From Zingerman’s With Love
Last weekend, a pair of hobbits couriered some cheese from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Philadelphia in their luggage. The hobbits are a petit couple who, like mice, can eat their weight in cheese without gaining girth, and before coming to Philadelphia they scouted out the best shnibbles at Zingerman’s — thanks to some help from a cheesemonger named Chad.
No one stays chez Madame Fromage without paying a courtesy cheese tax. It’s unpsoken, but understood. Not that I would kick anyone to the curb for bringing beer or chocolate, but the Hobbits brought cheese and Scotch. They are friends for life!
What a delight to unpack these morsels! The Hobbits ventured off to revisit old haunts while I set about photo-shooting my brains out and tasting the Zingerman’s cache.
I have never been to Zingerman’s, but I am intrigued by their catalogue and their books on cheese and service. I think fondly of the company as the “granola” Dean & Deluca; they are ruled by a Jerry Garcia-esque genius named Ari Weinzweig who has managed to turn the cheese retail industry into a kind of cult jam band, based on his anarchist approach to business. Cheese retailers flock to Michigan to study at his feet.
The first thing I noticed about the cheeses from Zingerman’s? The packaging. Silver and black. Kind of eighties noir. At first I thought it was a little Burger King-ish, but here’s what I like: it’s thicker than other cheese paper, making it much easier to rewrap.
On to the wedges! I digress when I get excited. Here is the status of the Zingerman’s cache:
I’d never heard of this stink puff from Canal Junction Farmstead in Ohio, but boy was I excited to dig in when I got a whiff of it. It smells like the peanuts that squirrels bury in our yard, then dig up and leave on the patio table in spring — nutty and loamy. To me, this cheese is somewhere between Red Hawk and Hudson Red, which is perfect since those washed-rind darlings hale from the West and East Coast respectively. Charloe is their midwestern step-child. He’s beefy and pudgy with a lot of liverwurst on his breath — not as gooey as a ‘Hawk and maybe even a little more robust than Hudson. The paste is fiercely buttery, and the taste lingers long after the swallow.
From Spain, this firm goat cheese made near Barcelona smelled so delicate I expected it to taste like white sheet cake, but the flavor was all surprises! The rind is a burst of golden mustard — how novel! — and the paste is all waxy almonds and smothered onions.
Sant Mateu made me think of a veal bratwurst. Tender, nuanced, with a hint of herbs. All together, the flavors are massive. It’s very different from some of my favorite aged goat cheeses, like Evalon or Pantaleo. I’m blown away by this rind — it’s creamsicle colored with rusty edges and blue-gray polkadots. A fancy dandy with picnic appeal — all I want is a drop of sherry and a chance to chat it up with Gordon Edgar who featured this cheese on a recent cheese plate.
From Lombardy, this organic raw cow’s milk is wild, wild, wild — an Alpine burlesque. It has so many flavors that unfurl, you need a pole for its legs. Interestingly, Bitto has very little smell, but the taste starts out lemony and bright, then swings herby and lactic, finishing on a Wheat Thin. It’s a cheese and a cracker all in one.
No wonder La Cucina Italiana highlighted this sweetie, and Slow Food went ga-ga. Bitto also made headlines on CNN when a 15-year-old lot appeared and was nabbed by a Hong Kong Importer for the Chinese market.
Fans of Beaufort and Paski Sir — two wildly flavorful hard cheeses — will want to seek this out.
Okway, okay I know you’re ondering what came in the leaf wrapping? Ahh, yes, that got devoured before I could properly record notes. It was Cabecou Feuille, a leaf-wrapped goat cheese studded with peppercorns and drenched in brandy. It’s best described by The Fromagette.
On to the cheese party…
Fraser and Priya broke out a Peppercorn Trippel that I am still raving about.
Our old housemate N. came back to the cheese roost for to get her dairy on.
The Blue Cheese Goddess (here, in red) fell hard for Charloe. She loves a good stinker.
Oh, look! Even the Blue Cheese Brit showed up for a toast.
I love how cheese brings people together. Have you ever seen such a happy crowd around, say…cereal?