Three Cheeses for Fall

Post-Equinox, all I want are cheeses that are toothsome. Buh-bye, floaty orbs of mozzarella. Sayonara, fluffy ricotta. I want heft, muscle. Below, you’ll find my three go-to dairy cherries of the moment. They’re the kind of cheeses you can pile onto a board and nibble while you are cooking, or you can make them the primary flavor in a meal. I consider these the “pork chops” of the fall cheese world. They give good gnaw.

Reading Raclette

This little wedge of Alpine velvet is bold, sassy, and ready to fill your house with the scent of manly cologne. It’s also the best winter melter — just remember that Raclette is to warm potatoes what Jagermeister is to old ladies’ handbags. In other words, a comfort. It’s herby, sweet, and robust in an onion-meets-beef kind of way.

Around the holidays, you’ll see wheels of Swiss and French Raclette at the cheese counter, but don’t hesitate to ask for Reading Raclette from Vermont. It’s spectacular and usually in the same price range as the imports. Best of all, you can serve it in a thousand versatile ways: melt it on toast, bake it in mac’n cheese, or just eat it on baguette with a little whole grain mustard and speck (smoked ham, thinly shaved) — my favorite after-work snack. Add a pint of dark beer and a jar of gherkins, and never look back.

Sparkenhoe Red Leicester

I make few exceptions for orange cheese since most of them are dyed with food coloring, but Sparkenhoe Red Leicester (pronounced Lester) has been a glowing moon since the 1700s. No one knows for sure when it became blaze orange, but the hue is natural — extracted from the annatto plant. This is a mild, chewy cheese with a lot of flavor but no bite — kind of like steamed pumpkin.

Try shaving it on a fall salad, or set it out on a cheese plate with dried cranberries and toasted almonds. Its color is enlivening, a sunset over the trees. Note: this is a clothbound cheese so it has a sweet earthiness — not unlike the great British Cheddars of Somerset — but it’s so gentle you could eat it at midnight for a snack, which I sometimes do. Try toasting it on a little baguette round with a sliver of crisp apple and a sage leaf. (Oh mercy, it’s like stuffing. And it freshens your breath before bed.)

Parmigiano Reggiano

I once house-sat for some Italians who kept a huge hunk of really good Parm wrapped in a red cloth napkin inside a Zip-loc bag in their crisper. They were on to something: the napkin absorbs moisture, which prevents mold, and it makes the Parm really easy to hold when you need to grate it. I believe if you only have one cheese in your fridge at all times it should be a really good hunk of Parm. It’s like having granola bars on hand.

Best of all, the rinds make excellent soup broth. Don’t have any chicken stock? Feeding vegetarians? Just whip out that old shin bone of Parm and drop the rind into your stock pot. While the soup simmers, eat a nice craggy Parm shard with some dried apricots and a drizzle of honey. Add a glass of Prosecco, and you can assuage anyone’s crankiness. Few things are more satisfying in the fall months than a hunk of Parm melting in your mouth, all salt and sparkle. I sometimes carry a little bag in my pocket to the movies.


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5 Responses to “Three Cheeses for Fall”
  1. Kate says:

    I am so looking forward to Fall cheese plates! I always seem to forget about Raclette and I definitely need to procure some good parm rinds for my stock this season. Can’t wait for my wedding to be over so I can spend a chilly weekend with a stock pot and some tasty cheese & Prosecco. I always enjoy your blog, especially since you pair such interesting food and drinks with the cheese!

  2. john says:

    Ok, can you tell me where to find these great cheeses? I live outside of Reading, Pa, and work in New Holland. I was able, two years ago, to find a seller of Pennsylvania Noble, but they went wholesale so I can’t get it local here so where in Philly can I find these lovely treats. I feel a road trip coming on!

    • tdarlington says:

      Yes, head to Di Bruno Bros. or the Reading Terminal Market. If you look at my “Resources” page, you’ll find links to Philadelphia cheese shops. Let me know if you have further questions!

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