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CHEESE PLEASE! A FLAG FILLED AFTERNOON

For most people choosing cheeses is a daunting, intimidating and overwhelming exercise. Cheese needs to be approachable and understandable. Today I would like explain a learning device that will help you understand the families of cheeses. With this you can build a cheese tray for any occasion. The American flag is red, white, and blue ... stripes with a field of stars. My proposal is: when you are choosing varieties for a cheese tray consider selecting one cheese from each stripe and a variety of stars. If you need three cheeses, consider two stripes and one star. With each category I will give you three to five cheeses with the details: Country of Origin, milk types, sharpness (flavor intensity) and texture. You should involve your senses: look, touch, smell, and taste. When selecting cheeses, I like to include one cheese that is an experiment.

Red Mold (Washed rind) Cheese

The red mold cheeses are also referred to as washed-rind cheeses. They characteristically have an aroma that can be delicately woodsy to intensely pungent. Each of these cheeses has a red/orange rind that is a result of the cheese being washed (often on a daily basis) with a salt brine, wine, brandy or other liquid while being aged in a very humid environment. If the cheese is made with a low profile (2 inches or less), the mold will ripen the cheese and make it soft like brie. If it is thicker the mold imparts a flavor but other enzymes in the cheese making process give the intended consistency.

  • REBLOCHON is from the French Alps, Reblochon is a semi-soft, washed rind cheese that ripens to a very smooth, supple texture. The best Reblochon are made from raw milk, which allows the earthy, straw, and slightly yeasty flavors to develop. The rind will be orange/yellow with a slight dusting of white mold. Aroma may be rather robust. Some of the full, rich flavor is the result of the milk coming from the second milking of very specific breeds of mountain cows, Abondance, Montbeliard, and Tarine.

Detail: France, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: White fruity wines from the Savoie or young reds such as Fleurie or Saint-Amour

  • EPOISSES was first produced by the monks of the L’abbaye de Citeaux in the Burgundy region of France before the Napoleonic era. Epoisses is a soft-ripened, washed rind cheese and has a very assertive pungency. The rind is washed with Marc, which adds a complexity to the overall taste. The texture is smooth with a mouth-watering taste of sweet, salty, and cream flavors. As it ripens, it becomes increasingly butterscotch in color and more assertive in aroma.

Detail: France, cow’s milk, 4-5 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Marc de Bourgogne (a spirit drink), big reds like Burgundy or Chambertin

  • TALEGGIO [tahl-EH-ghee-oh] is named after a town near Bergamo, Italy, located Northeast of Milan near the Swiss border (Lombardy). It is a soft savory cheese made into 4.4 pound squares. Taleggio is a washed rind, soft-ripened cheese that has a pink-gray rind. It has an aroma that is distinctively yeasty with impressions of freshly baked bread. Texture is smooth and supple but not as runny as Brie. The flavor is tart/lactic and slightly salty when it is young and as it ripens becomes more complex and buttery. Some people describe it as beefy. Traditionally, it is served with fresh figs and it is excellent with grapes and apples.

Detail: Italy, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Crisp Pinot Grigio

  • PONT L’EVEQUE (AOC) is a French classic from Normandy area. The rind is edible. Pont l’Eveque has a tendency to have a drier rind than its cousins. Pont l’Eveque is made in either a 2.2 pound square or the more traditional 8 ounce wooden box. My experience is that the small box variety tends to dry out too much in shipment and because of its smaller size, ripens more rapidly. Flavor is somewhat like lower fat Brie with more pungency. AOC is the French notation for a “patented” recipe and name, and is an abbreviation for Appellation d’Origine Controlee.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: The sparkle of Champagne cuts through beautifully, and crisp, aromatic whites (e.g. German or Austrian Riesling) are wonderful. Gewürztraminers originated in an area known for it red mold cheeses and pair well with all of the red cheeses. Also, consider Bourgogne Blanc or Cider Brut.

