Bijou is an excellent cheese.  One might snicker–as did my husband–at this goat cheese’s diminutive size.  Yet what petite Bijou lacks in size, it makes up for in flavor.  This American-made gem is one of the best goat cheeses we have tasted.  It is very rewarding and should not be missed.

bijou-cheese-by-cheesechatter-april-2011Bijou is a soft-to-semi-soft cheese produced by Vermont Butter & Cheese Co., in Vermont.  Bijou is made from pasteurized goat’s milk and matures for approximately 2 weeks before market.  Bijou is produced in a petite cylinder format.  Vermont Butter & Cheese delivers Bijou pre-packaged in a 2-cheese “micro-cave” that promotes ripening.

Bijou is a tiny crottin-style cheese plug.  Its deeply wrinkled rind has a buttery cream color.   The interior paste has a milky white core that is dense like clay.  The core is surrounded by a more translucent buttery paste that has a consistency similar to its core.

Bijou’s aroma is farmy: it smells of fresh cut grass, honeycomb, and barnyard.

Bijou is robust and goaty, with a texture that invites savoring.  Its flavors are direct, tangy and lemony tart.  It has a nice, underlying beeswax sweetness that balances its tart flavor.  Bijou’s pasty texture coats the tongue with flavor and encourages slow eating.

We loved Bijou!  It is one of the best goat cheeses we have tasted–American or French.  Bijou’s punch of flavor and goaty aroma reminded us of good French goat cheese.  Bijou is an excellent cheese and one that we look forward to sharing.  Its intimate size makes it a good choice for a small gathering.

Bijou behaves beautifully out of refrigeration; we left our cheese out for over an hour and it did not degrade.  Bijou is a cheese to linger over and savor.  I would consider it for a picnic if carefully packaged.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Bijou at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).  The cheese is sold whole in a 2-oz. petite size.  We purchased two cheeses in a “micro-cave” package for 4-5 servings.

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Hillis Peak is a goat cheese that stretches one’s imagination.  If chevre occupies one end of the goat cheese spectrum, Hillis Peak would anchor the other end.  This cheese has intriguing flavor, nice texture and a lovely appearance.  Hillis Peak satisfies as a stand-alone cheese.

hillis_peak_cheese_by_cheesechatter_april_2011Hillis Peak is a semi-firm cheese, farmstead produced by Pholia Farms in Rogue River, Oregon.  It is a washed curd cheese, produced from raw goat’s milk.  The cheese is produced in small, 2.5-pound drums.  During its 6-7 month maturation, the cheese’s rind is rubbed with oil and Spanish paprika.

Hillis Peak is a lovely cheese.  Its rusty rind has a deep chevron pattern across its top and bottom, while its sides have a shallow diamond emboss.  The rust brown rind is separated from the paste by a thin layer of bright orange paprika.  Hillis Peak’s ivory paste is smooth, solid and dry to the touch.

Hillis Peak has nice aroma.  Its rind smells of mineral water, ground corn, and cellar.  The interior paste smells like melted butter with a light popcorn scent.

Hillis Peak has varied flavors.  Its flavor starts with a roasted sweet corn flavor, but its sweetness turns almost jammy.  Hillis Peak also has warm buttery and toasted nut flavors.  The cheese finishes with a light nuttiness.  Hillis Peak leaves a mildly nutty aftertaste that has a distinctive goaty flavor.  Although the rind is natural, it tastes like soil and detracts from the cheese; the paste nearest the rind also has more cellar-like flavors that are not appealing.  Its texture is a bit dry and chewy.

Hillis Peak is a fun cheese.  For a goat cheese, it offers a lot of flavor complexity.  During our tasting, we enjoyed identifying its interesting flavors.  Hillis Peak makes a fantastic snacking cheese and is perfect on its own.  Yet, it is so rewarding and visually appealing that it deserves a spot on a cheese plate.

A serving note: Hillis Peak’s rind sheds orange dust that can migrate to the cheese paste if not handled with care.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Hillis Peak at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).  Pholia Farms makes their cheese in small production, so expect irregular availability.

