It’s that time of year again, where more than 700 cheesemakers, distributors, retailers, educators and cheese geeks like me, gather to talk shop, eat cheese, and find out what’s new in the cheese world. This year, we’re in North Carolina at “Cheese Rally in Raleigh”, the theme of the 29th annual American Cheese Society conference and competition.
Thursday is my favorite day of the conference, as mid-afternoon brings the Meet the Cheesemaker event, showcasing hundreds of cheeses from dozens of companies across North America. After asking this morning’s keynote speaker Temple Grandin, noted author and expert on humane livestock handling, what her favorite cheese was (answer: blue), I set out to find her at least two new blues, and in the process, discovered a slough of new cheeses I’ll be looking for from now on.
First up: two new Gorgonzolas from two Wisconsin companies. Hmmm … is it a bit ironic that I have to travel 950 miles to discover new Wisconsin cheeses? I may be losing my touch.
1. Glacier Gorgonzola Cheese, Carr Valley Cheese in Wisconsin. A few months ago, Carr Valley owner and Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook purchased the old blue cheese factory in Linden, Wis., and renamed it Glacier Point. He’s now making all his blues there, and for the first time, is crafting a cow’s milk Gorgonzola that is to die for. Traditional and well-balanced, this Gorg has just the right amount of salt content and blue veining. Creamy, yet crumbly, it’s got enough bite to make it interesting, but not enough to turn off a blue-veined virgin.
2. Crumbly Gorgonzola, BelGioioso Cheese in Wisconsin. A blend of cow and sheep’s milk, this cheese is crafted in 15-pound wheels. Aged 90 days, it carries a full, earthy flavor and buttery finish that probably comes from the sheep’s milk. You’ll likely find it in 8 oz retail wedges soon in your local store, as it was launched into the retail market just three weeks ago.
Next up: the washed-rind revolution. Remember when you couldn’t find a decent washed-rind cheese made in America? Those days are long gone. It seems every company is coming up with a new washed-rind cheese, and many of them are downright fabulous, including the following:
3. San Geronimo, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company in California. Biting into this two-month-old stinky washed rind cheese took me back to tasting St. Nectaire Fernier for the first time in the underground aging caves at Jean d’Alos Fromager-Affineur in Bordeaux, France. Creamy, mushroomy and supple, this new cheese from the Lafranchi Family in Marin County is a winner. Marketed as a cross between a Raclette and Fontina, this cheese is more on the order of a farmhouse French cheese. If you find it in a store, buy it all, hide it in your fridge, and don’t share.
4. Alpha Tolman, Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. Not yet on the market, this washed-rind beauty should hit retail shelves around Christmas. Currently at seven months old, this complex cheese is well on its way to becoming exceptional. Made in 20-pound wheels.
5. Wabash Erie Canal, Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese in Ohio. At 10 months old, this Alpine style, washed-rind cheese is on the order of a traditional Gruyere, and carries notes of a Pleasant Ridge Reserve with an adjunct culture. Brian Schaltter is in his fifth year of cheesemaking, and this year’s ACS conference is his first foray into the national cheese scene. If all his future cheeses are as good as this one, I suspect we’ll see a lot more of him.
6. Glacial Lakes, Saxon Creamery in Wisconsin. This company is going through a bit of transition, having just taken on a new investment partner. Glacial Lakes is the first of what I suspect may be a new line of future cheeses. At only 98 days old, this grass-based, raw-milk cheese cheese is creamy and buttery, with a clean dairy finish. With a little age, this cheese could be a rock star. Jerry Heimerl says he’s hoping to age a few wheels to 7 or 8 months old, which seems like an excellent idea to me.
Last but not least, more and more smaller goat dairies across the United States are handcrafting exceptional bloomy rind cheeses. These are the kinds of cheeses that don’t travel well, so if you find one in your local cheese case, by all means purchase it and enjoy it. My favorite of all these types of cheese is:
7. Three Sisters, Nettle Meadow Farm and Cheese Company in New York. This 50-acre dairy and cheesemaking company in the Southern Adirondacks milks 350 goats and 60 dairy sheep. Owners Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan craft this delicate bloomy rind cheese, made from a combination of sheep, goat and cow milks. One word: yumolicious.
Last but not least, I have to share this amazing marketing piece from the Cellars at Jasper Hill. Packaged like a matchbook, with trading cards inside depicting each individual cheese in its repertoire, this novel little gem is miniature and adorable. Created by Zoe Brickley, sales and marketing manager, the piece replaces brochures that easily become out of date, and if the company adds or drops a cheese, they simply add or subtract a cheese card from the matchbook. Zoe hopes more cheesemakers will adopt the marketing package — and already, Beehive Cheese Company has – to create a series of American cheese trading cards. Genius, sheer genius.
All photos by Uriah Carpenter.