  • FRENCH MORBIER (AOC) is from the mountainous Franche Comte region that includes the Jura Mountains where it is made. The black line of ash that runs through its center easily identifies this cheese. This is vegetable ash that originally was dusted on top of the curds from the evening milk that protected the surface until the morning curds were added. Texture is smooth somewhat like a Fontina Val d’Aosta but the rind is washed which encourages a red mold that can be quite aromatic. Morbier is rather robust in its flavor and is best when made from raw milk (unpasteurized). Raw milk cheeses can be imported if they are aged in country of origin for a minimum of 60 days. Generally, raw milk cheeses have a more complex flavor range than the identical pasteurized product.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, semi-soft

Wine: Red or white, Arbois (Jura region), Pouilly sur Loire. Light fruity reds like a Beaujolais

White Mold Cheese

The best known of the white mold cheeses is Brie. This family of cheese is defined by the white penicillin mold that is rubbed or sprayed on its surface. The cheese is aged under very controlled conditions. The fleuri (white flower mold) grows to become a white, fuzzy, downy mat which ripens the cheese from its starting firm texture to a silky smooth paste.

  • FROMAGE D’AFFINOIS is a relative newcomer. It is a double cream Brie that is made using special filtration systems that allow the cheese maker to culture a very soft curd. Rather than beginning with hard curd as in normal brie this cheese is very tender from the beginning which produces a cheese that is much more palatable in a very young state. Its flavor is much like very fresh cream with nice ‘spring air’ overtones.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 2 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Beaujolais

  • BRIE, probably the best known of the French cheeses, comes from the Ille-de-France area around Paris. This cheese is very hard and chalky at the beginning of its ripening process. The white penicillin mold, which is dusted on its surface, grows and slowly ripens the curd. Ripening takes about 8 weeks. Texture, when fully ripened, will be very smooth and can be runny. If it is less ripe, it will have a firm center. As Brie ripens, its flavor will become more intense. In the United States consumers tend to prefer a buttery flavor, very little aroma and perfectly white rind. The French prefer a more robust flavor with some straw colored lines showing on the rind. At riper stages the cheese will have a slight ammonia smell.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 3 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Chateau Clarke (Listrac-Medoc) or sparkling wines

  • FRENCH NORMANDY CAMEMBERT is a more robustly flavored cousin of Brie. It’s made in 8.8-ounce rounds with whole milk. No cream is added and the resulting cheese is lower in fat than most brie-type cheeses. Fat content is 8 grams per ounce versus 9 to 10 grams for a double cream Brie that is becoming the standard in the American market or 12 grams for French St. Andre. Rather than the buttery flavor of Brie, a Camembert will have a pronounced herbal, salty flavor with a hint of fruit. Its aroma will give the impression of mushrooms and hay. At room temperature Camembert will have a smooth texture with a slight firmness in its center.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Bordeaux St Emilion, Cider Brut, Gamay, Pinot Noir, also White Burgundy/Vougeot

  • FRENCH ST. ANDRE is a soft-ripened triple-cream cheese. The triple-cream cheeses originated in the Champagne region of France and are unique in that they are made with more butterfat. As a soft ripened cheese it has a white surface mold rind that over time changes the firm, chalky curd into a very smooth paste. Because the form size is about 3 inches high, the cheese is usually sold with a firm center surrounded by a very smooth ‘halo’ of softness. If the cheese is allowed to fully ripen, the rind will become rather strong. St. Andre is best served with a crusty bread and fruit.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 2 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Champagne, sparkling wines, White Burgundy wines

  • ROSCCHETTA is a unique almost fresh cheese produced in the Langa area of the Italian Piedmont. The surface mold is a result of short aging but is not intended to change the texture of the cheese. This cheese is made with a mixture of cow, sheep, and goat’s milk. It is very soft and delicate in flavor with a slight white and amber mold on the surface. Roscchetta evokes memories of a meadow after a spring rain.

