American cheesemakers are finally beginning to rival the great
stinky cheeses of Europe.
More American cheesemakers than ever before are perfecting the art of crafting stinky cheese. Once a category limited to just smell-my-feet Limburger and German-style smear-ripened Brick, American stinkies are arcing into the realm of the greats: Taleggio, Reblochon, Alsatian Munster. This category of cheese, similar to strong coffee, hoppy beer or aged Scotch, can be an acquired taste. But once you get a taste for this kind of cheese, you’ll drive miles to find a good one.
Here are five of my American favorites:
1. Good Thunder, Alemar Cheese, Mankato, Minnesota. This miniature square of stinky comes from southern Minnesota, which much like my hometown in southwestern Wisconsin, is more famous for its potluck hot dish and rhubarb recipes than French-inspired, smear-ripened mountain cheese. But cheesemaker Craig Hageman hits nothing but net with Good Thunder. Bathed in Minnesota’s own Surly Brewing Bender beer (an American Oatmeal Brown Ale), the cheese sports a pumpkin-hued rind with a velvety, buttery, savory paste with just-right notes of meaty and mushroom.
2. St. Jenifer, Creme de la Coulee Artisan Cheese, Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve got to give Cheesemaker Bill Anderson credit: the dude is aspiring to make the kinds of cheese most Wisconsin cheesemakers walk away from in favor of a safe, orange cheddar. St. Jenifer is named for Jenifer Brozak, affineur at Bear Valley Affinage, a custom cheese aging facility turning out some of the state’s best cheeses. A young, gypsy cheesemaker with no facility of his own, Bill makes his cheeses at Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin. My favorite wheels of St. Jenifer are on the younger side, with a slightly firmer paste and less bitter finish.
3. Kinsman Ridge, made by Landaff Creamery and matured by Cellars at Jasper Hill, Vermont. Helder dos Santos at CE Zuercher & Company, a distributor out of Chicago, first sent me a sample of this cheese about a year ago. Inspired by French tommes, such as St. Nectaire, Kinsman Ridge is as close you’re going to get to a raw-milk French mountain cheese without going to France. Aged three to five months, this stinky beauty is a bit firmer than most others on this list, but the taste is consistently stellar. If you can find this cheese in the Midwest, snatch up every last piece, throw a party, and share the gospel of good cheese with your best friends.
4. Ameribella, Jacobs & Brichford, Connersville, Indiana. This is the kind of semi-soft, washed rind stinky you can smell three feet away. Oh yeah, baby. Inspired by the cheeses of northern Italy, its salty, savory flavor is perfectly matched with a smooth, stretchy texture that resembles Rush Creek Reserve in rectangular form. It just won a 2015 Good Food Award, and with good reason. One of the newest stinkies on the American market, it’s just beginning to achieve national distribution.
5. Hooligan, Cato Corner Farm, Colchester Connecticut. An oldie but a goodie – this one’s been around since 2006, but it’s hard to find in the Midwest because many of our white bread cousins are still cutting their teeth on food with flavor. I first tasted this cheese several years ago at the American Cheese Society’s annual Festival of Cheese, and essentially stood guard next to its table and ate half the platter over the course of an evening. (Don’t ask how that turned out). It’s been selected by both Saveur magazine and Slow Food USA as one of the top American cheeses made today. Another raw-milk cheese, Hooligan is aged more than 60 days to achieve that tell-tale pumpkin orange washed-rind outside color and inside buttery, creamy, savory flavor. It’s pretty much perfection on a plate.