March 26, 2011
Pata Cabra is a quirky goat cheese. It has an intriguing flavor that we were challenged to describe, but had us thinking about meadow flowers. While Pata Cabra appealed to some of our tasters, its flavor and texture gave others pause.
Pata Cabra (also called Queso Patacabra) is a semi-soft cheese from the Aragon region of Spain. It is a washed rind cheese made with pasteurized goat’s milk. It is produced in a large brick format and aged for about 3 weeks before market.
The whole cheese resembles a loaf of rustic bread (our sample is a cross-wise slice of the loaf). Pata Cabra’s natural rind gives a golden crust-like skin to the cheese. The interior paste is milky white and has flat oval holes. To the touch, the cheese paste is greasy and springy.
Although this cheese is described elsewhere as pungent, our sample was aromatically tame (perhaps our cheese was young). Pata Cabra’s paste smells like melted butter and baked cheese crackers. The rind smells like cooked broccoli.
Pata Cabra has an interesting flavor. It has a light sour flavor and some tanginess that is similar to American sour cream, but neither flavor lingers. Pata Cabra’s more dominant flavor is buttery, sweet and floral. On the tongue, the cheese is thick and chewy.
Pata Cabra received mixed reviews. Our juvenile tasters both liked Pata Cabra, as it combined their love of semi-soft cheeses with a washed rind. Our adults tasters were less impressed with its “rubbery texture” and “cooked” flavor. Pata Cabra’s flavor is intriguing, yet it may not have universal appeal.
Purchase Notes: We purchased Pata Cabra from Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco). Our slice was about .25-pounds.
February 3, 2011
Chimay is an obnoxious cheese. It is pungent and robust with a pasty thick texture that coats the tongue. There is nothing subtle or nuanced about Chimay. Our tasters are generally forgiving, but Chimay found no fans at our table.
Chimay is a semi-soft, beer-washed cheese made in Belgium at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont. It is considered a classic example of a monastic washed rind cheese. The monastery produces both beer and cheese under the Chimay name. Once produced, the cheese is regularly washed with Chimay beer. The cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and produced in a wide, flat disk format.
The cheese rind smells a bit like a brewery: its aroma is yeasty and smells of damp hops. The rind also has a distinct ammonia scent. The interior paste smells of baked crackers and toasted grain.
Chimay’s flavor is robust and lingers long after eating. It has a brief sweet start, but this flavor is quickly overwhelmed by a smoky sourness. The sour flavor is grapefruit-like and bitter; it is quite intense and lingers long in the mouth. Chimay has a rich and thick texture that coats the tongue like peanut butter.
Chimay earned no fans during our tasting. My kids rejected the cheese as too bitter and sour. One likened Chimay to a swallow of chlorine. The grapefruit-like bitterness is intense and I achieved balance only by eating a super sweet pear.
The flavors of Chimay are more likely to appeal to adults than kids, yet even for adults, the bitter flavors of this cheese require off-plate management.
Purchase Notes: We purchased Chimay at The Cheese Board (Berkeley, CA).
January 18, 2011
Mont St. Francis is another fantastic cheese from Capriole Farmstead Goat Cheese of Indiana. It is different from Capriole’s chevre-style goat cheeses (e.g., O’Banon, Sofia, Wabash Cannonball), but is no less appealing. Mont St. Francis is a cheese for those who appreciate full flavors and rich texures.
Our sample of Mont St. Francis barely gives hint to its washed rind surface. Photos of Mont St. Francis often show this cheese with a mottled orange rind, but our sample’s rind is completely covered with white surface molds. The powdery molds leave a fine dust on fingers and plates. The milk-white cheese paste is shiny and uniform like pudding. The cheese is smooth and springy to the touch.
Mont St. Francis is a pungent cheese, but not offensive unless held directly under the nose. The paste smells like baby spit-up and sea water. The rind has a musty cellar aroma.
Mont St. Francis is strongly flavored and has rich mouth feel. Its flavors are nutty, sour and very tangy. It has a pervasive mineral flavor that is like water with a heavy mineral content. The cheese finishes sharply and leaves a citrus-like sourness long in the mouth. Mont St. Francis’s texture is smooth, rich and pasty.
We all liked this cheese, yet a little goes a long way. Among our tasters, Mont St. Francis had greater appeal with those who appreciate strongly-flavored washed rind cheeses.
Mont St. Francis is a cheese that invites lingering and sharing, but choose guests carefully. Although my kids enjoyed this cheese, I’d be reluctant to serve it to juveniles unless they’ve been exposed to washed rind cheeses.
Mont St. Francis is well-behaved out of refrigeration and easy to slice with a butter knife. It would be a great addition to a party plate.
Purchase Notes: We purchased Mont St. Francis from Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).
January 10, 2011
St. Nectaire is an honest cheese. Its flavors and aroma feel like a direct expression of the earth. Although St. Nectaire tastes like something fresh from the vegetable bin, my vegetable-averse son loved this cheese.
St. Nectaire is a semi-soft cheese from the Auvergne region of central France. It has been produced since the 1600’s and was christened “Saint Nectaire” by King Louis XIV. Today, the cheese is made by several producers, with some using pasteurized and some using raw cow’s milk (our sample was made with raw milk). St. Nectaire has a natural, mold-ripened rind and is aged for 3-4 months before market.
