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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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12 Days of Cheesemas–Day 10

(photo from

We’re going to talk French again. You don’t really think about domestically made cheeses when the name ‘Raclette’ rolls around. You think French or Swiss made, melted on roasted fingerling potatoes or crusty bread. Truthfully, I wasn’t fond of Raclette cheese until this past year when I was introduced to one by Chef Guy Hernandez of Bar Lola. This one, from Springbrook Farms in Vermont, has completely shattered my illusion and ambivalence towards Raclette. It’s painfully more interesting in both nose and paste to the French or Swiss varieties you can by stateside. It’s rusty, pink rind gives you a fair bit of warning that the cheese has a nose to it, but the bite is no where near as strong. The paste is creamy, with a bit of a cheddar spring to it. It’s a bit earthy, but has a pretty mild nutty finish. I’ve had it on eggs, melted over a rib eye sandwich and shredded into a gratin. It’s become my ‘go to’ melting cheese over the past few months, but it’s great for nibbling as is.

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What To Eat When It’s 99 Degrees Outside..

Bread and Cheese…

From the bloomy rind down:

Moses Sleeper: New pasteurized cow’s milk from Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont. So the story goes: Moses Sleeper was the companion of Constant Bliss (another gorgeous bloomy rind from JHF) and both were killed together on Bayley Hazen Road (3 for 3 on JHF cheeses). It’s a great story for a cheese and, until now, Constant had definitely received more attention but my choice between the two is Moses. It’s runny beyond belief and that’s my preferred texture in triple cremes–so much so that we splayed it open and scooped out the gooey insides. The firmer Constant Bliss just doesn’t have that and loses by default. And while Moses has the slightest bit of a white mushroom flavor to it, it’s the slight salt and full fat that reel me in.

Queso del Ivernia: For 17 years Major Farm, located in Vermont, has been winning awards for their cheeses. Wait, correct that: They’ve been winning awards for one cheese, the gold standard of sheep’s milk cheeses in the US, Vermont Shepherd. This year, they’ve released this blend of cow and sheep’s milk, getting the cow’s milk from a local farmer. The name means “winter cheese,” and it lives up to that in it’s heartiness. Slightly creamier than the Shepherd, it shares the same nutty, grassy paste and slightly chalky texture(it’s a good thing). There’s a saltiness to it found in cheeses associated with winter like Gruyere, Comte and, my favorite: Rolf Beeler Appenzeller. Perhaps this is what the love child of those two cheeses would taste like?

Winnemere: It’s actually kind of sad to write about Winne as it’s season just came to an end–though I’m sure you can find some around at the Cheese Iron and/or Whole Foods. I’ve been enamoured with this cheese since the moment I tried it at Evangeline a couple of years ago. It was paired with Buckwheat honey and marcona almonds (I believe) and when I took my first bite, so began a love affair with washed rind cheeses.

The nose it gives off is yeasty and prominent and, honestly, can get down right overpowering if ripened long enough. But, the paste that’s waiting inside is unmatched in my opinion. There’s a smokiness, like molasses, to this cheese that defies everything my taste buds have known outside of Vacheron. Yet, it’s not overwhelming or smothers the true flavor in the cheese. It finds it’s place on your taste buds and settles down nicely.

It also pairs nicely with some local Wild Blueberry Jam.

Cheese Tray on Foodista

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Saturday Afternoon Cheese Plate

Sealed up and starting from the upper left:
Noble Hill Reserve–Hahn’s End Creamery, Maine
Havarti in Beeswax–Swallowtail Farm, Maine
Dubliner with Irish Whiskey–Kerry Gold, Ireland
Golden Ridge–Hahn’s End Creamery, Maine
Dubliner with Irish Stout–Kerry Gold, Ireland

Wonderful, ‘new to me,’ small farmstead cheese maker from Maine. Cream cheese like spreads were also offered. Can be found at the Portland Winter Market.

My absolute favorite creamery in Maine. Hard to find, though worth the trouble, I was absolutely in love with them from the first taste of their ACS winning Eleanor Buttercup. Their cheeses can be found @ K. Hortons and Aurora Provisions, these were purchased directly from their table @ the Winter Market.

Havarti waxed with bees raised on site @ Swallowtail.

From the top:
Dubliner with Stout: Slightly nutty, grassy and hint of oats. This one seems a bit younger than the year it’s aged. Texture is much creamier than the regular Dubliner and the Dubliner w/Whiskey.

Dubliner with Whiskey: Caramel is the most prominent flavor I get off of this one. The milk is sweet and nutty. Flavor profile is definitely more up front than the last and the texture feels a bit drier.

Noble Hill Reserve: I’m not even sure what style of cheese it’s meant to be but, if I were betting on it, I’d peg Gouda. Creamy, but dry enough to crumble, it was like eating a raw cow’s milk version of the Vermont Sheperd. Each bite carried that wonderful raw milk ‘dance’ that lets you know what you’re eating is still alive and evolving. This was my favorite on the plate.

