Washed Rind Season
By now, you have probably seen them at cheese counters: small, moonish orange wheels wrapped in balsa wood or bark. Glory is upon us, dear ones. Thanksgiving isn’t just about turkey and pumpkins; it’s the season of washed rind cheeses. If you haven’t planned Thursday’s cheese plate yet, get on the phone this instant and call in an order for one of the following: Rush Creek (pictured above), Winnimere, or Vacherin Mont d’Or.
You won’t be disappointed. These flavorful and sensuously goopy cheeses are perfect for serving around the holidays. All you do is let the cheese come to room temperature and set out some baguette rounds and celery sticks. Nothing could be easier. Forget the stodgy Brie, and go for something special and seasonal.
Washed rind cheeses wax in November and wane around March. Why the short season?
Many of these delicacies are made from raw milk, requiring an aging period of at least 60 days (in the U.S.). Sixty days ago, the cows were coming off summer pasture and beginning to eat heavier grasses. In early cheesemaking cultures, this transition often inspired a shift in recipes, from firm mountain-style cheeses to softies that accrued flavor from gentle baths of beer, brine, or hard liquor.
Those washes imbue cheese with a delicate funk and create an environment where the center of the wheel literally begins to liquefy. Vacherin Mont d’Or (above) is so soft and runny that it has to be stored in balsa wood to keep it from oozing all over.
Here’s a quick primer in how to distinguish these beauties:
Vacherin Mont d’Or: A sensual number from Vaud, Switzerland. This import is pasteurized but still exquisite — in an earlier post, I called this a “peignoir cheese” because it reminded me of a silky nightie. If you can find Vacherin, prepare to lose your mind. The texture is like loose fabric; the flavor is all mountain streams and melted butter. I like to serve it with boiled new potatoes and fondue forks.
Rush Creek: Uplands Dairy in Wisconsin takes the lead from Swiss cheesemakers to produce one of the most sought-after washed rinds in America. When this raw-milk cheese debuted a few years ago, American cheese fiends went gaga for its gooey center. A splashy write-up in the Times made it impossible to find. Look for a hint of cherry amid the woodland notes of this soothing Badger State beauty. If you can find fresh cherries, serve them alongside.
Winnimere: Vermont rings in autumn with this coppery beefcake. To my palate, this is the meatiest show girl in the mix. Winnimere always makes me think of the word “whinney” — it’s so bold and succulent that whenever I taste it, I feel compelled to let out a shrill cry. Hunter Fike at Di Bruno Bros. taught me to pair this cheese with marmalade. Simply brilliant.
Keep in mind that these cheeses may be hard to find — if even one of them is available to you, snatch it up. Then run right home and lock your doors. You never know who may have followed you home.