New-Style American Cheeses

We were in Troy over the weekend and stopped in at Pioneer, the new food co-op. Even though the cheese counter is not that extensive so far, they do stock some interesting artisanal American selections. Besides, the friendly man working there is quite knowledgeable and has steered us toward some very decent cheeses, like the three we purchased Saturday. These are part of what seems to be a new trend, I’m happy to report, that follows in the European style of cheese-making.

The first one we tried came from Twig Farm in West Cornwall, Vermont, just south of Middlebury, near the New York border. It’s an organic, semi-soft, washed rind cheese made from raw goat’s milk or a goat/cow combination. The man at Pioneer said it would soon become one of our favorites and he’s probably right about that. When we tasted it in the store, it was a bit cool and so the flavors didn’t really come out until after it warmed in the mouth. This is the reason that at home one should store these kinds of cheeses outside the refrigerator, like they do in Europe. Warning: this is not your typical mild American cheese; it has a full-bodied, almost grassy taste.

Next up was a Western Massachusetts Berkshire Blue, a gold medal winner at the 16th World Cheese Awards in London. The fact that this cheese has won national and international prizes and that it is available in places as far away as California is an indication that they have a superior product. Just the look of the yellowish base with veins running through it lets you know that this is not your ordinary blue. Made from unpasteurized Jersey cow’s milk, it is pungent yet quite mild when compared to others of the same type. Not too salty, either, which can sometimes be a problem with Roquefort, for example.

Finally we tried another product of Vermont, this one from Scholten Family Farms in the town of Weybridge, north of Middlebury. Patty, the cheese maker, studied at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese; the fact that there is such a place points to the rising interest in developing new cheeses. Hallelujah! The small medallion-shaped white rind cheese is along the lines of a less creamy Camembert or Brie. It’s made from the pasteurized milk of Dutch Belted cows. (Anyone who drives the Mass. Pike from time to time has probably noticed this unusual breed which has a wide white stripe around the middle.)

Speaking of which, a few weeks ago our new friend at the Pioneer cheese counter also suggested a delicious Camembert produced by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company,
right here in the Hudson Valley. A very rich and creamy sheep’s milk cheese, it was awarded a prize in 2000 by the American Cheese Society. No surprise there!

These chesses are a bit pricey compared to the plastic-wrapped, industrially-produced cheeses found in the supermarket. But if you’re willing to try them, I feel sure that in no time, with a lovely glass of red wine, you’ll be enjoying them yourself. Cheers!

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