The Cheese Stands Alone
The Cheese Stands Alone
Despite the heat, the new cheese arrived safely at my family's small artisan bakery in Old Town, Cottonwood, Arizona (near Sedona). Old Town is presently enjoying a foodie boom with several wine tasting rooms, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, a chocolate and cheese shop and other small enterprises geared toward people who love to eat good food. Our emerging wineries here in the Verde Valley are prospering as well as winning impressive awards. Contrary to popular opinion, we do not allow firearms into our bakery nor do we witness many gun battles on Main Street. As for myself, I help my sons with the baking, make my own raw milk goat cheeses, and tend my grandchildren, my large garden, my Nubian goats, and my Jersey Giant hens... in that order.
My oldest grandson, Eron, is four and insists on being front and center for anything novel in Daddy's bakery. He pronounced the cheese "disgusting," as is typical for one of his age. Audrey, our sandwich builder, agreed with Eron. From there, I'd describe the tasting as uphill all the way. To evaluate anything, comparisons are in order, and I prepared by stocking three additional blues: Point Reyes Original, a nice Stilton from Thomas Hoe Stevenson, and a thick wedge of La Peral Estrella from Spain... mostly because I couldn't locate a Cabrales. To me, the new blue most resembled its Spanish counterpart in appearance and taste.
To my mind, the new cheese bears some similarity to Point Reyes Original blue, yet stands solidly on its own. My wedge showed a pleasing pale yellow tint compared to the bright white of PR Original and I noticed more veining. I'd describe the smell as strong on wild forest mushrooms with a slight undertone of grassy pasture and sea air. I did not detect the odor of smelly socks, nor did I expect this. The Giacomini family is certainly correct about the terroir of their cheeses. One whiff and I wanted to flee torrid Arizona for Marin County. The rind conformed to type for a blue with a natural thin and bumpy crust. For me, a blue's rind tends to get in the way of the full experience of the cheese itself. And what an experience!
I did deviate from Will's checklist in one respect. We had a cranberry-walnut batard still warm from the oven that we thought would stand up perfectly to the new cheese. The combination resulted in the complete disappearance of both cheese and bread in record time. We also brushed sourdough brushcetta with high-poly coratina olive oil from the Olive Oil Traders Shop on Main and spread the cheese on it. Heaven! Since I agreed with our bakers, I will offer a tasting consensus. This cheese is more assertive than PR Original Blue. Both share a creamy, open-textured, almost silky, high-moisture paste with a definite salty-sweet tang and a touch of smokiness. The new cheese, though, is even more intense, more piquant if you like, and lingers longer in the mouth, perhaps because of the heavier veining. This cheese shouts while PR Original is more disposed to whisper.
I consider this to be a perfect tasting or pairing cheese and I would use it standing alone in combination with full-bodied spicy red wines, dark artisan beers, fruit in season, and crusty sourdough breads or bruschetta and, surprisingly, fresh roasted New Mexico green chiles, which we happened to have on hand. This is not to say I wouldn't use the cheese in recipes, dips, and dressings, but I'd be more inclined to use the milder PR Original for these. In naming this cheese, I'd go for the utmost simplicity and a sense of place, because as emphasized, I believe this cheese stands alone; perhaps Tomales Bay Blue or Farmstead Blue would be appropriate.
I don't see much room for improvement for this cheese, but it might be interesting to age it longer and develop a more crumbly texture but this would be an entirely new cheese requiring yet another name and perhaps another evaluation. How about it?