Late May, rituals of academia – commencements and their subsequent spawn, reunions. It was a milestone year for my graduating class – a celebration was certainly in order. My circle of friends and associates had not been joiners during our college years; rather, we were independent and somewhat rebellious and occasionally sullen. So, we weren’t planning on attending the “official” reunion, but rather would hold our own “alternate” reunion. I was in charge of the menu and since this was potluck, I just told the attendees what to bring. In addition for supplying the gin for the G&Ts – Tanqueray 10, the best gin for G&Ts – and a dessert, I assigned myself the cheese plate. I wanted to do the milk trinity – cow, sheep, goat – but I also wanted local cheeses to honor those of my generation who did go “back to the land” and begin a process which would eventually result in the American artisanal cheese movement. Time for a visit to Central Bottle and Provision and David Seaton, cheesemonger.
- My choice for a cow’s milk cheese was Pawlet, an “Italian-style toma” aged four to six months from Consider Bardwell Farm in Pawlet, VT. A raw milk cheese from a herd of Jersey cows, the format is a ten pound wheel which is labeled with the date of manufacture. The wheel from which my purchase came was made in October – late autumn pasturage. I do have an interest in the type of pasture upon which the animals are grazing when the cheese is produced – for me, it’s the terroir of cheese. Consider Bardwell Farm is the dairy famously revitalized by New York literary agent and author Angela Miller. The cheesemaker is one of New England’s finest, Peter Dixon. The cheese is pale gold; the paste firm but pliant with small “eyes”; the aroma overwhelmingly a buttery caramel; the palate sweet with a rich lactic flavor offset by a hint of sourness. Like the attendees at the “alt reunion”, it had aged well. Vegetarians please note – all Consider Bardwell cheeses are made with non-animal rennet.
- My choice for a sheep’s milk cheese was Frere Fumant from 3 Corner Farm, Shusan, NY., an aged, smoked Spanish-style tomme. Since I’d included this cheese in a previous Cheese Plate post and described it there, I won’t go into detail about the cheese except to say the the hard texture and smokiness provided a good counterpart to the firm and sweet Pawlet and the soft and earthy goat cheese to follow.
- To complete the plate, I choose Madonna, a bloomy rind, pastuerized goat’s milk cheese from Sage Farm Goat Dairy, Stowe, Vt., aged for two weeks. The cheesemaker and co-owner with her sister Katie is Molly Pindell. The dairy is new – 2008 – and small – Molly is making cheese from a herd of only fourteen Alpine goats. The cheese is scarce – Central Bottle is the only store outside of Vermont to carry Sage Farm cheeses. The cheese is chalk white; the texture – runny just underneath the rind, the center smooth and creamy; the flavor a bit earthy, a bit goaty but quite mild; a touch of bitterness on the finish from the rind. This cheese is refined and well made. Seek it out.