Details: Italy, cow & sheep & goat’s milk, 2 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Prosecco

  • LE CHEVROT is a goat’s milk cheese (chevre) that has been ripened. The French would refer to it as Chevre affine’. It is much firmer in texture than a fresh chevre and has a more developed flavor with a pleasing nutty impression. This cheese can be ripened additionally at home in a cool area (optimally 55 to 60 degrees) under a dome for 2 to 5 days depending on your preference. With additional ripening, the flavor will intensify and the gaminess of the goat may become more pronounced. The rind is edible. Although this is a great eating cheese, it can also be shredded over a salad or pasta.

Details: France, goat’s milk. 3 or 4 in flavor, semi-soft texture

Wine: Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé

  • FRENCH BUCHERON is a very traditional style of chevre affiné. This particular variety is made in a four-pound log which allows it to ripen rather slowly. Texture is rather firm and crumbly with a soft, creamy halo around the edge. The wider the halo, the sharper the cheese will be. In its young state the cheese is somewhat tart and crumbly. As it ripens it becomes smoother and develops a flavor that resembles a blue cheese although there is no blue mold present. Excellent served with roasted walnuts and Belgian endive.

Details: France, goat’s milk, 3 in flavor, semi-soft texture

Wine: Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, Vouvray-dry, Semillon Blanc from the Liore Valley

  • ST. MARCELLIN: A soft cow's milk cheese from the town of the same name in the southeast of France, St. Marcellin is disk shaped and is ripened in a ceramic cup. It typically has a beige crust with some blue mold and a soft beige creamy interior. Texture will range from rather firm (lactic and yeast flavors0 to extremely runny. When runny, it is intensely rustic, nutty, and yeasty.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 2 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Chateauneuf-du-Pape and other reds from the Rhone Valley

Blue Cheese

The blue in blue cheese is Penicillium roqueforti. Its color can range from blue to blue-green depending on the curing conditions. Generally, blue cheeses are sharper than other cheeses but there are examples of mild varieties. To make the characteristic filaments of blue or green in these cheeses, the mold, is allowed or encouraged (by punching air tunnels into the wheels of curd) to spread through the cheese as it ages. Blues become creamy and soft, although their structure often seems crumbly even while the texture remains creamy. The strong flavor of the mold dominates the cheese more than the type of milk used.

Many people find that the moldy flavors of these cheeses fight with dry wines. Their creaminess is especially tough on reds. Sweet wines make for some of the greatest wine-and-cheese matches, including Sauternes with Roquefort and Port with Stilton. The nutty taste of oak found in these sweet wines is especially pairs well with blue cheeses.

  • FRENCH ROQUEFORT is the standard bearer of this family of cheese. It received AOC status in 1979. It is produced entirely from the milk of the ewes that feed on the vast plateaus found in the Aveyron region of France. The cheese is ripened in the natural damp, aired caves found under the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. The quality of the milk, the processing of the curd, the adding of “penicillium roqueforti” and finally the ripening in natural caves that makes this cheese unique. The exterior of Roquefort should be white and faintly shiny. The texture (pâte) should be cohesive at the same time slightly crumbly. The smell has a subtle reminiscence of the caves. The taste is complex - soft, creamy, flinty, and slightly salty. Good Roquefort should be sharp but never aggressive. Roquefort goes well with nuts & figs.

Details: France, sheep’s milk, 4 in flavor, semi-soft texture

Wine: Sauternes or Porto: Fortified, well aged wines cut right through the butterfat. The raisin tones of the wine and the mold of the cave combine to form "luxury". Also, Bordeaux, Cabernet, or Meritage are well structured, complex red wines with oak qualities that show well with the cave flavors and the limestone flintiness of the cheese.

