"Try everything!" my fellow cheesemongers told me. "That way when people ask, you'll know."
The best way to learn about cheese is to eat it. In fact, it's the only way.
So after two weeks behind the cheese counter at my new job at a great NYC grocery store, I have a severe case of cheese belly.
Every time we start slicing a big wheel of cave aged Gruyere or a block of Grafton Village 4-Year Cheddar, a sliver makes its way to my mouth. I am especially curious to try what was new to me.
Hello Torta Mascarpone, layers of of Gorgonzola and milky Mascarpone in one creamy revelation. Look at all these cute "petit" cheeses from the Pyrenees! Why the mysterious addictive qualities of butterscotchy aged Gouda? What is pot cheese and farmer cheese, and why do so many old ladies love it?
I've gotten up close and personal with a dizzying cornucopia of cheese, been let loose in a top notch cheese playground. These are some of the ones I really love. You know, the ones I'm "tasting" even though I know full well what they taste like. I thought you might enjoy one or two of them too.
To Please A Crowd
I wondered why we sell such insane quantities of Midnight Moon from Cypress Grove in California. This stuff flies off the shelves. People ask for it constantly. At first bite, I didn't get what was the big deal. It was a nice, smooth, aged goat's milk cheese. The flavor was pleasant—clean and buttery and sweet. But it didn't knock my socks off
The thing about Midnight Moon is that everyone likes it. Cheese experts and newbies alike. It's a good pick for children, too. It's a happy cheese. Not challenging or funky, just likable and nonthreatening. It's the feel-good Blockbuster of the cheese department.
Not Just for Bagels
I've never thought of myself as a cream cheese lover. I've mostly relegated it as a vehicle for smoked salmon or a foundation for cheesecake. Until I got assigned the task of scooping a big bucket of Ben's Cream Cheese into little containers to sell. My coworkers kept approaching me with little spoons, squirreling bites and more bites of Ben's.
It smelled really good (who knew cream cheese could smell really good?), so I snagged a spoonful myself.
Wow. This is what cream cheese should be. It's free of gums and preservatives, and it tastes really pure, dense, and smooth. A punch in the face of cream cheese flavor.
Best Cheese with Bells and Whistles
Though many chefs and food-lovers in my life look down on truffle oil, truffle salt, truffle everything, I think an exception might be made for Moliterno with Black Truffles. Start with a salty, spicy aged sheeps' milk cheese from Sardinia. The truffles are infused into the cheese after it has some time to mature, so you get a really deep Pecorino-y flavors, and the earthy, satisfying truffle finish. Shave this over your scrambled eggs or gnocchi and make a simple dish special.
Best Tangy Find
I love the unique-ness of this cheese. Before I tasted it, I never encountered these flavors.
Serra de Estrela comes from way high up in the mountains of Portugal. The sheeps' milk gets coagulated with rennet from cardoon thistle, rather than the more common animal intestine, in a very traditional Portuguese style. It creates a savory, lingering flavor, totally multi-dimensional. It's not stinky, yet stinky cheese lovers seem to love it. It's definitely strong, and gets gooey with age, and makes for happiness when smeared liberally atop a baguette.
Parmigiano Reggiano might be the king of cheeses, but why not switch it up sometimes? I'm partial to Podda Classico, another cheese hailing from Sardinia. It's aged for a year, and develops the crystalline crunch of Parmesan. But there's also something hazelnutty and brown buttery on the finish. It's good for cooking and snacking both.
If you love Manchego, give Roncal a try. Roncal is the grandaddy of Manchego, another Spanish sheeps' milk wonder. You can almost taste the grass from the Roncal Valley that the sheeps have been grazing on, and the flavor is a little gamy and musty.
For Époisses Addicts
You should meet Le Petit Fiance des Pyrenees. It's one of the few soft raw milk cheeses available, and the crazy depth of flavor gives that away. Its a stinker and an oozer.
As a blue lover myself, I'm digging St Agur from Auvergne. It's a good blue enriched with cream. For blue with more of a blue bang, try Valdeon from Spain. It's prettily wrapped in sycamore leaves, and does well by any salad.
Everyone should have some great cheese in their lives. I'm a believer. What cheeses are you loving these days? What cheese discovery has brought you joy?