Ascutney Mountain is a delicious cheese that calls up comparisons to classic Swiss mountain cheeses.  This US-made cheese is like a younger version of Appenzeller.  It does not deliver Appenzeller’s concentrated flavor, but its flavors are similar and very accessible.

ascutney_mountain_cheese_by_cheesechatter_march_2011Ascutney Mountain is farmstead produced by Cobb Hill Cheese, Vermont.  Cobb Hill is a farm-based community whose residents produce 2 cheeses along with other farm goods through cooperative enterprises.  Ascutney Mountain is a firm cheese made from raw cow’s milk.  The cheese is produced in 10-pound wheels and aged for at least 8 months before market.

Ascutney Mountain is a solid cheese with a natural nutmeg brown rind.  The paste is deep yellow and darkens to golden brown near the rind.  The cheese paste is marked with many irregular-shaped holes.  To the touch, the paste is firm and slightly greasy.

Ascutney Mountain’s rind has a musty cellar scent; the paste smells like freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Ascutney Mountain tastes like a softer–or younger–Appenzeller.  Ascutney Mountain has the tangy and nutty flavors of Appenzeller, yet they are less intense.  Ascutney Mountain has sweet fruity and warm buttery flavors that balance its nutty tanginess.  In the mouth, Ascutney Mountain has a chewy texture with crystallized granules that invite slow eating.  After eating, a sour nuttiness lingers.

Ascutney Mountain was a big hit at our table.  It is a lovely cheese with warm flavor and a nice texture.  Interestingly, our juvenile tasters found Ascutney Mountain more accessible than Appenzeller.  Like a good Swiss classic, Ascutney Mountain is easy to eat and needs no accompaniment.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Ascutney Mountain at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).

Browning Gold is a humble cheese.  At the cheese counter, it does little to differentiate itself from other aged cheddars.  Yet what it lacks in visual intrigue, it makes up for in flavor.  Browning Gold offers warmth and sweetness, and seems a natural fit for a casual intimate gathering.  More importantly, Browning Gold retired my family’s bias against aged cheeses.

Browning Gold is a hard, cheddar-style cheese produced by 5 Spoke Creamery in Westchester County, New York.  It is farmstead produced with raw cow’s milk and cave-aged for 24 months before market.  The cheese is produced in a large brick format; each cheese weighs about 10 pounds.

browning-gold-cheese-by-cheesechatter-february-2011Browning Gold looks as if it has been wrapped in a white paper skin.  The rind’s surface molds give the exterior a velvety feel.  The interior paste is the color of pale straw,  darkening to nutmeg at the rind.  To the touch, the paste is solid and a bit greasy.

Browning Gold has a musty aroma.  Its rind smells like fresh earth and mushrooms.  Its interior paste has a baked cheese cracker scent.

Browning Gold has deep flavor and marked sweetness.  Its flavors are strongest at the start, then mellow while chewing.  Its dominant flavors are a warm nuttiness and pineapple sweetness.  The cheese also has a some sourness.  It leaves a mild aftertaste.

The cheese has a moist and crumbly texture in the mouth.  Browning Gold breaks into pebble-sized morsels on the tongue,  encouraging one to savor the cheese.

With its sweeter profile, Browning Gold was an easy sell at our table.  One juvenile taster commented that it tasted like a sweet and savory sauce.  We all liked this cheese a lot.  The day after our tasting, there was a hasty scramble for the remaining cheese.

Browning Gold is a superb stand-alone cheese.  Its crumbly texture demands slow eating and seems ideal for a casual gathering.  It would be fantastic on a day hike, camping or as an everyday cheese.

Purchase Notes:  I purchased Browning Gold at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).  The cheesemonger commented that Browning Gold is available occasionally.

Petit Ardi Gasna is a lovely everyday cheese.  It is easy to eat, smooth on the palate and offers perfectly balanced flavors.  Ardi Gasna looks rather boring at the cheese counter, but we found it addictive on the plate.

Ardi Gasna is a semi-firm cheese from the Basque region in France.  It is made with raw sheep’s milk by Fromagerie Agour and has earned several awards.  The cheese is produced in small 700-gram drums (about 1.5 pounds), and is brushed with coulis de Piment d’Espelette, a puree of  espelette chili peppers  dry-rubbed with pimenton, a Spanish paprika.  Cheeses are aged for a minimum of 3 months before market.

petit-agour-cheese-by-cheesechatter-february-2011 Ardi Gasna’s chili red rind gives it a fiery appearance.  The natural red-orange rind is thin, dry and scored with lines from its production.  The interior paste is dull yellow and has a greenish cast.  At the rind, the paste darkens into a light walnut.  To the touch, the paste is solid and greasy.

