Back to the Farm Blue- Ruth's Cheese Pairing Picnic
When I got the call from Will officially inviting me to join the cheese tasting team, I was giddy. Having worked in some incredible cheese shops in the past, I have missed having privileged access to artisanal cheeses made with true attention and care. I quickly arranged for my neighbor to receive the package while I was away at work and started planning when and where I would do my first tasting.
After I watched the some videos about Point Reyes Farmstead, filmed with the beautiful rolling and cows grazing in the background, it seemed only right to taste this cheese outside in the fresh air. I invited a friend to join me for a cheese tasting picnic in Brooklyn’s hidden wilderness- Prospect Park. We loaded the cheese, a bottle of wine, and a few other snacks into our bike baskets and headed out. We found a tucked away grassy spot surrounded by trees, shook out our picnic blanket and got ready. I unwrapped the cheese and was delighted to find the clean ivory surface of the cheese perfectly mottled by greenish blue veins and edged by a toasty brown rind.
I think I surprised my companion a little bit when I held the wedge up to my nose to smell it, but it was well worth it. Strong and smooth, the cheese smelled fresh and reminded me of a good, clean barn with a loft full of fresh cut hay. I cut us each a piece to taste. The first flavor was a little citrusy bite, almost lemon-tart and just enough to catch my attention before giving way to the slow creamy melt of the cheese in my mouth. Both of us noticed a nutty flavor, I said sunflower seeds, and my friend tasted walnuts. The texture was creamy, dense enough to be almost chewy, and sometimes a little bit gritty around the blue lacing. The fullness made this cheese feel like a real meal and not just a snack, but I was on the fence about the grittiness- I couldn’t decide if it was like the delicate crystalline crunch of an aged Parmigiano, or more like being surprised by a few grains of sand in your oyster. We both enjoyed the saltiness of the cheese and agreed that it would go well paired with light, fresh tasting foods.
The snacks we had with us worked well. We paired our cheese with some green grapes, crackers, and a summery Pinot Grigio. The fruit balanced the saltiness and the wine complemented the earthiness of the cheese. Next time, I would try it with full bodied brown ale. I think the slight bitterness of the beer would allow the creaminess and ever-so-slight sweetness of the cheese stand out. I would serve toasted almonds and dried tart cherries alongside. If I were cooking with it I would let the cheese melt slightly on crusty toasts of a simple baguette to float in beef broth for a twist on traditional French onion soup. I think the strength of this blue would allow it to stand up to the heartiness of that soup and that warming it up might bring out new layer of flavor in the cheese.
In our bucolic picnic setting, the sights and sounds of the city obscured by trees, I tasted and paired, sniffed and took notes, and thought about the rolling hills of Point Reyes farm. I was reminded of a Mennonite farm I visited on a childhood vacation, and the maze I crawled through that was constructed entirely from square hay bales. I was transported to the old red barn in the Berkshires where I learned how to milk a cow. I thought of farming and what I would like to eat at sundown at the end of a long, hot workday before falling into a deep sleep. These images kept coming back to me as my friend and I brainstormed cheese names. My favorites were Blue Mountain, Back to the Farm Blue, Hilltop Blue, Square Bale Blue, and Red Barn Blue. I like these names because they evoke the fresh-cut-hay aroma of this cheese and the beautiful farmstead where it was made.
Ruth Ballenzweig was born into a family of food lovers in New York City. She formed a deep appreciation for fresh-from-the-farm food while growing vegetables at Farm Girl Farm, and developed her cheese tasting palate at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers, both in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY and works at Green Guerillas, a non-profit that supports community gardens throughout the city through education and advocacy.