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This week (despite the unseasonable heat), we’re thinking about apples, the recent autumn equinox, mums, pumpkins, and leaves on the verge of turning bright yellow and orange.

It’s the time of year to hear the crackle of leaves and to anticipate the crisp chill of evenings to come.

Time for fall cheeses! Here are a few of our fall favorites.

Grafton Maplewood Smoked Cheddar - Tastings Gourmet MarketGrafton Maplewood-Smoked Cheddar

Prepare to taste artisan cheesemaking at its best! Grafton Village is known internationally for the quality of its Cheddar cheeses. Not only are Grafton cheeses free of artificial hormones and antibiotics, they lack the bitterness associated with some aged Cheddars. That’s due to the quality of the milk and the cheesemaking process itself: more than 10 pounds of Jersey cow’s milk are needed to make just one pound of Grafton Maplewood-Smoked Cheddar.

Cold-smoked over smoldering maple chips for four hours, gives the cheese its signature aroma and taste. Not too sharp and not too sweet, it’s a versatile cheese with a pleasing smoky taste that is perfect for sandwiches or salads. It’s also a terrific melter and would be great in a quiche or in a risotto. Here’s a recipe for Wild Mushroom and Spinach Risotto with Grafton Maple Smoked Cheddar.

And here’s a fun fact about the milk from Jersey cows:  Jerseys are known for having extremely creamy, high butterfat content milk, but there are very few Jersey herds left in the U.S. because they yield relatively little milk. That Grafton uses milk from such a rare and prized breed to make their wonderful cheese says a lot about its interest in quality. No wonder Grafton has won many awards for this outstanding Cheddar!

Origin:  Grafton, Vermont
Producer: Grafton Village Cheese Company
Milk: Raw cow
Rennet type: Vegetarian
Rind: Natural
Age: 3 months +
Look: Smooth, the color of light brown sugar
Feel: Firm. Smooth and compact, slight crumble
Smell: Smoldering campfire, milky
Taste: Sweet, buttery, savory, grassy
Tastes good with: Dried apricots, roasted meats or vegetables, deviled eggs, pickled onions
Pairs well with: Pinot Noir, Merlot. Beer lovers will appreciate Vermont brown ale, porter, or other robust beers.

Basco Bearnaise Estive - Tastings Gourmet MarketBasco Béarnaise Estive

Made from the milk of Manech and Basco-Béarnaise sheep that have summered in the Pyrenees mountains, this Basque Country cheese has very limited production.  Part of the reason it’s so rare is that it is the product of Basque shepherds moving their flocks up the rugged mountains for the spring and summer and living there while the sheep feast on alpine pastures.

This process, known as transhumance, is a centuries-old tradition, and cheesemakers make the trek with their animals each year. Not only is it difficult to make a living, their living conditions are bare-bones. The Basque shepherds live in small stone huts in the mountains, and they milk the sheep and make cheese there before returning home with their horses laden with wheels of cheese.

A presidium of Basque farmers now works to promote the continuation of this ancient tradition. The result has been a revitalized interest in the ancient ways of cheesemaking and an improved outlook for those who create these wonderful cheeses.

A taste of this exquisite and rare cheese will have you asking what it reminds you of.  Our taste test this week had us remarking that it reminded us of Manchego and Parmesan. What do you think it tastes like?

Origin: France  (Aquitaine region, northern Basque Country)
Milk: Raw sheep
Rennet type: Animal
Rind: Thick, dry
Age: 80-120 days
Look: Dark rind; ivory paste
Feel: Hard
Smell: Creamy
Taste: Complex combination of flavors: Grassy, nutty, herbal.  Long finish.
Tastes good with: Something sweet like honey,  dried figs, cherry jam
Pairs well with: Red Spanish wines, Cabernet

Artikaas Pumpkin Gouda - Tastings Gourmet MarketArtikaas Pumpkin Gouda

This one-of-a-kind cheese is an autumnal pleasure.  No phony “pumpkin spice” here: it contains real pumpkin seeds, tangy ground ginger, and a hint of garlic. And get it while you can.  It’s made just once a year, and when it’s gone…. It’s gone.

This unusual Gouda has a place on your fall cheeseboard. It tastes like fall!  Artikaas advises serving it at room temperature or warm and melted.  

Origin:  Holland
Producer: Artikaas
Milk: Pasteurized cow
Rennet type:  Vegetarian
Rind: Natural
Age: 2 months
Look: Light orange, dotted with pumpkin seeds
Feel: Smooth, creamy
Smell: Lactic with spicy notes
Taste: Mild, savory, gingery
Tastes good with: Dried fruit and nuts. Grate it over pumpkin-filled ravioli;  melt it into your mac and cheese.
Pairs well with: Riesling, Pinot Noir.  Beer: a stout or lager 

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