  • FRENCH SAINT AGUR is a double cream, blue-veined cheese that is made from cow’s milk. This cheese is relatively new to the marketplace and is produced in the Auvergne region of France. This is the area that also produces Roquefort, Bleu de Auvergne, Fourme de Ambert and many other excellent blue cheeses. Because this is a double cream cheese, texture is very smooth. Its flavor has some of the fullness and flinty impression that comes with a good Roquefort and it is considerably more subtle and sweeter than most of the other blues from the region. Uncharacteristic for a cheese with creamy texture it has a full blue flavor.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 3 to 4 in flavor, soft texture

  • ENGLISH BLUE STILTON is often referred to as the King of Cheeses. It is a rather firm but crumbly blue cheese that tastes somewhere between a cheddar and a blue. Intensity of flavor will vary with age (as with all cheeses). Generally, the cheese is best when there is a nice distribution of blue and the cheese color is medium amber. If the cheese is too white it will be chalky and if to old will have a dark halo along the rind. When the halo exists the flavor of the center portion will be excellent but the consumer may have to trim more rind than usual. Stilton is best served with apple or pear. Traditionally, Port or a sweet dessert wine accompanies Stilton. This cheese is made with non-animal rennet.

Details: England, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, firm texture

Wine: Port and Stilton is a great classic combo, the fortified wines match up well to the big flavors of Stilton. The caramel and raisin flavors of the Port compliment the savory, milky rich and floral flavors in the cheese. Semillon wine has honey on the nose, viscous richness, and crispness that matches well to the creamy, with slight salt, mild mineral and a hint of piquant tones in the cheese.

  • CREAMY GORGONZOLA (Gorgonzola Dolce) is supple and luxurious with an unmistakable tangy creaminess. Dolce means sweet and refers to the creamy variety of Gorgonzola. Its pale white interior is laced with streaks of blue-green mold, which gives this cheese a striking appearance to match its spicy, earthy flavor. Enjoy Creamy Gorgonzola as a table cheese, spread thickly on a piece of crusty baguette, or as an ingredient in a cream sauce. It is excellent spread on prosciutto, rolled, and served with other antipasto.

Details: Italy, cow’s milk, 3 in flavor, soft texture

Wine: Big red wines or sweet wine such as Marsala, Picolit, or Moscato d’Asti

  • MOUNTAIN GORGONZOLA is called Piccante (meaning spicy or sharp) Gorgonzola in Italy. Because it is lower in moisture than Dolce Gorgonzola (so that it can be aged longer) it will be sharper with a more intense blue flavor than the Dolce. Its texture is firm with a very smooth paste. It is not a cheese that will become soft enough to spread nor will it crumble like Stilton. This cheese is well suited to cubing on a salad. Mountain Gorgonzola is an excellent match with pears and fresh figs.

Details: Italy, cow’s, 4 in flavor, firm texture

Wine:

Prosecco: from the Veneto region sparkle and dance on the tongue with the cream, salt and blue of the cheese.

Bordeaux or Carmenere: The oaky, big dark fruit components in younger wines of these varieties, makes for a great pairing with the explosive flavors of the cheese.

  • SPANISH CABRALES (closely related to Valdeon or Pico de Azur, Picos de Europa, or Picon) is made in the north central mountains of Spain, a region called the Asturias. This is a blue cheese that can be made from a blend of milk although usually (in the US) it is 100% cow’s milk. There are slight differences between the varieties with alternative names. Real Cabrales is usually aged to be rather firm to hard and does not have leaves on its exterior. The other types are usually covered in sycamore (plane tree) leaves and although they have a very intense blue flavor are softer in texture. These are very complex, beefy blues with impressions of blackberries and bittersweet chocolate that mingle with very earthy hay overtones.

Details: Spain, cow’s milk, 5 in flavor, firm texture

Wine: Big Reds like Rioja, Bierzo. Also consider a Dry or Sweet Sherry

  • BLEU D’AUVERGNE (AOC): This cow’s milk, blue cheese has always (undeservedly) played second fiddle to its better-known cousin, Roquefort. Roquefort, which was the first cheese to be granted AOC status, is always made from 100% sheep’s milk and aged in the natural caves of Mont Combalou, Roquefort, France. Bleu d’Auvergne was first made in the 1850’s. Bleu d’Auvergne has a natural rind, with a smooth texture, accompanied by a unique sharpness. This cheese is extremely versatile. It is a natural when served with crisp pears, crumbled on a salad of greens and toasted walnuts or melted in a cream sauce for pasta or vegetables.

