulations to Kevin Stadler on his first PGA Tour win) and the first half of the Super Bowl. I had mine on Whole Foods branded Crostini Crackers; The Man went with Tortilla Chips… they were organic.
Half-time brought out the Main Event: The 2014 Super Bowl Cheese Board… beats out Bruno and The Peppers any day of the week.
We began with Lou Bergier Pichin, an unusual Italian cheese because it uses a true vegetable rennet rather than a traditional animal rennet. The rennet is made from the flowers of the Cynara cardunculus that grow in the Alpine mountains around the dairy farm in the Piedmonte region of Italy. Using the flowers as rennet is known as the “Kinara” method.
The cow’s milk is raw; the cheese is a toma-style and is aged 60 days. The one we sampled was younger; creamier and a little spongy. The aroma was mild and the flavor was a bit sour with an acidic finish. The apricot preserves made a classic sweet and sour pairing. For The Man, alone it was a little too mild; but with the preserves he perked up. (His favorite dish in a Chinese restaurant is anything “Sweet and Sour”… you do the math.)
The second cheese we tasted was Reading, a washed rind similar to Raclette. It is made at Spring Brook Farm in Reading, Vermont from local Jersey cow milk. Unlike, Tarentaise, which is also made at Spring Brook, Reading is not a farmstead cheese. The milk, like Tarentaise, must be Jersey cow milk, but is sourced from a few local farmers who are paid a premium for their milk in return for working with Spring Brook to maintain high standards in their milk production.
The cheese was creamy with the distinct washed after taste. The aroma was milder than I generally associate with Raclette and the taste was a little bitter on the end. I’ll be using this to make grilled cheeses for lunch tomorrow.
In addition to making cheese, Spring Brook Farm is a traditional dairy farm that also grows fruits and vegetable which they sell locally to help make the farm sustainable economically and to support their Farms For City Kids Foundation. Farms for City Kids, brings urban children out to the farm to see and learn a side of the world they would never experience in a big city. They help grow and harvest the fruits and vegetables and they tend to the animals as well. Through this program they learn responsibility, gain self-confidence and the ability to face and overcome daily challenges.
Next on the plate was Scharfe Maxx, an alpine-style cheese made by the Studer Family in Thurgau, Switzerland. The Studers have been making cheese in Switzerland for three generations but until the collapse of the Swiss Cheese Union, they were only making Appenzeller. (Previously they had made only Emmentaler.)
The Swiss Cheese Union was a government-funded cartel designed to promote and subsidize certain cheeses in Switzerland, such as Emmentaler, Gruyere and Appenzeller. This was great for those producing these cheeses; however, because the cartel limited its help to those three cheeses, the downside was the stifling of creativity among cheesemakers who had no incentive to create other cheeses. That was not so great. But alas… the Swiss Cheese Union collapsed in the early 2000s and the cheesemakers came alive, creatively speaking, and began producing new cheeses… just like the hills came alive with music decades before (actually I think those hills were in Austria…but you get the idea…) This was great.
Scharfe Maxx is one of the unique, artisan cheeses created as a direct result of the collapse of the Swiss Cheese Union. It is similar to Appenzeller and the Studers use their old Appenzeller molds to make the cheese. Scharfe Maxx is thermalized which means it is heated but not to the degree required by our own FDA; therefore, in the US is it still considered a raw milk cheese. Many of you reading this will disagree with calling it raw; but I’m not here to argue with the FDA… in my opinion, there are issues far more pressing in the world than raw vs. not raw… but I digress… It is aged for a minimum of six months and during this time is regularly washed in a brine that contains local herbs that the cows also eat.
I found this cheese to be sharper than Appenzeller with a slight bite at the end. Interestingly, “Scharfe” means sharp. The Man’s response was it tasted like it had been stored in a musty place for a long time… I’m not sure whether that was a good thing to him or not… but since it is aged in cave-style “accommodations” for a few months, probably an astute flavor observation.
A discovery in the “Under $3 bin” was a Farmhouse Cheddar, with the only information of “Farmhouse Cheddar Borough Market”. Studying the traders list of the market, I would choose this as a cheddar from Neal’s Yard Dairy which trades at the market, but beyond that, no clue as to the producer. I “reached out” to friend Shannon, a Cheesemonger at Whole Foods in Portland, Maine (and a fellow ACS CCP – we were study buddies last year), hoping she could give me more specific information. And she came through… this cheddar is made by my friend, Mary Quicke. It’s her traditional mature cheddar which explains why it was the favorite on the plate for both The Man and me. Mary and her band of merry cheesemakers makes some of the best cheddars coming out of England.
You can never go wrong with cheddar; this one had a hint of mint; something I had never tasted in cheese. I like it. The tyrosine gave a wonderful crunch to a fabulous cheese.
And if you don’t, you should be reading Mary’s dairy.
Next up, El Cantu, a raw, organic cow’s milk cheese made in the Asturian region of Spain. The name means “The Song” in the Asturian dialect. It is made by Anita Gonzalez and Valentin Forcelledo who left the city to make a life for their children in the country at a slower pace. Their first cheese was Queso de Vare, a firm, goat cheese made in small one pound wheels. El Cantu is also made in one pound wheels and generally sold either as a whole wheel or cut in half. I also found this piece in the “Under $3 bin”.
We found this cheese somewhat dry and decided it would be better grated over pasta or added for flavor to a mac n cheese. I liked the flavor, somewhat herbaceous and even a little floral. The blackberry preserves brought out a nice flavor profile and made the dryness less noticeable.
The final cheese on the board was Glacier Blue from Cascadia Creamery here in Washington State. I am a big fan of their Sleeping Beauty, also made with raw, USDA-certified organic cow’s milk. This may be my new favorite blue. Not too intense but assertive enough to make you pay attention. It has a peppery aftertaste that goes well with its creamy paste; almost like a pepper milkshake. With the honey, it was nothing short of divine… another winning cheese from Cascadia Creamery.
This is a 4 Paw Cheese Board… Spaulding would be proud…
We added some apples, green bell peppers, an homage to my mother-in-law, Jean, and Sahale’s Soledad Almonds.
And now that you’ve seen it, is this a nice cheese board and worth far more than five bucks???
Now, if only someone would tell Denver the game has started…