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.