Details: France, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, semi-soft texture

Wine: Dry Jurançon, big reds form the Rhone Valley, or Sauterne

Stars in the Field

This category includes all cheeses that do not fall into the above categories. These cheeses will range for semi-soft to hard in texture. Most will have a natural rind formed by salt or no rind at all. The stars are as different as the 50 states. The field will include Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Manchego, Asiago, and even fresh Mozzarella.

  • PETIT BASQUE is a semi-soft, sheep's milk cheese that is handmade in the French Pyrenees. The Pyrenees Mountain range, a natural border that divides France and Spain, is populated by the Basques, who have their own customs and language. Although the Basques live on both sides of the border, they produce this cheese on the French side. Amidst the breath taking, rolling mountains of the Pyrenees, vast pastures stretch as far as the eye can see, providing fertile grazing for milk-producing sheep. Petit Basque, made from pure sheep's milk, has a rather smooth texture and an earthy, nutty flavor. It is relatively mild with an interesting bite. The individual wheels are small weighing about 1.4 pounds.

Details: France, sheep’s milk, 3 in flavor, semi-soft texture

Wine: Piedirosso Wine has cherry tones with a hint of sweetness that goes so well the herbal tones of the cheese. Cabernet wines have ripe tones that make the perfect counterpart to the mountain flora, mild flint, and straw and hay flavors that make up this cheese.

  • CHEVRE is the French term for all goats’ milk cheeses. There are many varieties of fresh chevre (each cheese maker usually names their product) and all are identified by the lack of any rind. These cheeses are not ripened or aged in any fashion. Each will have a slight variation in flavor and/or texture based on the specific breed of goat that provides the milk as well as the grazing area (terroir). Flavor is very mild and there is a slight tartness or lactic impression. Montrachet is a representative of this type.

Details: France or North America, goat, 1 in flavor, soft in texture

Wine: Fruity whites like Sancerre

  • SWISS GRUYERE is a raw milk cheese made in the region of the same name in the French speaking part of Switzerland. The cheese is made in large wheels that weigh up to 75 pounds and are usually matured from 4 to 12 months. One of the best cooking cheeses in the world, it is denser than Emmental (Switzerland Swiss) with smaller holes and a fruity, nutty, savory taste. During the maturing period the cheeses are regularly brine washed which gives the cheese its dry sharpness. If any cheese is essential to a Swiss Fondue it is Gruyere. Because Gruyere is use so extensively in cooking, it is often overlooked as an eating cheese. It has a very smooth texture sometimes with a bit of granular protein crystals from the aging process. Flavor is distinctly nutty and sharp especially at a 10 to 12 month age.

Details: Switzerland, cow’s milk, 3 to 4 flavor, firm texture

Wine: White or red wines from the Alsace, Bandol, reds from the Rhone Valley

  • SUPER SHARP CANADIAN CHEDDAR is aged by S. Clyde Weaver Co. in Lancaster County to a minimum of 3 years. This cheddar is lower in moisture than most American made product. It is made with heat-treated milk. In the 1960's most U.S. cheddar was heat treated but with the demand for aseptic packaging and less than 60 days age, the U.S. market has moved to fully pasteurized, high moisture cheddar that has very little traditional cheddar curd crumble. Super Sharp Canadian Cheddar has good acidity with a slight bit of caramel or sweetness in the background. This cheddar is perfect with warm apple pie.

