american cheese society, cheese, cheese for dinner, cheese pairings, cheese plate, local cheese, Local foods, marcona almonds, spring brook farm tarentaise, spring day creamery

Celebrating with a (Mostly) Local Cheese Plate

It was like the Birthday Gods were smiling on us. All within the week of our birthday, I was gifted a bag of cheese from Spring Day Creamery, in Durham, ME (a ‘Thank You’ for helping her out a bit at the Brunswick Farmers Market when she found herself a smidge in the weeds) and a sizable chunk of Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise, which was given to me by the owner, Jim, after talking to him for a bit about his cheeses and their “Farms for City Kids” program.

I took this as a sign that I needed to make a cheese plate for The Missus and I for our special day (though, in reality, it was a day late when we finally had room in our bellies to enjoy it). So, I gathered up some other sundries, like the German Landjaeger sausage from Rosemont Market, some Marcona Almonds from Whole Foods and a small jar of Blueberry Blossom Honey from Urban Farm Fermentory. Served with toasted homemade crostini, using a baguette purchased from Zu Bakery, it all made for a lovely, mostly local, plate.

The Candide is Sarah Spring’s peppered brie.  The wheel she was selling at the market was perfectly gooey and ripe.  The flavor, only a hint of pepper came through from the rind, was of butter and mushroom. It was nice to have a Maine produced brie that didn’t fall victim to over salting or too thick of a rind, which can lead to a bitter finish at the end.

Most of the Tarentaise that I’ve had is aged around a year, but this slice came from a wheel aged somewhere between 5-7 months. It lacked the intense raw milk bite that I’m accustomed to with this cheese, but it’s subtlety made it more representative of other Alpine styled cheeses like Le Gruyere and Comte. It was smooth, slightly nutty with a breath of swissiness at its finish. It also made for a fantastic melting cheese the following night as I grated some over a shaved steak and mushroom sandwich.

Washed rinds are a finicky lot and, because of this, you won’t find too many Maine cheese makers venturing out and attempting this style of cheese. Some of my favorite cheeses are washed rinds, like Winnimere and Epoisses, so it excites me when I come across a washed rind that’s produced closer to home.  The La Vie En Rose is a subtle one, you probably won’t have your refrigerator stinking up with its presence ( The Missus has questioned many a smell in our refrigerator because of my cheese choices), but it does have that wonderful, sweet paste that I adore in washed rinds. It’s pliable texture puts it closer to Saint-Nectaire than any other French style washed rind. But, honestly, I’d take the La Vie En Rose any day.

Ah, the jewel in the crown of Spring Day Creamery cheeses: Spring Day Blues.  Last year, Spring Day placed 2nd to Rogue River Blue at the American Cheese Society Awards, which is no small fete for a cheese maker working with such limited space. In fact, to me, this is a coup. When I had the cheese three years ago, I recalled it tasting slightly earthy and mushroomy, like Blue D’Auvergne. After three years, its easy to see that Sarah has honed her blue making skills. The blue now lies somewhere between a Gorgonzola Dolce and St. Agur. The texture was spreadable and the paste was sweet and creamy, with a back note of pepper. This was, paired with a touch of the UFF honey, my favorite on the plate.

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Cheese Stash Mac and Cheese

The other night, like most nights, the Missus and I were rummaging through the kitchen for something to snack on at a later hour. As I do nearly every night, I said out loud the items found in our kitchen to her, whether they were truly snack worthy or not:

Shumai, bacon, pasta, butter, eggs, brownies, cereal, frozen corn, pancake mix, cheese, risotto, breadcrumbs…

I was stuck on the breadcrumbs and in my giggly fog I made a note to make a breadcrumb topped macaroni and cheese on my next day off. It worked out nicely as it happened to fall during a snow storm in Portland(again). As already stated, I love my cheese. At any given time, there are at least four in the fridge–before this was made there were ten.

  1. 5 year Vintage Gouda
  2. Beryl Marton Trempherbe Garlic and Herb
  3. Provolone
  4. Sweet Grass Dairy “Green Hill”
  5. Pineland Farms Pepperjack
  6. Pineland Farms 2 year cheddar
  7. Parmigiano-Reggiano
  8. Cave Aged Gruyere
  9. Rolf Beeler Appenzeller
  10. Alp and Dell Cheddar

I went with #6, 8-10–a nice cheddar/alpine combination. I found it very surprising, as I was prepping the cheese, that the Alp and Dell–only aged 3m–was crumbliest of all the cheeses. I bought it purely for a mac and cheese because of it’s bright annatto colored flesh, but it was used sparingly more for it’s color than for either flavor or body. As it turned out, it barely even melted when added to the top before baking. The alpine cheeses listed are both in my top 10 of favorites for winter eating–sadly, I have a top 10 cheese list for just about everything.

The recipe I went with was Alton Brown’s Baked Mac and Cheese and it definitely was the best that I’ve made in a long time. Not only was the consistency wonderful, but the flavors of the cheese(salty, nutty and slightly sour), garlic, onion and mustard really complimented each other. It was served along side a nice bloody rare spoon roast. Perfect eating on a snow bound day.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni (I used penne)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon powdered mustard
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika(I had none and added garlic instead for flavor)
  • 1 large egg
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar (4oz 2yr; 3 oz Appenzeller; 3 oz Gruyere; 2 oz Alp and Dell)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter.

Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. **I didn’t have mustard powder, but ground some seeds up along side some dried garlic flakes to make the powder.
Make sure it’s free of lumps.
Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika.
Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.

Temper in the egg.

Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish.

Top with remaining cheese.Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat.

Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

A side note to my love of cheese and of football:
I have a bet going with a friend from Wisconsin that my beloved Chicago Bears will defeat her Green Bay Packers this coming Sunday. I’m cautiously optimistic about the game, but I have already found the closest specialty shop near to her in case Cutler messes up(again).

The wager: I win, I get a pound (or half, we haven’t decided) of Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged. I lose, then she gets the deemed amount in the form of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar aged @ Jasper Hill Farms in VT.

Go Bears.

Macaroni and Cheese on Foodista

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Notes on Dinner

Caspian: nice booziness in paste and nose–not so much cider, but wine; texture firm and slightly reminiscent of goat cheese; deep turquoise mold starting to cover outside.

Cappucetto: Nice acidity and smokiness to the paste; loose, but not too runny. Gorgeous pliability.

Juni: Firm, crumbly with an intense peppercorn bite and flavor–no hints of juniper. yellowish rind; paste not as dry as Romano, but not as salty.

Petit Jesu: Can’t really compete with any of these; left mostly untouched.

All from The Cheese Iron