Le Tastevin Wine Club - Notes on Cheeses – November 30, 2011

Tonight we are tasting two cheeses from the opposite of the flavor spectrum, both of which are recommended for Bordeaux-style wines. The cheeses are from The Plum Market on Orchard Lake Road, and the baguettes are from Whole Foods.

Barber's 1833 English Vintage Reserve Cheddar (cow's milk, aged two years) - a mature famhouse cheese from Britain's longest operating cheddar family which still makes cheese on the same farm, less than 15 miles from the village of Cheddar itself in Somerset. They continue to use traditional "cheddaring' techniques combined with a unique collection of traditional starter cultures, which their lab provide to most of the other famous cheddar makers in the area including Montgomery's, Keen's, Wescombe's, and Wyke Farms. Without this resource there would be no true cheddars from the West Country of England. Despite its artisanal nature, Barber's Cheese is made in a state-of-the-art factory allowing them to control many of the variables which can lead to infected cheese curds. Barber's 1833 Vintage is creamy with a distinct bite and smooth finish. It is sweet and creamy when you first taste it, but builds to a tangy yet subtle flavor that plesantly lingers on the palate. Barber's is made in large blocks, and is milder than its cloth-wrapped cousins we have recently tasted. Cloth wrapping, or bandaging, produces much stronger, more complex, cheeses and increases the cost substantially.

Beemster X.O. Double-Aged Gouda (pasteurized cow's milk, aged 3 years) - the most mature cheese in their line. The 550 farmers who contribute the cow's milk for Beemster cheese belong to a century-old Dutch cooperative in the province of North Holland. But the land they farm, a 200 square-mile area called the Beemster Polder, has been dairy country for four centuries. Prior to that, the land was under water. In the early 1600s, dikes and windmills were used to drain a lake and reclaim this land 20 feed below sea level. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Inside X.O., the paste is hard and the color of pumpkin, dotted with tiny white flecks that indicate the presence of protein crystals. These crunchy bits develop in many well-aged cheeses, and most people find them pleasant. On the tongue it is creamier than your might expect from a mature cheese. The flavor is concentrated, malty and mellow. "We experimented a moment of culinary divinity when we first sampled this double-aged X.O. Gouda. Previously we doubted that any cheese could be more flavorful than Beemster's 18 month Aged Gouda (Beemster Classic), but their X.O. indeed sets a new bar. With the 24-36 month Gouda, we first noticed its delicate brittle texture. After we tasted it, the flavor of butterscotch permeated the palate, followed by alternating waves of carmael, whiskey and pecan." Janet Fletcher, Chronicle Staff Write.

We are also providing an alternate cheese, last month's favorite:

Sartori Bella Vitano Merlot Reserve - an American parmesan-style cheese made in Wisconsin, but traces its heritage all the way to Asiago, Italy, from where its founder Paul Sartori emigrated. Sartori's cheeses have won over 100 awards, both domestic and foreign, for their uniqueness. Bella Vitano is an aged cheese (1 year) soaked in various liquids (this one in Merlot). Wine-soaked cheeses have been popular in Italy (Umbraico) and Spain (Drunken Cow) for many years. Aside from hints of berry and plum, derived from the Merlot, the flavor of Bella Vitano is closest to an aged, premium Parmesan, but more complex. While it has a parmesan flavor with much less salt, it is smooth on the palate with a creaminess and richness like a full-flavored cheddar, and salty-sweet crystals typically found in aged Gouda. "This is a smooth, creamy, rich, nutty salty-sweet caramely good cheese", which should pair well with the fruit in Merlot and Australian Shirah wines. I was personally surprised when I tasted in at Holiday Market since I am normally not a fan of soaked cheeses. But I found this one to be delicious!

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