A Champion Cheese Brunch

In America, there are three cheeses everyone wants to taste — they are the winners of this year’s American Cheese Society (ACS) Awards. Of course, no one can find all three at once because they are in such high demand. Only one man in the U.S. has a fridge full of them. That man is Mike Geno. He’s been commissioned to paint them. Because he is a kind soul and a friend of this blog, he invited me over for brunch today to try them.

I didn’t mind walking through the spitting rain. I would have crossed coals to try these cheeses. Needless to say, it was a breakfast of champions.

Mike Geno was frying shallots in duck fat when I arrived. He cracked eggs and poured coffee while I broke out my camera and notebook, trying to appear collected. The champion cheeses — a whole wheel of Roth Kase Grand Cru Gruyere (3rd Place), half a wheel of Valley Shepherd Crema de Blue (2nd Place), and a hefty wedge of Beecher’s Flagsheep (1st place) — glowed like gold nuggets the moment I opened his fridge.

After a lengthy photo shoot in the rain-washed light, we sat down to feast: two cheese nerds sipping coffee and washing down egg sandwiches with orange juice. We saved the cheese board for last. The anticipation was delectable.

Here are my notes from the cheese board of all time:

Roth Kase Grand Cru Gruyere (3rd place)

Smells like milk and onions. Tastes like a caramelized roast that has been basted with herbs — on the tongue, it starts sweet, then turns nutty and finishes with a spike of rosemary. As it softened, the onion notes intensified, calling to mind a toasted garlic bagel with scallion cream cheese. No wonder this is such a great cheese for melting.

Valley Shepherd Crema de Blue (2nd Place)

In my rampant foraging for great blues, I have never come across one like this. So many are dense and salty with a lot of sweetness, which is why I love them. But Crema de Blue is not dense or sweet or salty! It’s savory, antithetical. Licorice pops on the front end, followed by the taste of flint. The finish is spicy: white pepper. Texturally, this cheese is loose, open…fluffy, like sucking on clouds and tasting the raindrops inside. I am still wrapping my mind around it.

Beecher’s Flagsheep (1st place)

Beecher’s is famous for its Cheddar, so I expected a bold assault, but no. Flagsheep is subtle. When it touches your tongue, it’s nearly tasteless, but then it melts  — thanks to the sheep’s milk — releasing the most delicate honeysuckle sweetness. The finish is gently acidic, like a great clothbound Cheddar, but the emphasis is really on “gentle.” Flagsheep is cheese yoga — every note flows. It’s graceful, full of control, sweet then savory, then it eases into cobra pose.

Don’t worry. I’m not finished telling you about these cheeses. In the next few days, I will revisit them (I brought home samples) and give you more background. After all, it is American Cheese Month.

To read about cheese painter Mike Geno in The New York Times, click here. To follow Mike’s progress as he paints these award-winning wedges, follow him on Twitter (@foodeemike).

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