Swallowtail Havarti: My best comparison to this cheese is somewhat of a baby swiss. This cheese had a very distinct sour, but not spoiled, profile that lingered throughout eating. With the unique rind of natural bees wax it, not surprisingly, paired best with the honey from Slovenia(which is worth searching out. Ours was a gift from the Mrs.’ cousin).

Golden Ridge: One of the most complex cheeses I’ve ever had, I was completely enthralled with it. While I thought it was just your basic brie/camembert style cheese it bared a nuttiness, a Cashewieness specifically, that took me by surprise. Yet there were also profiles of mushroom and creme fraiche. I would pay a good price to get a bootlegged raw milk version of this.

Serving 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

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Saturday Night Cheese

I’m going to out myself right now–I’m a cheese lover. Hard core, unapologetic Turophile. Now, my reason for coming out has been on the heels of what seems to be a rash of cheese related postings from some local posters(PFH, BBF and TAD). I salivated at every picture, having instant recollections of what those cheeses tasted like to me. I subscribe to cheese magazines and even keep a list of all of the cheeses I’ve tasted over the past few years (though I have to admit I’m behind in my cheese ‘logs’–which was so disgustingly punny that I’m a bit ashamed at myself for not going back to erase the words).
So, on the heels of envy, I went out tonight and splurged on a few cheeses. As the Mrs. is house sitting this is a purely indulgent treat for 1. All cheeses were purchased at Whole Foods & K Hortons and cost around $5-$7/quarter pound.

Starting from the 12 o’clock position on the plate: Old Shiretown from Hahn’s End Farm in Phippsburg, ME; Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery, Marin, CA with local blue/strawberry jam; Fleur De Marquis unknown maker in Corsica; Saint Vernier by Jean Perrin Comte, France with Sparky’s Raw Honey from Hope, ME; Honey Lavender Fromage Blanc from Nettle Meadows in Warrensburg, NY. I’ve arranged them in order of mildest>strongest. In what would normally be the place for a blue cheese, the final spot, I’ve put the Fromage Blanc because of the dominant floralness of the lavender.

The Old Shiretown can be described as a raw milk cheddar, aged around 3-6 months. It’s creamy, but the salt of this batch is just a bit too much. However, the raw milk is intense and the overall flavor is a bit like an English Farmhouse Cheddar. Hahn’s End won numerous awards a couple of years ago at the American Cheese Society Awards, sweeping the ‘Open Cow’ category with all the top finishers. This was purchased at K. Hortons in the Public Market House. K’s has several of their cheeses, including the much coveted, Blue Velvet. All of their cheeses go for around $25/# and are, in my opinion, well worth it.

Pierre Robert. Brillat Savarian. Constant Bliss. Delice de Bourgogne. Delice D’Argental. Some of the richest, sinfully amazing triple creme cheeses in the world. For me one of the best domestically made ones is Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery. In the few minutes it’s taken me to write down five cheeses, I’ve already eaten all of the Mt. Tam. Topped with a simple jam, made by a friend with some fruits of their CSA share, it’s easier than a Sunday morning. It’s butter wrapped in a slightly bitter rind. It never gets as loose as many of the above, keeping its firmness while picking up a slightly looser body as it ages. It’s heaven and my fondness for it will be one of the factors of my early death.

Fleur du Maquis is one of the few herb enrobed cheeses that I’ve come across that hasn’t struck me as woodsy, or old herb, tasting. Right away the texture strikes me as a bit like a creamier Ricotta Salata, though definitely less salty. It’s actually feeling a bit chalky and there is a slight acidity at it’s finish which I’m not quite sure about. But, at the beginning, you’re hit with a slight sweetness mixed with rosemary and thyme. Hmm…

The fourth, Saint Vernier, is a completely new one for me. I’ve never heard of it nor have seen it at any of the local stores. First it looks like a mini Époisses de Bourgogne, with it’s rust orange washed rind, and has a bit of a nose like it. Even the looseness, cutting it from the disc, reminds me of it. With it being 1/4th the cost, I thought it was definitely worth the try. It’s not as forward as the Jasper Hill Winnemere or the Époisses, but it does have a subtle sourness. Paired with the raw honey, the saltiness is balanced out and the paste tastes like a double creme brie. I definitely liked this pairing.

Finally, the sweetest, and only goat cheese on the plate: Honey Lavender Fromage Blanc by Nettle Meadows. I Fucking Love This Cheese. I’m currently just scooping it up with my fingers as I write this and somehow managing not to drop a bit of it. This is exactly the last taste I want to have after four other cheeses. Slight sweetness with a floral, but not soapy, kick. I find lavender is hard to work with because if its flavor is too prominent it tastes like you’ve just had your mouth washed out with Dove. Not what I want in my food. This is just enough to let you know it’s there. And the texture is just light enough, but rich enough, to not weigh you down after eating a quarter pound of cheese in one sitting.

So, an hour later and my belly is quite happy. The Old Shiretown was a bit disappointing because of how salty it was, but it wasn’t a bad cheese–I would just recommend some of their other cheeses over it. The Saint Vernier was definitely a nice surprise and one that I’ll look for again when in the mood for a washed rind.