Benedictine is a good lesson in how one’s cheese preferences are shaped by multiple factors, not just taste.  The texture of a cheese may have as much impact as its flavors on a person’s opinion.  Cheese Chatter stays away from longer aged cheeses because their flakier textures are unappealing to our tasters.  I’ve also learned that my kids will lap up the foulest smelling cheeses–ones that smell like dung–as long as they are velvety smooth.

So we come to Benedictine–a semi-soft mixed milk cheese made from a combination of sheep, cow and goat milks.  Benedictine is a rindless cheese produced by Carr Valley Cheese Company in Wisconsin and is aged for 12 weeks.  Jacob picked this cheese because he was intrigued by its mixed milks.

Benedictine is the color of cooked pasta and looks similar to Monterey Jack.  Its surface is a bit spongy and smooth to the touch.  Out of refrigeration, this cheese clumps into a mass under pressure from a butter knife.  Even with a soft cheese knife, Benedictine adheres to the knife blade, forcing one to peel cheese slices off the knife (not very elegant or hygienic).

This cheese has a pungent scent that is tangy and sour.  Its scent is similar to Cheese-Its, but more intense.  Benedictine is creamy and very rich in the mouth.  It is intensely salty at first, then mellows in the mouth.  This cheese leaves a slightly sour flavor on the tongue, reminiscent of cow’s milk cheeses.

We were mixed in our opinion of Benedictine.  The kids–who are more partial to semi-soft cheeses–both liked this cheese.  I did not like its texture and found its salty introduction too loud and distracting from its other qualities.  Benedictine is a bit off-balance in flavor and needs something sweet (some fruit or a beverage) to counter its intense flavors.  Given our issues slicing Benedictine, this is not a cheese for a communal cheese plate or picnic.


Tumalo Tomme

Tumalo Tomme is a surprising goat cheese–surprising because when I think of goat cheese, chevre-style cheeses come first to mind.  Tumalo Tomme is completely different and a long way from chalky chevre in flavor, texture and appearance.  It is a satisfying and tasty cheese.

Tumalo Tomme is a firm, mountain-style cheese produced by Juniper Grove in Oregon.  It is a farmstead cheese made from raw goat’s milk.  It has a creamy white interior, the color of raw russet potatoes.  The rugged, buff-colored rind has deep creases in its surface and is sprinkled with gray, green, beige and orange spots.

The aroma of Tumalo Tomme is slightly nutty, milky and a bit like dry grass.  To the touch, its interior is smooth, firm and slightly oily.  The flavor is lightly nutty and salty.  Its texture is smooth and creamy on the tongue.

We tasted Tumalo Tomme next to Baserri and it was hard not to compare the two.  Both cheeses share a directness in flavor that makes them easy to enjoy, yet neither cheese has an overwhelmingly strong flavor.  Neither cheese is splashy, yet both are well-balanced and satisfying.

Tumalo Tomme is a good example of what is available beyond chevre-style goat cheeses.  This is another nice cheese for a casual picnic or to share with friends.  I am now eager to explore if other goat cheeses are available in similar vein.

Baserri is a firm sheep’s milk cheese made by Barinaga Ranch in Marin County, California. Barinaga Ranch began selling this seasonal hand-made cheese in 2009 (In 2010, Baserri will be available July-December).  It is aged for 60 days.

baserri-cheese-by-cheesechatter-january-2011Baserri looks like a tattered old book–with a worn speckled exterior and inviting interior.  Its gray-brown rind is rough, weathered, lined and dimpled.  The rind has small punctures and shows flecks of green, orange, yellow and white. The interior is pale blonde and darkens to a milky brown color at the rind. The interior surface has tiny irregular shaped holes and is firm to the touch.

Baserri’s aroma is very faint and is fresh, milky and slightly nutty.  The rind has a moldy odor (most likely due to surface molds).

