Lesson One (of Six)
The following notes are from the first class of six I took at Artisanal Cheese Center in New York City. This cheese plate was the introduction to the class - showing the progression from soft and mild to strong cheeses. If you imagine that the plate is a clock - a cheese plate tasting always starts at 6 o'clock and proceeds clockwise. Our instructor for this class was Daphne Zephos. The italicized note under the cheese are paraphrased notes from the Artisanal Cheese Center and Daphne. The tasting notes are my personal notes enhanced by class discussions of each cheese. My favorites from this cheese plate were the Cabecou, Torta del Casar, and Roomano but I enjoyed all the cheeses on this plate.
#1 Cabecou Feuille, France, goat’s milk From the Perigord region, this little cheese is dipped in plum brandy, sprinkled with pepper and wrapped in two chestnut leaves.
This one came from Soreda.
The little goat’s cheese was wrapped chestnut leaves (the leaf is not edible) and topped with crushed peppercorns. The leaves are caught together with a wooden toothpick. This cheese is fresh with no rind and has a faintly beige tint to it. It smells of fresh chestnut leaves, butter and pepper. Smells slightly sweet. Cabecou Feuille has a creamy texture with a flinty characteristic. The pepper is intense on the finish. There seems to be green peppercorns (or more than one kind of black) used here as well. This smooth cheese dissolves on the palate completely. Leaves some saltiness and that balances any trace of bitterness.
#2 Chaource Bourguignon, France, cow’s milk Named after the small French town and made since the 14th century. It is a double crème. Made by Chantal Plasse.
Chaource Bourguignon runs at the rind and the rind is dogeared and detached – it should not look this way. It should not run so unevenly – shows the rind is older than the cheese – could mean heat damage or too much inoculation. The rind should not taste acrid and peppery (it does not – but it often does if the rind shows too much age) Chaource Bourguignon is creamy, tongue coating with a slightly granular texture and has a tang on the finish. Almost a slight bitterness and it’s slightly acidic. There is a lingering taste of mushrooms from the rind. I've recently bought this cheese as "Bourguignon" from Chantal Plasse with not mention of Chaource on the label.
#3 Tomme Crayeuse, France, cow’s milk Made in the Auvergne region. This cheese only just started coming into the US. (Also spelled: Tome Crayeuse)
Cellar aromas – wet stone. More elastic near the rind. When you touch it, it leaves butterfat on your fingers. Butter and milk on nose. Tomme Crayeuse has more acidity near the center. The flavor is creamy mild and buttery and smooth. It has depth and complexity. It’s saltier near the rind. The finish is like melted butter – buttery and smooth.
#4 Tomme de Savoie, France, Cow’s Milk A cousin of Tomme Crayeuse. An uncooked, unpressed cheese. When the cheese is very ripe it has a strong flavor.
The Tomme de Savoie we tasted was very ripe. Nose of wet bark and slightly acidic. Complex aromas suggest a strong character. First taste it is buttery with a slight bite of bitterness which means it’s very close to being too ripe. The complexity of taste includes a meaty nature with dark wet dirty elements as well as aged hay. The rind flavors permeate the cheese. Sometimes when Tomme de Savoie is made in the Spring it will have an oniony flavor from the mix of alliums the cows ingest in their pasture. The one we sampled was made in October.
#5 Serra da Estrela, Portugal, sheep’s milk Made in one of the coldest and highest Portuguese regions. It is made from raw sheep’s milk and is a DOP. It is traditionally cloth bound wrapped. The coagulant used is from the cardoon thistle – and it gives the cheese a great character. Traditionally it is cut open from the top and scooped out with bread but it can also be enjoyed aged. As it ages it will get harder not more runny. It is runny when young. It’s best when it is soft and young.
Serra da Estrela has a pungent, powerful, assertive nose – stable yard aromas. It has a hint of sweetness but also acrid notes. The ever-present animal. Creaminess like fresh cream or milk. Rich but not buttery with a slightly artichoke-like flavor on the finish.
#6 Torta Del Casar, Spain, sheep’s milk From the Extremadura region in west central Spain. The name comes from the “cake” shape which is similar to the a tortilla or omelette. The same cheese basically as Serra da Estrela but made on the Spanish side of the border. It too uses Cardoon thistle as a coagulant. Torta Del Casar has a cellar-y nose with a hint of sourness like rancid butter. The Paste melts in your mouth with lots of acidity and a hint of bitter greens or arugula underlying the flavor. There is also a dusty element to the taste. The paste leaves grease on your fingers. Some cellar flavors and a vegetal finish.
#7 Gouda, Netherlands, cow’s milk Look for 3-4 year old Gouda *rather* than a name because gouda sometimes is “fast-aged” by using additives. The crunchy element is not salt but rather protein crystals. Flavor is like caramel, butterscotch, hazelnuts toasted, or toasted almonds. It has a fudgier texture and is slightly buttery like grilled cheese or caramel. Try paired with coffee.
#8 Roomano, Netherlands, cow’s milk Made from skimmed cow’s milk. Brighter lighter nose and color than the aged gouda. Coffee flavors with a higher acidity and an almost tea-like finish make Roomano a cheese to seek out.
#9 Blue D’Auvergne, France, cow’s milk It is thought it is affected by the same molds as Roquefort, as Roquefort is just south of the Auvergne. The mold comes from sourdough bread. It is an AOC and this cheese was first made in the mid 19th century.
Sweet and grassy nose. Blue mold gives the cheese a green tint. Something sea-like in the cheese a salty briney flavor. Blue D'Auvergne ripens from the inside out so when there is more blue near the rind it is more ripe. This blue is mild with a prominent saltiness. A soft buttery texture like fresh butter or clotted cream. A nutty finish like toasted pecans.
#10 Stilton, Great Britian, cow’s milk This one is a Neal’s Yard selection made by Colston Bassett with traditional animal rennet.
It is buttery and animally. Ivory colored rather than white pate. It is sharper than the Blue D’Auvergne and has good acidity with salt at the end. This Stilton is best at room temperature cutting through this cheese should feel like cutting butter. It is best in the Fall.
#11 Blu del Moncenisio, Italy, cow’s milk Made in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.
Blu del Moncenisio has a nose of walnuts and praline. Denser texture almost like cooked creamed spinach – and reminds me of seaweed. Creamy and smooth.
Wine we tasted with this Plate:
2005 Ameztoi, Getariako Txakolina Still slightly effervescent (I was later told that in the region the wine is poured from a height to diffuse that effervescence.) Minerals and ripe banana on nose. Flinty lemony finish. Clean finish. Usually paired with seafood.