Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The variety is staggering, while the mission is simple: Pick up some cheese at the market.
Sure, there’s your good ol’ cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella and colby jack. But what if you want to branch out?
These days it’s easier than ever to find cheeses from around the world fitting every description and taste: Waxed, unwaxed, wedges, rounds, slices, shreds, logs, soft, hard, semi-soft, semi-hard, mild, sharp, creamy, dry, aged and young.
How to find the perfect cheese for you? Local cheese experts weigh in.
Narrow down your preferences: Head to the specialty cheese section at The Community Mercantile, 901 S. Iowa, and cheese monger Eric Thiessen will run through your likes and dislikes.
“I just ask them what kind of cheese they like texture-wise, whether it’s hard, soft, medium, mild, sharp — basically whatever their preference is on other cheeses and I’ll kind of try to link them together with what they’re familiar with,” Thiessen says. “I just basically ask people what they are looking for, and a lot of the time, they don’t really know what they’re looking for. ... They just want to find something new.”
Talk about where you’ve been: After figuring out a customer’s likes and dislikes, Lora Wiley, owner of Au Marche, 931 Mass., always asks where the person has been. Sometimes, the mere mention of a country or city will conjure up a cheesy experience.
“We’ll often ask people if they have any sentimental attachments to a cheese they had when they were traveling abroad, that kind of thing,” Wiley says. “And that’s kind of fun because then we might get someone to think about, ‘Oh, that’s right, when we were traveling in Italy we had such and such.’”
Wiley, who lived in France for a time, has a special understanding of that sort of sentimental attachment. To celebrate her store’s recent anniversary, she ordered a cheese from the region in France where she lived.
“It has a really cool name, it’s edel de Cleron,” she says. “It’s this really soft, brie-like cheese, but even runnier (and) more buttery tasting, and it’s wrapped in birch bark. I like it for sentimental reasons. Like I was saying, I think some people buy certain products for sentimental reasons. That’s definitely true for me with this particular cheese.”
Taste it: If possible, ask the cheese monger if you can try a little bit of the cheeses you are considering. Gary White, cheese steward at Dillons, 4701 W. Sixth St., says that sometimes what you’re expecting is not always what you’re going to get. He says that one of his favorite cheeses in the Dillons lineup at its new bistro-style store, which opened earlier this year, was a big surprise.
“I like this Morbier-type cheese. It’s got kind of an earthy, sort of more of an aftertaste to it, but I really like it,” White says. “I only cut this and tasted it a couple of months ago, and it was just a shocker, it was so good.”
He also says this is important if you’re going on looks alone. That Morbier cheese he mentioned? Though it has a dark line running through it, it doesn’t meet taste expectations of other blue-veined cheese.
“I expected it to be much blander,” he says. “And the story on this, people often think this is a blue cheese because it’s got this line running through it, and that’s not true. It’s vegetable ash.”
Mix it up: Been through the questions-and-answer portion of your cheese shopping and even tried a few and still deciding between a few different kinds? Logan Oleen, deli worker at Hy-Vee, 3504 W. Clinton Parkway, suggests doubling up for a special occasion. Just buy a little bit of different types, especially if you’re considering the more expensive cheeses that can run $20 per pound or more.
“I’ve had a few people come and say, ‘I’m having a party, what do you suggest?’ I suggest they do a mixture of two different things,” Oleen says. “It kind of adds some fanciness to it.”
That way, he says, it gives you a chance to not only create a party-worthy selection, but also to both branch out and pick a cheese closer to your comfort zone, especially when you’re staring down a pricey but tasty-looking cheese.
“I don’t think people are hesitant because they don’t think they’ll like it,” Oleen says. “I think it’s mostly the price, I think that’s the main factor.”
MORE CHEESES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
• Bleu d’Auvergne — Milk: cow. Texture: hard. Country: France. Notes: Creamy and mild blue cheese.
• Diazabal — Milk: sheep. Texture: semi-firm. Country: Spain. Notes: Made in Spain’s Basque region, it is nutty and buttery and often paired with quince.
• Edel de Cleron — Milk: cow. Texture: soft, runny. Countries: France, Switzerland. Notes: Both the French and the Swiss are credited with creating this type of cheese, as it was created near the border of the two countries.
• Fol Epi — Milk: cow. Texture: semi-hard. Country: France. Notes: France’s answer to Switzerland’s emmentaler.
• Fontina — Milk: cow. Texture: semi-firm. Country: Italy. Notes: It is produced in the Aosta Valley in the Alps and has been made since around 1200.
• Fromage blanc — Milk: cow. Texture: soft. Country: France. Notes: Similar in texture to yogurt or quark.
• Gouda — Milk: cow. Texture: semi-hard. Country: The Netherlands. Notes: Named for the Dutch town of Gouda.
• Humbolt Fog — Milk: goat. Texture: soft. Country: United States. Notes: Spiked with vegetable ash.
• Leyden — Milk: cow. Texture: Semi-firm. Country: The Netherlands. Notes: This cheese is made with buttermilk and spiked with caraway and cumin seeds.
• Musser Artisan — Milk: cow. Texture: semi-hard. Country: United States. Notes: Made from hand-milked cows in Milton, Iowa.
• Pecorino Toscano — Milk: sheep. Texture: hard. Country: Italy. Notes: Similar, but milder, than pecorino Romano.
• Raspberry BellaVitano — Milk: cow. Texture: hard. Country: United States. Notes: This cross between cheddar and parmesan was created in Wisconsin and is soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale.
• Robiola rosina — Milk: Mixture of cow and sheep. Texture: soft. Country: Italy. Notes: Italy’s answer to France’s brie.
• Smoked blue — Milk: cow. Texture: semi-soft. Country: United States. Notes: Thiessen recommends the Rouge Creamery’s Smoky Blue.
• Truffle Tremor — Milk: goat. Texture: soft. Country: United States. Notes: Spiked with shaved black truffles.
— Cheese recommendations courtesy of Gary White, cheese steward, Dillons, 4701 W. Sixth St.; Lora Wiley, owner, Au Marche, 931 Mass.; Eric Thiessen, cheese monger, The Community Mercantile, 901 S. Iowa; Logan Oleen, deli worker, Hy-Vee, 3504 W. Clinton Parkway.