Baserri is a well-balanced cheese.  Its flavor is mildly salty, with some light tanginess and nutty flavors at the finish. Its flavors are pleasant and are not overwhelming.  It lingers a bit on the tongue, as a gentle reminder of a pleasant experience.  This cheese is not rich, but it does have a creamy and almost crumbly texture in the mouth that is pleasing.

Baserri is a tasty, straight-forward cheese that does not try to overwhelm the senses.  This is a cheese that one could pair with a green salad, fresh fruit, and french bread for a satisfying summer meal.  Or, it would be great on a day hike, sliced between some bread.  We all liked this cheese and are now curious to try Barinaga Ranch’s other Basque-style cheese.


Red Hawk

Red Hawk is a soft cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk.  This cheese is produced by Cowgirl Creamery of Marin County, California.  We selected this cheese from several options we tasted during our cheese class at Cowgirl Creamery.  Red Hawk has a washed rind and is aged with brevibacterium linens–an airborne bacteria that occurs naturally in the Pt. Reyes area.

Red Hawk is a small flat dome, a light apricot color.  Its exterior surface shows signs of its production: creases from the cheese cloth and cheese form are etched into its rind.  Inside, the cheese is milky white.  To the touch, Red Hawk’s interior is squishy and sticky; its exterior surface is somewhat gummy and will leave orange residue on a finger.

Red Hawk has a pronounced aroma that fills the room.  Red Hawk’s odor is not pleasant and frankly, it stinks.  We compared it to several foul odors: a sweaty father post-bike ride; dog feces; and, our dog’s breath after she has snacked on another animal’s droppings.  Red Hawk’s aroma clings to the fingers and will remain long after tasting.

Red Hawk has the flavor of sour milk, similar to Pont l’Eveque yet stronger.  It is slightly tangy, but also has a light sweetness.  Red Hawk is very creamy and smooth, similar to Fromage d’Affinois or a triple cream cheese.  The cheese and its rind spreads easily with a butter knife.  Unlike some soft triple creme cheeses, Red Hawk doesn’t loose shape out of refrigeration.

If one is put off by Red Hawk’s foul odor–which would be understandable–a truly excellent cheese will be missed–which would be unforgiveable.  This cheese is sensational.  Its aroma and flavor assaults the nose, mouth and tongue, and yet Red Hawk is an inviting and delicious cheese.  This is the cheese we returned to repeatedly during our tasting.  All of the tasters liked this cheese and we would definitely purchase this cheese again.  When I put Jacob to bed, he said that he could still smell Red Hawk on his fingers and commented how much he liked this cheese.

We decided that this is a cheese we had to share with family–especially those on my side who become effusive over stinky cheeses (think Limburger, Munster)–and would suffer through a 6-hour drive with this cheese polluting the car just to share it with our loved ones.  That’s how much we love this cheese.

Cowgirl Creamery Visit

July 24, 2010

We left the fog of San Francisco behind–hooray!–and headed north to Point Reyes Station for sun, cows, and a cheese class at Cowgirl Creamery.  We were looking forward to visiting the “mother ship” of one of our favorite cheeses–Mt. Tam.

Cowgirl Creamery’s operation is located at Tomales Bay Foods, just off the main drag in Point Reyes Station.  Inside, one can look through large windows to view the cheesemaking process.  We arrived around 11 am, and watched the curds coagulating in a large vat.  We then watched as the cheesemakers poured large buckets of curds and whey into cheese forms.  This procedure went on for some time, but our class began and drew our attention away.

The class and tasting was informative.  We learned about the history of farming in the Point Reyes area,  Cowgirl Creamery’s start and their ongoing relationship with the local dairy farmers.   This was interesting history, but did not entertain the children under 10-years-old who attended the class.

