Come in and enjoy these domestic dazzlers! The American cheeses we have at Tastings Gourmet Market are handcrafted, award-winning, artisanal cheeses that compare well with — and often beat — their European cousins. They’re light-years away from what people think of when they think of American cheese: those tasteless, orange, plastic-wrapped slices of “cheese food.”
This week we’re pleased to introduce you to some of America’s best: a gorgeous sheep’s milk cheese from Wisconsin, a delicate blue from Massachusetts, and a complex brown-buttery cow’s milk cheese from a new maker in Connecticut. All three are part of the U.S.’s cheese renaissance. How far we have come!
The Grey Barn names all its cheeses after poems, and this one was inspired by a poem written by naturalist John Burroughs.
“Pure, pure, pure” wrote Burroughs of the bluebird’s song, and pure well describes Bluebird cheese. This handcrafted, small-batch cheese is made from raw, certified organic milk from The Grey Barn’s herd of 45 grass-fed Dutch-Belted and Normande cows. In winter when grass is not available, the cows are fed hay and sprouted berry seeds that are grown on site.
Burroughs calls the bluebird’s blue wing “a joyous sight,” and having Bluebird on your cheeseboard would certainly be that. It is a beautiful cheese with a flavor to match. Bluebird resembles a mild Stilton or Gorgonzola with its creamy fudginess, and it tantalizes your tongue with the taste of warm butter and salt. As it ages, it develops strong notes of sourdough and salt, and its tiny crystals will delight you.
Try Bluebird on grilled steak or just drizzle a bit of honey on it. For an especially luxurious bite, The Grey Barn suggests slicing a baguette, buttering it, and then adding a smear of Bluebird on top along with a dollop of fig jam. You can’t miss!
Origin: Chilmark, Massachusetts (Martha’s Vineyard)
Producer: The Grey Barn and Farm
Milk: Certified organic raw cow
Rennet type: Traditional
Age: 90 days +
Look: Yellow paste streaked with blue; block-shaped
Feel: Semi-firm, slightly crumbly
Smell: Earthy, aromatic
Taste: Warm butter, salty, mellower than most blues. Not too sharp
Tastes good with: Honeycomb, green apples. The crispness of the apple complements the richness of the cheese.
Pairs well with: Riesling, aged port, Sauternes, Rosé
Hook’s Sheep’s Milk Cheddar
Hook’s Sheep’s Milk Cheddar has the perfect amount of tang from Cheddar combined with the sweetness that comes from sheep’s milk. Close your eyes, take a sniff, and you’ll get a hint of caramel.
It’s one of the latest in a 40-year line of cheeses made by college sweethearts Julie and Tony Hook. Hook’s Cheese Company now makes more than 50 kinds of cheese – all handmade. To give you an idea of the craft that goes into Hook’s cheese making, consider this: Cheese maker Julie Hook is the only woman to have ever won first overall in the World Cheese Championship.
True artisans, the Hooks describe themselves as relying more on their hands than on fancy equipment to make their outstanding cheese. Quality milk is part of their secret, and the Hooks get their milk from nearby family farms with small herds that have been in the family for many generations.
Origin: Mineral Point, Wisconsin
Producer: Hook’s Cheese Company
Milk: Pasteurized sheep
Rennet type: Vegetarian
Age: 1 year
Smell: A hint of caramel
Taste: Sweet, mild
Tastes good with: Crostini, olives
Pairs well with: Merlot, Chardonnay
Mystic Cheese Company started making cheese in a shipping container seven years ago. Now, it operates a state-of-the-art facility in Groton, CT, and secures all its milk from a single herd on a family farm nearby. The result of this attention to detail is delicious cheese made with exceptional care and technique.
The Finback is Cheddar-like but much more complex. You can taste flavors of cooked milk, browned butter, savory stock, and stone fruit on the finish. Be sure to eat the rind. It is more than edible… it’s delicious!
Mystic describes itself as “dedicated to the science and art of milk metamorphosis.” Talk about metamorphosis, The Finback starts out as hazelnut-sized cubes that are then pressed into 30-lb. tommes. Twenty-four hours later, the tommes are broken up and then milled through a meat grinder. The curd is then salted and pressed into 12-lb. wheels and left to age for four months.
Origin: Groton, Connecticut
Producer: Mystic Cheese Company
Milk: Pasteurized cow
Rennet type: Traditional
Age: 4 months +
Look: Like Feta
Feel: Semi-firm, porous, a bit crumbly
Smell: Lactic, sharp
Taste: Complex notes of cooked milk and browned butter, salty, mild
Tastes good with: Honey, apples
Pairs well with: Light reds, whites