Details: Canada, cow’s milk, 4 to 5 flavor, firm texture

Wines: Consider a Belgian Beer

  • EXTRA AGED GOUDA: Most of us know Gouda or its cousin, Edam, as a mild red wax smooth textured breakfast cheese. Extra aged Gouda is from another planet. It is aged 18 to 24 months and develops a firm almost Parmesan texture. Sometimes it will have little granules of crystallized protein. It will always have a clear caramel sweetness. It is great at the end of a meal with a sweeter wine or a cup of coffee. The Dutch will often serve it with fresh ginger root. Grated over a very simple pasta adds an aroma and delicate flavor that is very unique.

Details: Holland, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, hard texture

Wines: Consider a Belgian Beer

  • ITALIAN PIAVE is a traditional cheese from the mountains of northern Italy. Piave has a straw color with a firm almost meaty texture. It is an excellent eating cheese and is also good for grating. It resembles a young piece of Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan). Piave cheese is named after the river of the same name in the northernmost part of the province of Belluno, Italy. All of the cows’ milk for Piave cheese comes from this valley. The cheese has an intense, full-bodied flavor that increases with age. Some describe the flavor as nutty and spicy. The cheese is aged a minimum of 5 months.

Details: Italy, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, hard to brittle texture

Wine: Fruity Merlot

  • SPANISH MANCHEGO is produced in the central plateau around Madrid and is made from the milk of the La Mancha sheep. Manchego has a brown colored rind with a crosshatch (basket) pattern. The interior of the cheese has a light amber color indicative of its 6 to 8 month age. Younger cheeses tend to be whiter. Manchego has an even distribution of holes and a medium-sharp, slightly briny, nutty flavor. The tapas bars of Madrid usually serve this cheese as thin wedges arranged in a sunburst on a plate. It is often accompanied by fig cake or membrillo.

Details: Spain, sheep’s milk, 3 in flavor, firm texture

Wine: Dry Jurançon, fruity Reds

  • ASIAGO is a cheese that originated in the plateau of the same name in the foothills of the Italian Dolomites. It is a cow’s milk cheese that is currently made in the area around Vicenza, Italy. This cheese has an amber paste with a very smooth rind that is usually wax coated. Black wax indicates the cheese is aged, while white wax signifies a much younger cheese. A black wax Asiago has a very nutty aroma and a full flavor. It is not as acidic as most other hard aged Italian cheeses.

Details: United States, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, hard texture

Wine: Big reds like Barbera, Barolo, or Chianti

  • PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO is the real Italian Parmesan. There are look-alikes but none of the imposters has the aroma, flavor, and depth of a well aged Reggiano. This cheese is hand- made within a prescribed area in Northern Italy. Flavor will vary slightly based on the time of year in which the cheese was produced but in all cases has a subtle sweet, nutty, sharpness. It is best eaten in chunks as-is or grated on white-sauce pasta dishes. Although many recipes for tomato-based pasta dished call for Parmesan, the authentic Reggiano tends to be lost with the intensity of the tomato sauce. Romano or a lesser grade Parmesan is better suited (and less expensive) in these recipes. This cheese is excellent served as a dessert course.

Details: Italy, cow’s milk, 4 in flavor, hard to brittle texture

Wine: Big reds like Barbera, Barolo, or Chianti

  • TUSCAN TABLE CHEESE (Pecorino Stagiaonato) is a cave-aged Pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese. Its flavor shows a slight flinty, saltiness, which is a result of being made from sheep’s milk. Even though this cheese is hard-aged its flavor profile is very subtle. It does not have the sharp cutting acidity of a Romano. It is critical that it is served at room temperature.

Details: Italy, sheep’s milk, 4 in flavor, hard texture

Wine: Chianti, Brunello, or Lungarotti

EXTRA EXPLANATIONS:

For each cheese the listing includes

  • Country of Origin by name
  • Milk type: cow, sheep, goat, or water buffalo
  • Sharpness(flavor intensity): 1 = mild to 5 = sharp
  • Texture: soft, semi-soft, firm, hard, and brittle

*AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) is the notation for French cheeses for which there unique production method and name is controlled by international agreements. Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC) is used by Italy and Spain. Sometimes DOP or DO is also noted for the same meaning.

 

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