Best Cheeses of 2014
It’s always daunting to rewind. Looking back on this year in particular leaves me winded — it began with a Cheese Ball in January and picked up momentum in spring with a series of cheese dinners at High Street on Market (air kiss to Chef Eli Kulp and the indefatigable Ellen Yin).
Then we vagabonded, didn’t we? We went to Puglia to make Pecorino and to eat long meals in the fields with shepherds. The Live Cultures video depicting our trip — 24 of you came along — still makes me swoon. And when I look at pictures like the one below, I am back at Masseria La Selva, where the smell of wool and the sound of old women playing tambourines resonated through every grass blade.
It’s been a year of silver linings. Of New Moon Dinners and cave raising parties.
The local cheese community helped Sue Miller fund her Kickstarter campaign.
Thank you for playing a part.
Amidst so much goodness, it’s hard to pick favorite moments, so I have made a list of fabulous cheeses that I tried in 2014 — cheeses that glow brightly at the base of my brain. Here they are…
Meadowood Farms Juvindale
Veronica Pedraza of Meadowood Farms in Cazenovia, New York is known for her sheep’s milk cheese wrapped in green checkered paper (particularly her leaf-wrapped Ledyard). Juvindale is her winter cheese, made from the cow’s milk she buys from a neighboring farm. I visited her briefly in early spring and was struck by her tiny cheese room and this beautifully oozy Camembert look-alike that I carried home in my jacket pocket. Unctuous and wild, it tasted unlike any American pasteurized bloomy I’ve tried.
Meadowset’s First Bite
First Bite is the vampire novel in cheese form — toothsome and sexy with perfect skin under its dusky cloak. Made from sheep’s milk, this beautiful wheel was presented under the stars by cheesemaker Tom Schaer of Meadowset Farm & Apiary, on the night of his New Moon Dinner (the first in a series I helped pull together with Chef Eli Kulp). It took me right back to early summer in southern Italy and the young Pecorino we ate in the fields overlooking the craggy hillsides of Puglia.
“Whale blubber” is not a phrase I ever imagined using to describe the texture of a cheese, but this fresh jiggler from Mystic Cheese Co. in Mystic, Connecticut was a supple surprise. Think of milk pudding. Think of those impossibly fresh Italian cheeses, like Stracchino, that you almost never see in the U.S. Plus, this cheese is made in a mobile cheese unit, called a cheese pod.
A trip to Golden Cross Cheese Ltd. in East Sussex was inspired by my colleague Jason Mezey, a man who is staunchly unimpressed by goat cheeses — except this one, a tender log he remembers nibbling in London on his honeymoon. Now, I will never forget meeting cheesemaker Kevin Blunt and watching him make these ashy logs. When you are striding across a moor with a Jane Austen novel in your book bag, this is the cheese you want to have stashed in your pencil case. It’s herbaceous and light, good enough to wolf down like a pack of Thin Mints.
In January, local cheesemonger Matt Buddha (of Salumeria) appeared at the Cheese Ball with this raw, thistle-renneted sheep’s milk cheese from Portugal. For the last 11 months, I’ve been dreaming about it. If you see Zimbro, you must try it. It tastes like liquid artichoke dip.
Happy New Year to all of you who made 2014 wonderful!