Le Tastevin Wine Club - Notes on Cheeses – March 09, 2011

Tonight’s cheeses and baguettes are from the Whole Foods on Orchard Lake Road. In the past year I have found that Whole Foods offers the best prices on many hard-to-find cheeses. Tonight's cheeses are both raw, award-winning, artisanal farmhouse cheeses: one from Wisconsin and one from Holland. Both of these should go well with the Syrah-based Côte-Rôtie wines.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from the Uplands Cheese Company (Wisconsin) (raw cows milk, firm, smooth, aged 4-8 months) is a perennial Le Tastevin favorite that is consistently is an award winner both in the US and Europe. It was created in the mid-1990s by Mike and Carol Gingrich, who, after much research, settled on making a long-aged, raw-milk, unpasteurized cheese in the gruyere style of Beaufort and Comte, France's alpine specialities. To simulate the Frech style, they incorporated the rotational grazing of migrating herds as used in the Alps, utilizing over twenty separate pastures on their 300-acre farm. The owners believe that lush fresh grasses and wildflowers that comprise the cows' diet during pasture season produce more desirable flavors than produced on a hay diet. The ten-pound wheels are rubbed by hand with brine and sold at a variety of ages: 4-7 month ("new"), 8-12 months ("aged") or 12-18 ("extra-aged"). Pleasant Ridge has a thin, hard natural rind and a firm, smooth, yellow-gold interior. The more aged wheels available in winter may have a drier texture and more intensity. The cheese exhibits a hint of caramel and nuttiness when young, but approaches the hard, butterscotch intensity of a Dutch Roomano without the bitterness when aged for the full 18 months.

Boerenkaas Farmhouse Dutch Gouda (raw cow's milk, hard, aged 12-24 months) is the traditional farmstead cheese from smaller producers, which are unpasteurized and are aged at least one year. (Boerenkaas = farmer's cheese). Most Goudas are produced by larger, factory-like operations (think Uniekaas), but about 350 small farms still hand produce Gouda the traditional way. Farmhouse-made Gouda is not always available in the US. The wheels usually weight 25-40 pounds, and can be aged up to 5 years, but most wheels found in the US are aged 12-24 moths. Properly aged, it is hard, grainy, salty and tangy with a hint of butterscotch on the finish. If you like a firm, dense, crystalline and almost crumbly cheese with deep, mouthwatering flavors and lingering aftertaste, this is the one for you!

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