Advent Treasure Hunt Part 3
For week 3 it’s all about CHEESE! Now is a perfect time to buy cheese because it’s early enough to avoid the major rush of the masses but the cheese will still be good on Christmas Day. I save a few of the more time sensitive cheese for next week.
Cheese can be bought anywhere cheese is sold but if you have the opportunity, visit your local cheese shop for their expert recommendations. The service you get in smaller shops is more personal and attentive. You can also buy as little or as much as you need. Most cheese counters that have a cheesemonger will also cut whatever size you need but some places like Trader Joe’s limit you to the size they offer. That may mean you need to just pick and choose what you want to add to your selection.
All that being said, Let’s buy some cheese!
Week 3 December 15-21
Ricotta, fresh mozzarella, mascarpone, and so many more fresh cheeses are a great addition to a cheese plate. Their bright milky, flavors can be a good complement to some of the richer cheeses seen elsewhere on a cheese plate. A dash of honey can take these from just a fresh cheese to something deliciously mind blowing. This is where you can really get inventive and decide if you want something sweet or savory. Add chai spice in to mascarpone, roasted red tomato alongside fresh mozzarella, create an olive tapenade by throwing your favorite olives in your food processor, the possibilities are really endless and can really round out you plate.
This category is lead by mozzarella and burrata which is something that is also covered in the last category. Pasta Filata means stretched curd and while those two are some of the most popular of this category, they are by no means the only versions. Caciocavalla, Scamorza, and even string cheese all fall in to this category. Try an new Italian cheese you haven’t had before or grab one of those braided string cheeses from Karoun to add something completely different looking.
These days, most categories of cheese come in a goat milk version. For a cheese plate, I really like the goat cheeses with the wrinkly rinds and come from or are inspired by the goat cheeses from the Loire Valley in France. Vermont Creamery’s line up fits this bill. Valencay, Selles sur cher, and Saint Maure are cheeses you can find regularly and in many places. These are a little stinky and have a slight yeasty flavor from the molds that have been encouraged on the rind. They are fantastic with white wine.
Sheep milk cheese is one of my favorite categories. Manchego is the most common and readily available but if you have the opportunity to look for others, I highly recommend any sheep cheese from the Pyrenees. Ossau Iraty, Le Secret de Compostelle, or P’tit Basque are great ones to look out for. Besides France, Italy also has a plethora of sheep milk cheeses that people may not be as familiar with because when they hear the word ”pecorino” they are only familiar with Pecorino Romano but pecorino merely means sheep so there are a number of very snackable sheep milk cheeses. I love Pecorino Toscano, Pecorino Ginepro, and Moliternino. Corsica, which is technically France but lies in the waters between France and Italy, produce a wide variety of sheep milk cheeses also. Corsu Vecchio being a personal favorite.
Alpine refers to the fact that these cheeses come from the milk produced through a summer of cows eating the grasses in the mountain meadows. France, Switzerland, and even Italy produce Alpine style cheese but the Swiss ones are the ones most often referred to with this moniker. Gruyere, Emmentaler, and Appenzeller are the most common types but we are seeing an influx of this style of cheese due to the dissolution of the Swiss Cheese Union which heavily regulated cheesemakers in to only making one kind of cheese. Now, cheesemakers have more freedom and ability to widely produce and distribute old recipes or create brand new ones. Check out this feature on NPR for more info on this.
Pretty much universally loved, Gouda is always a good thing to have on a cheese plate. Don’t be mistaken though, not all Goudas are alike. Some are young and buttery in flavor and some are more aged and robust, studded with cheese crystals. You can also find them in both sheep or goat milk, and often with a barrage of different flavors added. Here are a few of my faves: L’Amuse Signature 2 year, Brabander (or if you can get you hands on the more aged version called Black Betty that is a holiday seasonal), Robusto, anything from Marieke Gouda, and Point Reyes 2 year Gouda (this is another hard to find cheese but so worth it when you can get it!). For parties I like something with at least a 9 month age to it. The 3 month Goudas are great for cooking and are pretty mild.
Can’t get away with talking about cheese without a mention of cheddar. It’s just a given! Like many other cheeses, not all cheddars are the same! Some are more aged and robust and some have been covered in cloth while aging which imparts more complex flavors. Once again, for a party I recommend something with a bit of age to it. My fave cheddars: Prairie Breeze, Catamount Cheddar (which I believe is a Whole Foods exclusive), Cabot Clothbound, Quicke’s Cheddar, Keen’s Cheddar, Grafton Queen of Quality, Shelburne Farms, etc. The list could really go on because there are just so many delicious cheddars out there. This is another category where you will find a ton that have added flavors. I’m mostly a purist when it comes to cheese and like to add my flavors in the ways of jams/honey/fresh herbs, etc but people tend to really like them so who am I do not give the people what they want! I would just stay away from anything to spicy because it blow you palate and nothing will taste quite right afterwards.
I hope you make a trek to your local cheese shop to find some new favorites. This is the time of year where your local shop shines! They’ve prepped all year for this week and they are ready to show you all the delicious finds they have on their shelves. The attention and service will be unlike anything you can experience at a grocery store and you will feel good knowing that you are serving the best for your guests while also supporting a small business owner. No one really gets in to the cheese business for the money. It’s about the products and the people behind them.
Where are your favorite shops? Tell me about them!