The term American cheese used to conjure up an image of those little individually packaged cheese slices that in no way resembled cheese. (You know, that eerily orange processed stuff from your childhood.) Europeans have long enjoyed good, handcrafted cheeses, ranging from triple cream varieties to crumbly chèvre to hard cheeses such as Reggiano Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano. Don’t get me wrong; good domestic cheeses have been made in places like Wisconsin and Vermont for a long time, yet America has officially caught the gourmet cheese bug. Now, handcrafted cheeses are being made from coast to coast, in a large array of styles. Consider these American artisanal cheeses next time you are hosting a cheese and wine party.
1) Beecher’s Flagship Reserve
Beecher’s is a Seattle-based artisanal cheesemaker (located in the Pike Place Market) that specializes in handcrafted cheeses. Even though Beecher’s has only been around for five or so years, it has earned an ardent following for its semi-hard cheeses, including the alpine-influenced Flagship Reserve. This cheddar-like cheese (made from cow’s milk) gets clothbound in 18-pound wheels for up to 13 months–until it has a beautiful golden interior. The nuttiness and creaminess of Beecher’s Flagship Reserve has made it a popular pick for cheese plates, pairing well with a variety of wines.
2) Rollingstone Idaho Goatster
The popularity of goat cheese has burgeoned in America, thanks to a profusion of small cheesemakers that have popped up all across the country in recent years. Rollingstone Chèvre, which makes its goat cheese from the milk of Saanen goats, is one such farmstead creamery that has recently received oodles of kudos. (Farmstead in cheese lingo means that the products are made from animals raised by the creamery versus milk that comes from outside sources.) Fresh and aged goat cheeses from this small Idaho creamery have won over chefs in cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles. Idaho Goatster, an Italian-style aged chèvre, is becoming rather popular among cheese snobs. This hard cheese (think Parmesan-hard) offers a tangy yet earthy essence, making it a good choice for pasta and roasted vegetable salads, as well as big red wines.
3) Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar
People in Vermont know what they’re talking about when it comes to handcrafting cheddar. And Cabot Creamery, in Cabot, VT, makes some of the best white cheddar in the state. This semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, which gets bound in cheesecloth and aged in a cave, has garnered several major awards over the years. Jasper Hill Farm’s cave (a temperature and humidity-controlled place where Cabot Creamery ages its cheese) gives the cheddar a creamy yet dense texture that leaves a slightly sweet essence lingering on your tongue. Cabot Creamery’s Clothbound Cheddar plays well with delicate red wines, like Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
4) Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
Much has been said in the new millennium about Cypress Grove Chèvre’s Humboldt Fog. This wildly popular cheese definitely lives up to the hype, though. Humboldt Fog is known for its ultra creamy texture and thin bands of vegetable ash that divide the cheese wheels into a stratum. Cypress Grove, in Arcata, Calif., puts out several remarkable fresh and aged goat cheeses. Yet Humboldt Fog is the creamery’s signature cheese. This surface-ripened goat cheese, sold in small pucks, boasts a balanced tanginess, and it really shines after warming up a bit–gooey-gooey goodness. The pronounced flavor of this soft cheese pairs wonderfully with a gamut of medium-dry white wines.
5) Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam
This is another northern California artisanal cheese that has received much press. Cowgirl Creamery has turned its cheesemaking operation into a gold mine, with a large line of cheeses and a brilliant marketing team leading the way. Mt. Tam, a triple-cream cow’s milk cheese (organic, no less), is Cowgirl Creamery’s signature cheese. Sold in 10-ounce handcrafted wheels, this buttery beauty (ripened under a bloomy rind for three weeks) has a delightfully mellow yet earthy flavor. Try it with a European-style dry rosé and a big bunch of red table grapes, and a crusty baguette, of course.
6) Pt. Townsend Creamery Seastack
Pt. Townsend Creamery, located in northwest Washington, turns out some incredible soft-ripened cheeses (you know, the kind you can actually spread with a knife). Seastack, named after the pinnacle-laden landscape of the Washington coast, is a great picnic cheese. (Once again, with a crusty baguette.) But it also is a good pick for the cheese and fruit course at a wine dinner. This cow’s milk softy is lightly coated with vegetable ash and sea salt, giving it an earthy essence. A fruit-forward Viognier, preferably one from Washington’s Walla Walla Valley, is a wonderful choice for this silky cheese.
7) Rogue River Blue
A cheese and fruit plate is not complete without a good blue-veined cheese. And one of the best domestic blue cheese’s hails from Oregon’s Rogue Creamery. This blue-veined bomber gets aged for up to 12 months, giving it a pronounced, almost perfumed, sweetness. Another major nuance is the fact that Rogue River Blue gets wrapped in grapes leaves that are macerated in local pear brandy. This pungent, old-world cheese is an excellent pick for a cheeseboard, yet it’s somewhat limited in production, meaning finding it can be a challenge. Rogue River Blue pairs well with most German-style white wines.
8) Crave Brothers Petit Frère
Last but not least, every cheeseboard needs an artisanal cheese from Wisconsin, a state that knows a thing or two about making stinky cheese. Crave Brothers specializes in fresh cheeses, like mozzarella and fromage blanc, but their Petit Frère aged farmstead cheese is a must try for cheeseheads. This washed-rind cheese is made from the milk of Holstein cows, giving it a buttery texture and good minerality. The slightly bitter residual makes it a logical pick for Gewurztraminer. Look for this cheese in eight-ounce disks.
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