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).

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.

Ocooch Mountain is a big cheese.  It is pungent, rich, fruity and intensely nutty.  Ocooch Mountain is not subtle and is not recommended for beginners.  Yet for the willing and adventurous, Ocooch Mountain is memorable.

Ocooch Mountain is a raw sheep’s milk cheese, farmstead produced by Hidden Springs Creamery of Wisconsin.  It is a firm cheese and has a washed rind.  The cheese is produced in small, 2-pound rounds and is aged for 3-4 months before market.

ocooch-mountain-cheese-by-cheesechatter-january-2011Ocooch Mountain looks calm enough.  It has a natural, orange-brown rind that shows some surface scars.  Its dull blonde paste deepens to golden brown near the rind.  The interior paste is riddled with holes of varying sizes.  To the touch, the paste is smooth and greasy.  When left out of refrigeration, the rind’s surface becomes tacky.

Ocooch Mountain has a strong perfume.  On the rind, there are scents of  hot rubber, musty old books, decayed flowers, and sweaty socks.  The cheese paste smells like beeswax, daisies, cheese and berries.

Ocooch Mountain has rich flavor.  It is very fruity and intensely nutty.  There is an underlying smokiness that helps to provide balance.  Its natural rind also mellows the cheese’s intense nuttiness.  Its fruity rich flavors and nuttiness linger long in the mouth after eating.  Ocooch Mountain has a chewy texture.

Ocooch Mountain’s fruity rich flavor reminded us of  Serra da Estrela, the soft sheep’s milk cheese from the Portugese mountains. We all liked this cheese, but its nutty tanginess was too intense for one of my juvenile tasters.

Ocooch Mountain is a sensational cheese.  Its flavors are distinctive and memorable.  Although this cheese may not appeal to everyone, it would be fun to share it with adventurous family and friends.

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

Hudson Valley Camembert is a cheese that is easy to skip over: it is diminutive and lacks visual intrigue.  Had I not tasted this cheese at the cheese counter, I probably would have ignored it.  Yet, this mild-mannered cheese is an easy crowd-pleaser that offers good buttery flavor and texture.

Hudson Valley Camembert is produced by Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. of New York.  It is a bloomy rind camembert-style cheese made from a combination of sheep and cow’s milk.  Old Chatham produces its camembert in both round and square formats; our sample is from a square cheese.

hudson-valley-camembert-december-2010-by-cheesechatter

Hudson Valley Camembert cuts a low-profile on the plate.  The cheese’s unimposing format is very low and flat.  Its snowy white rind is gently pressed with vertical lines.  To the touch, the rind is velvety and damp.

Its interior paste is butter yellow and soft.  The paste feels smooth and greasy, similar to butter.

The rind has faint aromas of mushrooms and crayons.  The interior paste smells like crackers or baked bread.

Hudson Valley Camembert’s flavor is sweet and buttery, with a slight tangy kick that reaches the nose.  The rind adds a light mushroom flavor to the cheese.   Hudson Valley Camembert has a smooth texture that feels like butter.

Hudson Valley Camembert is a mild and pleasant cheese, with a modest kick.  This cheese is easy to eat and likely to be a crowd pleaser.  Its small format makes it a good candidate for outdoor eating; the whole cheese is compact and portable.   Although we all liked this cheese, it did not knock our socks off.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Hudson Valley Camembert at The Cheese Board (Berkeley, CA).  We purchased half of a whole cheese, but should have purchase the whole thing.  Our sample was just 2 0z., which we cut into 4 mini servings.

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.

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Serra da Estrela is not a meek cheese.  It announces itself with an intense aroma, follows with a flavor to match, and creates a lazy mess on one’s plate.  My son who loves washed rind stinkers picked this one out at the cheese shop and pronounced it delicious.

Serra da Estrela carries the name of the region in Portugal where it is produced.  This region is the highest area of Continental Portugal and is home to shepherds and their sheep.  Serra da Estrela is hand made at farmhouses from a 2,000-year-old recipe that uses raw sheep’s milk, cardoon thistle and salt.  The cheese is produced in a short cylindrical format.

Serra da Estrela has a smooth and greasy rind.  The rind is golden yellow with red-orange bruises.  The cheese’s interior paste looks like vanilla pudding.  To the touch, the paste is wet, sticky and clings to one’s fingers like glue.

Serra da Estrela has an intense aroma that is similar to a toddler’s feet: stinky, but sweet.

The cheese is sweet with a fruity flavor profile.  Serra da Estrela has some tangy and salty flavors, but these are over-shadowed by its sour fruitiness.  The cheese also has an underlying sweetness.  The cheese’s flavors are rich and intense and they linger in the mouth long after eating.  On the tongue, Serra da Estrela’s is thick, smooth and pasty.

Serra da Estrela is an intense, rich and flavorful cheese.  We all liked this cheese, but a little of this cheese goes a long way.

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Robiola Tre Latti is an easy-to-please cheese and offers a good introduction to the Robiola family of cheeses. Robiolas are often available pre-wrapped at specialty cheese shops and grocery stores, but I have hesitated from purchasing one.  I am glad we waited for Robiola Tre Latti.

Robiolas are produced in Northern Italy, yet the family includes a variety of soft cheeses: some are made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk or mixed milks (including sheep’s milk);  they are produced in different formats; some have washed rinds; and, some cheeses come to market trussed up in leaves.

Robiola Tre LattiOur Robiola Tre Latti comes from the Piedmont region of Italy.  It is made from a combination of cow, sheep and goat milks (tre latti = three milks).  It is produced in a thick disc format and has a natural rind.  Our sample is one-half of a whole cheese.

Robiola Tre Latti has a rustic appearance.  The rind looks like a thin layer of raw pie pastry: it is a buttery beige with patches of golden yellow.  The rind shows grooves and wrinkles from the cheese form used in the cheese’s production.   Robiola Tre Latti has a sticky, gooey layer of paste just beneath its rind.  The cheese’s core is damp and dense with a consistency similar to chevre.

Robiola Tre Latti has a county fair bouquet.  The rind has both animal and farm odors that are apparent when the cheese is held under the nose.  Ben also mentioned “school floors,” detecting a faint ammonia scent on the rind.    The paste has sweet scents similar to daises and beeswax.

Robiola Tre Latti’s flavors are varied.  We tasted sweet honey, sour milk, and tart fruit flavors.  The gooey layer beneath the rind has a creamy consistency similar to Camembert and tastes more sour and tangy than the more dense and tart core.  Its texture is soft and luscious in the mouth.

Robiola Tre Latti is very easy to enjoy.  We all liked this cheese and its combination of flavors and textures.  Robiola Tre Latti is a could substitute for dessert; it is sweet and luscious, but not overly rich. It’s a little decadent for a snack.

This cheese became a bit messy out of refrigeration and was difficult to unwrap and keep intact; I think our sample was also missing its bottom rind.  If the denser paste becomes more oozy as the cheese ripens, this cheese would become even more challenging to serve.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Robiola Tre Latti from Cheese Plus (San Francisco).  I do not know how ripe our sample was, but it was at an ideal point for us.