Estero Gold is a cheese with charms so subtle, they can be easily missed.  During our tasting, we found Estero Gold’s flavors pleasant, yet too laid back to command our attention.  Estero Gold’s casualness is part of its charm, but it does not make a compelling cheese.

estero_gold_cheese_by_cheesechatter_april_2011Estero Gold is a firm cheese, farmstead produced locally by Valley Ford Cheese Co. in Valley Ford, California.  It is made from raw cow’s milk and is inspired by Swiss Italian cheeses.  Estero Gold is aged for approximately 4 months before market.

Estero Gold has a rich spun-gold appearance.   The interior paste is deep golden yellow flecked with small holes.  Estero Gold has a natural golden rind that shows impressions and folds from what appears to be a cloth wrap.  Both the rind and paste are smooth and solid to the touch.

Estero Gold has a delicious aroma of melted butter and cheese.

Estero Gold has subtle flavors that are relatively mild and reminiscent of melted Asiago.  It begins with a buttery rich flavor and finishes with a light nuttiness.  The nuttiness has a little prickliness to it that may cause a tingling sensation in the mouth.  It has a little milky sourness, but this flavor is not pronounced.  Estero Gold has a firm chewy texture and leaves a long mildy nutty after-taste.

We thought Estero Gold a pleasant cheese, but its flavors were too subtle to hold our attention.  My juvenile tasters found Estero Gold too acidic in the mouth; both complained of “mouth prickles.”  While Estero Gold did not have strong enough flavor to make it a compelling snacker, we thought it would make a good melting cheese (Valley Ford Cheese Co. suggests Estero Gold is good for this purpose).

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

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.

Berkswell is a cheese for savoring.  Its rustic appearance belies its complexity: each time we tasted this cheese, we detected new flavors.  Berkswell is not a cheese for haste.  It demands one’s attention, but is guaranteed to reward.

berkswell_cheese_by_cheesechatter_april_2011Berkswell is a firm sheep’s milk cheese from the West Midlands region of England.  It is farmstead produced at Ram Hall by the Fletcher family.  The cheese’s flying saucer shape is created by colanders used during its production.  Berkswell is aged for about 6 months before market.

Berkswell is a sunny, rustic cheese.  The colander forms used during the cheese’s production emboss the rind with a basket weave pattern.  Its natural orange-tan rind feels dry and rough.  Berkswell’s solid paste is lemon yellow, darkening to butterscotch near the rind.  The solid cheese paste is smooth and a bit greasy.

Berkswell has a warm, pleasant aroma.  Its rind smells like straw and cellar.  Its interior paste smells like parmesan.

Berkswell is a full-flavored and rich cheese.  Its flavors are nutty, buttery, sweet and salty.  It has a lovely salted caramel flavor that is buttery, sweet and salty.  Berkswell’s nutty flavor is like a light parmesan; it intensifies towards the finish.  Berkswell ends with a light fruity sweetness and leaves a long butterscotch after-taste.  Berkswell’s texture is chewy and grainy.  The cheese feels rich and fatty in the mouth.

Berkswell is a cheese for slow savoring.  At first blush, Berkswell seems like a straight-forward cheese, but its flavors are complex and demand slow eating.  With its rich and fatty mouth feel, a little of this cheese goes a long way.

We all liked Berkswell, but San Francisco’s weather created havoc with our appreciation.  We tasted Berkswell on an unusually hot summer-like day in Spring.  The cheese’s fatty mouth feel created a heavy impression on the palate; Berkswell would be well-served by a good beverage pairing to cut its richness.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Berkswell at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco, CA).

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).

Winnimere is a first class cheese for an inelegant party among friends.  When out of refrigeration, Winnimere relaxes into a gooey ooze.  Even when eating with spoons, this cheese was messy.  Winnimere is fun to eat and has a flavor similar to another bark-banded cheese, Forsterkase.

winnimere-cheese-by-cheesechatter-february-2011Winnimere is a soft washed rind cheese, farmstead produced by Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont.  It is made from raw cow’s milk.  The cheese is produced in a flat disc format, banded with spruce bark, and washed with local beer.  Like Forsterkase, Winnimere’s spruce band gives the cheese structure, flavor and a distinctive aroma.  It is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill for 60 days before market.

Winnimere is a rustic beauty.  Its bark band gives this young cheese a weathered appearance.  The bark ring looks like damp old leather; it is flecked with white and blue-green surface molds.  Winnimere has a salmon pink rind that is thick, bumpy and pliable.  Its interior paste is pale, wet and soupy.

Winnimere has a pervasive perfume, but it is not offensive.  Its dominant scent is woodsy and reminiscent of freshly ground mulch or a cedar-lined chest.  The rind has a barnyard odor, while the cheese paste smells like smoked nuts.

Winnimere has strong flavors.  Its flavors are smoky, herbally, softly nutty, woodsy and sour.  It leaves a long smoky and woodsy aftertaste.  Winnimere’s texture is like thick glue; the cheese coats the tongue with a pasty cream.

We all liked Winnimere and had a lot of fun eating it.  Its flavor reminded us of Forsterkase, yet Winnimere’s texture has a soupier consistency.  Unlike Forsterkase, Winnimere is a cheese one ought to purchase whole, remove its top rind, and dip into with spoons.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Winnmere at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco); it is available January-June.  Winnimere should be purchased as a whole cheese; if purchasing half a cheese, get home quickly before it relaxes too much.

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.