We then had a table-top demonstration of cheesemaking.  Our class instructor started with a bucket of fresh whole milk, warmed from the pasteurization process.  Jacob poured in the rennet and we watched as the milk coagulated into a pudding-like substance.  (A lot of rennet was used to speed up coagulation).  The curds were first cut broadly into large chunks and scooped into a mold.  The cheese looked a lot like tofu at this stage.  For a second sample, the curds were cut again into smaller bits and placed into a separate mold.  Both molds were left to drain while we began our tasting.  This was a fun, illustrative science experiment and both samples were turned out of their molds and examined after the tasting.

We tasted the whole range of Cowgirl Creamery’s products that were available.  Some products are seasonal, so those were not available for tasting.  We tried the Clabbered Cottage Cheese, Fromage Blanc (nice and light, similar to cream cheese), Creme Fraiche, Panir (excellent, yet availability limited to their San Francisco and Point Reyes Station stores), Mt. Tam, St. Pat’s, Inverness, Red Hawk and Wagon Wheel (a firm cheese still in development).

Our visit was fun.  The 1-hour class was just the right amount of time for my two kids (ages 11 and 12).  We enjoyed the education, the cheesemaking demonstration, and tasting Cowgirl Creamery’s products.  Our class cost $5/person with registration made a few weeks in advance.

Piedmont: Comfort Food

July 22, 2010

Piedmont is a firm sheep’s milk cheese from Northern Virginia.  It is made by Everona Dairy from raw milk and is aged for 2-6 months.


Piedmont’s interior is the color of dry pasta.  The interior darkens slightly towards the rind and has many small holes.  The rind is a yellow-brown that also shows flecks of white and gray-green.  The rind has a grid pattern imbedded into its surface, almost as if the cheese had been wrapped in a window screen.

Piedmont is firm to the touch and has an oily surface.  It slices easily with a butter knife, however its texture is grainy.

Piedmont’s aroma is inviting.  It is rich in butter and smells similar to macaroni and cheese.  The rind smells faintly of mold when held directly to the nose.

Piedmont has a mild flavor that is similar to Abbaye de Bel’loc of the Pyrenees.  We thought it resembled a lighter flavored Abbaye de Bel’loc.  The cheese is salty and somewhat nutty, but its flavors are rather gentle. Piedmont has a mild nutty after-taste, yet does not linger long on the tongue like Abbaye de Bel’loc.

Piedmont is like comfort food–simple and rewarding.  Piedmont’s gentle flavors offer a great deal of serving versatility: this cheese would be great for simple snacking, picnics, or sharing space on a party plate.

Ticklemore is a soft goat cheese from England.  This cheese is made from pasteurized goat’s milk and is aged for 2-5 months.  The whole cheese looks like two over-sized muffin wrappers joined together at their mouths.


Our sample of Ticklemore was a small, triangular wedge that had difficulty standing upright because of the deep groves in its rind. (Note: Our photo shows the flat bottom of the cheese; its pie-like top is on the bottom).  The edible rind has ridges with tints of brown, white and beige. The interior of Ticklemore is milky white and appears very creamy near the rind, with a denser mass at its center.

Ticklemore has a slightly tangy or sour aroma. To the touch, its interior is sticky and squishy, yet its rind forms a solid crust.

Ticklemore is very creamy–almost like a double or triple cream cow’s milk cheese–and it delivers great mouth feel.  Jacob noted that its texture is similar to Fromage d’Affinois or Mt. Tam.  Ticklemore’s flavor is subtle, with both sweet and salt flavors present.  The rind adds a bit of tanginess to the cheese, but it is not strong.  There is no remarkable after-taste from this cheese.

Ticklemore is an excellent cheese and could easily become a house favorite.  Its subtle flavors coupled with its silky texture make this a thoroughly enjoyable cheese.  This is a very gentle goat cheese, that is unlike any of the other goat cheeses we’ve tried thus far. We could find no flaws with Ticklemore and  I would not hesitate to purchase this cheese again.  This is a cheese that would be great to share with family and friends at home, but not good for a lengthy summer picnic because it gets sticky when out of refrigeration.