Ardi Gasna’s rind smells like toasted nuts.  The interior paste has light scents of  blueberries and rye.

Ardi Gasna has well-balanced flavor.  It has a sweet berry fruitiness that is matched by a rich nutty flavor.  The flavors are not too assertive and seem “just right.”  Ardi Gasna leaves a mildly nutty aftertaste in the mouth.  The cheese has a chewy texture that is not overly rich.  When eaten, the rind adds some spicy hotness to the cheese, but its grittiness is detracting.

We all liked this cheese and it was a big hit with my kids.  Ardi Gasna makes an excellent snacking cheese.  Its flavors and texture are so pleasing that this cheese was hard to stop eating.  While Ardi Gasna offers the casual simplicity of an everyday cheese, it would make a good addition to an outdoor meal.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Petit Ardi Gasna from Say Cheese (San Francisco); it was sold as Petit Agour.

Weybridge is a bright, pocket-sized cheese.  It has a tart flavor that is mild and appealing.  Its petite format and crisp flavor make it ideal for outdoor meals.

Weybridge is a farmstead cheese produced by Scholten Family Farm in Weybridge, VT.  It is a soft, bloomy rind cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk.  The cheese is produced in a petite flat disc (or “medallion”) format.  It is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill for 30 days before market.

weybridge-cheese-by-cheesechatter-february-2011Weybridge looks like a shrunken Camembert.  Its soft white rind is like a thickened skin; it is embedded with lines and wrinkles from the cheese’s production process and packaging.  The interior paste is buttery yellow, with a denser chalkier core.

Weybridge’s rind has a delicate mushroom aroma.  The interior has a light scent that is similar to Band-Aids.

Weybridge’s flavor is bright and straight-forward.  It has a tart and fresh citrus flavor.  The cheese’s denser core is more intensely tart than its creamier paste.  Weybridge leaves a mild sour after-taste.

Weybridge is an easy-to-please cheese.  It has mild flavors that are accessible, but unlikely to make a dramatic impact.  At our tasting, half of our tasters liked the cheese a lot and would purchase it again, while the others found it too bland.

Weybridge is an excellent cheese for a picnic: its compact format is easy to tote and it keeps shape out of refrigeration.  Its flavors evoke summer and would be a perfect compliment to an impromptu outdoor meal.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Weybridge at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).  We quartered our petite, 5-oz. cheese into 4 servings.

Landaff is a cheese with all-around appeal.  It’s a mild version of farmhouse cheddar; its shorter maturation gives it softer flavor and a creamier texture than aged cheddars.  Landaff is a good everyday cheese, an easy snacker and likely to have wide appeal.

Landaff has its roots in traditional Welsh farmstead cheeses.  It is a semi-firm cheese, farmstead produced by Landaff Creamery of New Hampshire.  Landaff  is made from the raw cow’s milk and matured for 60 days before market.  The cheese is cave-aged by affineur Jasper Hill Farms.

landaff-cheese-by-cheesechatter-january-2011Landaff has a simple rustic appearance.  It has a weathered tan rind that is hard and dry.  The interior paste is deep yellow, darkening to caramel near the rind.  The paste is greasy and smooth to the touch.

Landaff has mild aroma.  Its rind smells like wet stone and mineral water.  The cheese paste has a rich buttery scent.

Landaff tastes like a mild cheddar.  It starts fruity with a blueberry jam flavor.  Its flavor builds and becomes sour, bitter and intensely nutty.  It has a cheddar-like tang that one can feel on the tongue.  Landaff finishes with a mild sourness.  Landaff has a chewy and thick texture with nice mouth feel.

Landaff is a nice all-around everyday cheese that could substitute for cheddar.  It would make a superb cheese for a picnic or outdoor meal.  Landaff makes a delicious snacking cheese and has enough zest for a party plate.  It is excellent on its own with no accompaniment.  Landaff Creamery suggests its cheese is good for cooking, too.

My kids liked Landaff a lot and appreciated its mildness relative to other cheddars we have tried.  Landaff is a definite re-purchase.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Landaff at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).