For a long time, if you were a cheese snob… uh, I mean, aficionado… you probably thought you had to go with European cheeses.
I’m happy to report that is no longer the case. All across the U.S., small and boutique cheesemakers are now making really terrific cheeses that can hold their own with the European masters. Better yet, with better distribution and marketing, cheeses from these smaller producers are now much more widely available – you don’t have to go to some farm in Wisconsin or tiny shop in Vermont to get the best.
Let me introduce you to a few of my favorites here at FRESH.
Carr Valley: The Cook family has been making wonderful cheeses in Wisconsin for more than 100 years. Owner Sid Cook has won more awards for his cheeses than any other American cheesemaker. They are especially known for rich, sharp aged cheddars, including more unusual varieties made with goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. A couple of great ones to try are Snow White Goat Cheddar and Mobay. Snow White Goat Cheddar, a silky white cheddar cheese made from goat’s milk and aged in caves for six months. This was named the best cheese in America in 2008 by the American Cheese Society. Mobay, an American version of Morbieri, a French cheese. This delicate cheese is made of one layer of sheep milk cheese and one layer of goat milk cheese, separated by a thin layer of edible grape vine ash and then pressed together. It may remind you a bit of the Italian cheese romano, but blended with a sharper goat’s milk flavor. However, it’s mellower and milder than many goat’s milk cheeses, so a good one to serve novices.
Uplands Cheese: Another Wisconsin cheesemaker, this one was founded by two families who run a small dairy farm. They use only raw, grass-fed milk to produce their signature farmstead cheese, made in the style of hard Alpine cheeses, such as Gruyere. What’s more, the cheesemakers only produce this cheese during the warm summer months, when conditions are optimal. The company also sells a limited amount of its Extra Aged cheese, which has been aged for a minimum of 15 months and has a richer, deeper flavor. A good one to try is their, Pleasant Ridge Reserve. A creamy, salty, flavorful cheese with just enough crystalline flavor bits to give it a good texture. You could make a case that this is the best cheese made in America: It has been named the nation’s best cheese three times in the past 10 years by the American Cheese Society.
Jasper Hill Farm: This is a family-owned dairy farm in Vermont, run by two brothers. One of the brothers apprenticed in Europe for several years learning the art of farmstead cheese, including a year spent at the famous Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. The cheesemakers milk Ayrshire cows, which produce especially rich milk with high levels of protein and fat, and let them graze on fresh pasture except during the brutal Vermont winters. Make sure you try their Bayley Hazen Blue. A natural rinded blue cheese, made mostly of morning milk, which is lower in fat content. Slightly milder, sweeter and dryer than other blue cheeses you may have tried, but still buttery and creamy.