Wensleydale Creamery, Hawes, Yorkshire, England
Usually just referred to as “Wensleydale,” true Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese is made only within the Yorkshire Dales—a splendidly beautiful region (and National Park) in West Yorkshire, just east of the Lake District. The Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes produces approximately 4000 tons of cheese annually, is a major tourism destination, and consider themselves custodians of a thousand-year tradition. (The cheese was originally made by Cistercian monks around 1100; the creamery is very pleased for the cheese to enter its second millennium with European Union geographic protection!) While probably better known as Wallace and Grommit’s favourite cheese, in my family it is ‘our’ cheese—for although my father is from North Yorkshire, one of his cousins used to be a cheesemaker at the Wensleydale Creamery, and it is a necessary cheese for certain holidays, especially Christmas. One year (long before I had a cheese stall) he ended up buying a whole wheel for Christmas … it was substantially larger than our Christmas cake, but didn’t much last longer.
Yorkshire Wensleydale is tangy, crumbly, yet moist cheese. If chalk (famously different from cheese) were delicious, it might be something like Wensleydale. In my family we eat with Christmas cake or other slightly sweet baked goods—scones with raisins, any fruit cake, Welsh bara brith, Eccles cake, or to be seasonal about it, Hot Cross Buns would all be splendid, as indeed something like apple pie or crumble. Naturally, it also goes very well on a cheese plate with dried fruit (dates, dried apricots, dried cherries). Try it with a New World Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc to match the tanginess.
Vacherin Fribourgeois AOC Extra
Bulle and Fribourg, Switzerland
Vacherin Fribourgeois is named for the town and canton of Fribourg in west-central Switzerland, and also for the Fribourgeois breed of cattle whose milk is used to make the cheese. It’s a rare cheese, made by a small number of artisanal cheesemakers according to traditional recipes in order to make the best use of the excellent milk.
The paste of the cheese is straw-coloured with an open and buttery texture, its flavour nutty underpinned with notes of grass and hay. The inedible washed rind is more pungent, but don’t let that put you off. Vacherin ‘Extra’ been aged in cloth for a minimum of 12 weeks, so it’s had some time to develop its flavours and aromas.
Like many Alpine cheeses, Vacherin Fribourgeois is a good melting cheese as well as good as a table cheese. It is a traditional component of a half and half fondue—half Gruyere and half Vacherin Fribourgois. (I’ll try to bring in more closer to Christmas so we can try it!).
Try it with a full-bodied red wine from Burgundy, Bordeaux, or the Rhône.
Blue Harbour Cheese, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Lyndell Findlay, the founder of Blue Harbour Cheese and the maker of Urban Blue, makes her cheese in a small facility in the North End of the city of Halifax. Small-scale cheese making is something one associates with rural properties with a handful of goats (such as is indeed the case with Oldfields Dairy here on the Island), but a wonderful licensed facility can be made in the basement of an old building well within city limits. I visited Blue Harbour Cheese last week and discovered both a wonderful, creamy blue and learned all sorts of things about making cheese in an urban location—such as the difficulties with getting a tanker in to deliver milk, and how Ms. Findlay has teamed up with a local farmer so that her whey (left over from the cheesemaking process) goes to enrich the land rather than into the municipal sewer system.
There’s a small card with some further information about Urban Blue, so I will let the cheesemaker tell us about her cheese herself. I find it a delicious mild blue (note that it is in the style of Gorgonzola dolce [‘sweet’], not the fierce kind!), and accordingly very flexible for cooking. A Halifax restaurant is even using it for a blue cheesecake! Urban Blue has an edible rind which adds a definite dryer texture to a bite containing it. Ms. Findlay suggests pairing it with late harvest wines; you could try it with a minerally white or perhaps with the port left over from trying the Drunken Sailor, or indeed with a craft cider.
Tomme le Champ Doré
(Sainte-Marie-de-Kent, New Brunswick)
Tomme is the name given to a type of cheese originally made in the French and Swiss Alps, often using the skimmed milk left after butter making (in this case it has a milk fat of 24%). They are small to medium sized round cheeses (when compared with the giants of Alpine cheesemaking, intended to get inhabitants through hard and long winters). Tommes are usually given place-of-origin names, in this case “the golden field” is the one where Monique Roussel’s herd of Jersey cows graze, near Sainte-Marie-de-Kent!
The Tomme le Champ Doré is made of raw cow’s milk. It has a rich, smooth paste, with a moderately acidic bite to it and a lingering, slightly bitter finish, along with notes of caramelization. The rind can be sticky and the bloom full of mixed moulds, including some blues, which add to the complexity of the flavour.
Try it with a full red wine, such as a Burgundy.
Val Taleggio and area, Bergamo, north-central Italy
Named after a once-remote valley famous for its caves in the central part of northern Italy, Taleggio is (unusually for a mountain cheese) a soft brine-washed cow’s milk cheese. It used to be called Stracchino, after a local word for ‘stretched’—supposedly this refers to how tired the cows were coming down from the high mountain pastures to the plains where the cheeses were originally made. Under the name Stracchino (or Stracchino quadro—‘square Stracchino’) records go back to the 1200s, with strong evidence a similar cheese had been made locally since the 9th century and possibly all the way back to Roman times.
Taleggio is, unusually, made in a square mould, usually around 8-10 inches across and 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches high. Its straw-coloured paste (interior) is soft, creamiest towards the centre, with small holes—eyelets or ochiatura. The rind is rose-pink to orange, sticky, and sometimes develops grey and white moulds on its surface as it ages. Traditionally aged in the caves of the Val Taleggio and Val Sessino, the cheeses are washed with salt and water or brine as they mature to develop this rind. The rind is edible (including the grey-white moulds) and generally considered to add to the complexity of flavours of the cheese, though of course that is up to you and people often clean it gently with a damp cloth. The cheese has a pungent smell, a meltingly creamy texture, and a slightly fruity, buttery flavour that makes it particularly delicious simply spread on good bread. It also melts superbly.
Try it with a northern Italian red wine such as Lambrusco, or a lighter red such as Pinot Noir. For a white, try Gewürtztraminer or even a sparkling wine.
Squeak-ies Cheese Curds
Artisan Cheesehouse, Mont Carmel, PEI
Mathieu Gallant began making squeaky cheese curds this past summer. Traditionally left on the counter at room temperature, the curds are best brought up to room temperature after chilling for maximum squeakiness. They’re made with a cheddar base, and are considered a fresh cheese—although they are generally very tasty for a month, they can be eaten immediately after being made.
Cheese curds are famously used for poutine, of course, and are also excellent eaten out of hand as a snack. I’ve included a recipe for Kaffeost, a recipe from northern Sweden that traditionally uses curds from whatever milk is available—cow, goat, sheep, or, of course, reindeer! My father was travelling there recently and was offered the dish, and naturally brought back the recipe for me to share with my cheese club members.
Coombe Castle, England
Saxon Shires is a layered cheese bringing together five famous English cheeses (themselves named after four shires and a gorge): a white Cheddar (Somerset), Red Leicester (Leicestershire), Derby (Derbyshire), Double Gloucester (pale orange, Gloucestershire), and Lancashire (also white). While each of the individual cheeses can be tasted, overall it has the flavour and texture of a sharp cheddar. It is not primarily a cooking cheese, though one could use it in place of a cheddar in a recipe such as cauliflower cheese or pasta. It does look magnificent on a cheese plate. Try it with an English ale or a medium-bodied red wine.