To kick off the new year with some cheese, M. Cheesemonger and I held a little tasting at our place. We featured lots of Parmigiano Reggiano, courtesy of the Parmigiano Reggiano Academy, an initiative to share the nuances of different ages of P-R, and to share some recipes. We had samples of Parm aged 14-18 months, 24 months, and 36 months. The 14 month parm was the mildest, sweetest, milkiest of the three, while the 24 months was a little more assertive and crunchy (thanks to protein crystals that develop in the aging process). The 36 months really surprised everyone. They didn’t expect cheese to taste so much like meat broth. The umami notes were just incredible. We all went through the motions of smelling the cheeses, examining color differences, and trying to find accurate descriptors as we tasted. It was fun and educational!
And that was just the first course!
Our second course cheese plate consisted of Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche, Spenwood from Neal’s Yard Dairy, La Tur from Italy, Tomme des Reussilles from Switzerland in all its washed rind glory, and Shropshire Blue from the UK. The new ones for me were the Spenwood and Tomme de Reussilles. The Bonne Bouche was excellent—a little on the young side, so not so creamy, but reminiscent of the Loire Valley chèvres I love so much. Everyone loved La Tur with its ice cream texture and triple milk complexity. That disappeared about as fast as a cupcake discovered a 5 year old. Shropshire Blue shone like an orange and blue king on the platter, and surprised people with its strong stony flavor.
Spenwood was a great, happy discovery. Made of ewe’s milk in Berkshire county, England, I pretty much fell in love with it right away. It was the thin, slightly mottled natural rind that got me first. Then it was the mostly smooth, but not too smooth, pale yellow paste. I inhaled that milky, fruity, kind of musty (from the rind) perfume, and took a bite to find a surprisingly combination of fruity, creamy, and nutty. I use these terms to describe Gruyère or some other French alpine cheese a lot, but this was different, not just because we’re talking ewe’s milk. There was another element like an overwhelming earthiness that I suspect might be due to terroir, different land, different weather and bacteria, different environment from what I’m used to.
The Tomme des Reussilles was another stellar discovery. With its dense, thick paste and slightly crisp rind, it makes for a happy snack. The characteristic washed-rind smell can be a little off-putting for some, but get past that, and you will be rewarded with a gorgeous taste experience—full, unctuous, full of umami, but also hints of grass and cream. I secretly delighted in the fact that some of my guests were turned off by the smell alone—more for Miss Cheesemonger!!
To accompany everything, we had some jams (rose petal and pepper), honey, crusty French bread, and these funky dehydrated fruit crisps from a company called Simple & Crisp. I got the pear, apple, and orange crisps, and everyone really loved the pears and apples. The orange, because of the stronger tasting rind, was a little harder to pair. But the apples and pears went really well with everything. I loved them with the Spenwood and La Tur!!
Dessert was a special treat of lemon tarts from Tartine Bakery. Yup.
This dinner party was a particularly silent one. Everyone was so busy eating and enjoying the food! Good sign?