When it comes to holiday meals, I try to be kind to those I love and spare them the potential of food poisoning by bringing the cheese. It is just safer that way and also, to be honest, gets a ton of compliments and I feel like a total rock star for the first few hours as we await the main dishes being created in the kitchen. Then my brother-in-law’s three kinds of turkey (including a confit), my sister-in-law’s magic brusselsprouts, and my other sister-in-law’s yearly creation of awesome knock our socks off and the cheese stands alone. This year, I wasn’t taking any chances and decided to bring in the big guns and show I could hang with the best of them in our family version of Kitchen Stadium. Let’s just say, Game, Set, Match.
First up is Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company in Wisconsin. Known as America’s most-awarded cheese, winning Best in Show at three American Cheese Society competitions, this Gruyère/Beaufort style cheese appeals to every palate, from casual cheese eater to insatiable turophile. Made from the raw milk of specially bred bovines, grass-fed cows raised on their farm, cheesemaker Andy Hatch works his magic as no one else can throughout the summer months allowing the cheese to age in the caves on wood boards to develop the signature nutty, sweet, creamy flavor with hints of crystals in the buttery yellow paste as it ages. The natural rind has a bit of mushroom, earth, and grass flavor that really should not be missed. Depending on the weather and the ground cover, the flavor of Pleasant Ridge Reserve can vary in the depth of sweet, but it is always consistent in overall taste and quality.
Next up, a new creation Greensward. Two years ago, Murray’s and The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm collaborated together on this top-secret mission to create a new cheese to be served on the menu at Eleven Madison Park restaurant in New York City. Using the already incredible Harbison, a pasteurized, soft-ripened, bloomy rind, cow’s milk cheese wrapped in spruce with a sweet, earthy, fresh churned butter paste, the Murray’s cave masters brush the outside with a Virtue Cider based brine, turning it from white to a funky, aromatic orange. There is so much more to the process; a balancing of yeasts and adjusting microbe climates which is spelled out on the Murray’s website. The end result is something close as close to a Vacherin Mont d’Or I have ever tasted. This cheese made everyone have an audible reaction, in the best sense. Soft, sensual, luxurious texture and flavor really overload the brain and it can be hard to describe at first. The woodsy, butter flavors are still present from the Harbison, however when combined with the assertive acid in the cider, the tastes become more enhanced and just…wow!
Last, but certainly not least, we had Rogue River Blue. Probably one of my favorite blue cheeses and a staple as far as I’m concerned for a holiday cheese board. Made by Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon, Rogue River Blue is a seasonal, limited-quantity cheese is wrapped in grape leaves that have been macerated in pear brandy. Using the milk of Holstein and Brown Swiss cows, this pasteurized cheese is cave aged between 9-12 months, during which it develops it’s distinct linen-hued paste and random tôile-styled blue veins. The brandy soaks through the leaves, giving the cheese a hint of sweet, fruity flavors along with the mushroom and earth tastes. I especially love the crystals that develop during the aging process in this cheese which I don’t get from many other blues. Each bite builds the flavor yet it never becomes too intense or heavy. My sister-in-law particularly enjoyed Rogue River Blue with prosciutto and a Bartlett pear.
Everyone loved all the cheeses and I did feel like a rock star, even if I technically had very little to do with the actual making of the cheeses. Now all I have to do is try to outdo myself for Christmas…ugh!
So, the Festivus Cheese Book Giveaway!
Over the holiday I saw some beautiful cheese boards posted on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media. Nicely done, cheese peeps. I know there are other holiday parties and gatherings you all will be invited to before you celebrate Hanukkah (or Chanukah) or Christmas and I hope you will bring a cheese board to one. The contest is this: Post a photo of your holiday cheeseboard served at a party anytime from now until December 15th. Be sure to let us know what cheeses are on the board. One winner will be chosen at random and will receive a copy of Max McCalman’s Mastering Cheese just in time for the holidays. Photos can be posted here or on The House Mouse Facebook Page. Best of luck and Stay Cheesy!