St. Nectaire is a rustic, tomme-style cheese. The bumpy rind is covered with fuzzy grey, green and white surface molds. Its blonde interior has small intermittant holes. To the touch, St. Nectaire’s rind is rough and dry, while its interior paste is squishy and pliable.
St. Nectaire is an aromatic cheese: it smells fresh, green and earthy. We detected scents of minerals, grass, soil, mushrooms and green beans.
St. Nectaire’s flavors are sour, tangy, mildly bitter and sweet. Initially, St. Nectaire has a sour milk flavor, but it becomes nutty. It finishes with a green bean flavor that is both sweet and bitter. St. Nectaire lingers in the mouth with a green vegetable after-taste. The cheese has a smooth and pasty texture. The natural rind is edible, but gritty; it adds a strong mushroom flavor to the cheese.
St. Nectaire’s strong earthy and grassy flavors are not likely to appeal to everyone. Its vegetable-like bitterness may turn-off younger eaters, but our juvenile tasters both liked St. Nectaire. This cheese keeps well out of refrigeration and would be great for a picnic or casual meal.
Purchase Notes: We purchased St. Nectaire from Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).
January 8, 2011
Mountaineer is a cheese that says “autumn” with its cold weather flavors of toasted nuts, berries and Asian pears. It makes for a good snacking cheese and with a name like Mountaineer, it begs to be taken on a hike.
Mountaineer is a semi-soft-to-firm cheese produced by Meadow Creek Dairy of Virginia (which also make Grayson and Appalachian). It is made with raw cow’s milk and has a washed rind. It is aged for 6 months before market.
The interior cheese paste is a deep, golden yellow. Mountaineer has some small holes and fissures, but is otherwise smooth and solid.
For a washed rind cheese, Mountaineer is surprisingly sweet smelling. The rind and paste have an inviting aroma of toasted nuts.
Mountaineer has a lot of flavor, but the cheese comes across as relatively mild. Mountaineer’s flavors are fruity, tangy and nutty. Sweetness is added by a subtle blueberry flavor and a butterscotch flavor similar to a ripe Honsui Asian pear. Mountaineer ends tangy and firmly nutty, with the nuttiness lingering in the mouth after eating. It has a smooth and chewy texture.
None of our tasters was bowled over by Mountaineer but we all liked it and thought it a tasty cheese. It would not be my first choice for a snacking cheese, but I would consider it for a casual meal or day hike.
Purchase Notes: We purchased Mountaineer at Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco). Mountaineer is produced seasonally by Meadow Creek Dairy; they report availability November-July.
December 10, 2010
Gabietou generated a lot of passion at our table, but not all of it was positive. Gabietou is not for the wishy-washy: one either likes it or one does not. We are usually pretty forgiving about cheese, but Gabietou was divisive.
Gabietou comes from Pau in the Pyrenees region of France. It is a semi-soft cheese made with a blend of raw cow and sheep milks. The cheese is aged for 3-5 months, during which time the rind is washed with a water and salt brine. Gabietou has slightly different maturation processes, depending on its affineur (Gabietou may also carry the names of affineurs Herve Mons or Jean d’Alos).
Gabietou has a light orange-tan rind that is smooth and tacky. The rind has flecks of gray and white surface molds. The interior paste is pale yellow and populated with small flat holes. To the touch, the paste is smooth and springy.
Gabietou has an offensive odor that is detectable when it is held close to the nose. The rind’s perfume calls to mind cigar smoke, week-old socks and our dog’s breath after she has munched another animal’s feces. The paste smells like daises.
Gabietou has robust flavor that is balanced by an underlying sour fruitiness. Gabietou has smokey, sour and sweet peanut flavors. The sweet nutty flavor intensifies in the paste nearer the rind. After eating, a nutty sourness lingers on the tongue. Gabietou’s texture is rich and thick in the mouth.
November 24, 2010
Constant Bliss is a dream cheese: it is rich, buttery, and smells of the earth. Constant Bliss also has a visually intriguing interior and behaves well out of refrigeration. At our table, Constant Bliss appealed to kids and adults alike. What more could we ask for of a cheese?
Constant Bliss is a semi-soft cheese produced by Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and has a mold-ripened rind. The cheese is matured in cellars at Jasper Hill Farm.
This cheese’s name created quite a chuckle at our table. Living in San Francisco, “alternative relief” (a.k.a. medicinal marijuana) shops are more common than cheese shops; my husband commented that Constant Bliss sounded more like a relief product than a cheese. However, the cheese is named after the Vermont settler, Constant Bliss, who was killed by American natives during the Revolutionary War.
The cheese is a small stacked cylinder with a white bloomy rind. Constant Bliss’s rind feels dry and felty. The rind smells like a mushroom farm, with distinct aromas of mushrooms and damp earth. Constant Bliss has a translucent band of paste beneath the rind’s surface, and a denser, cake-like paste at the core.
Constant Bliss’s flavor is rich, sweet and buttery. The cheese has a milky tanginess and a pleasant buttery flavor. At the finish, there is a sweet Oro Blanco grapefruit flavor.