Each August, I spend time with a friend at her cottage located in one of the hill towns of Massachusetts. I eagerly anticipate this visit – the evergreen forest, the cool un-airconditioned nights, the ability to clearly see the Milky Way and its billions of stars and foremost, the opportunity to spend time with this friend who lives half a continent away during the remainder of the year. My friend, an ardent cheese lover, always appreciates a gift of cheese. My notion was to compose a cheese plate suitable for breakfast. And as summer was diminishing, I was feeling the urge to make bread. I pulled Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible out of my bookcase where it had sat – unused – ever since I acquired it several years ago; I once was a cookbook junkie. I found a wonderful recipe for a cracked wheat loaf – a perfect breakfast bread and accompaniment to my soon to-be-composed cheese plate. As an aside, having baked extensively from Beranbaum’s Cake Bible, I was accustomed to dealing with her self-aggrandizement and often overwrought recipes, for these obsessive-compulsive formulas with near fanatical attention to detail actually work. Moving on, the bread turned out spectacularly though I did skip some steps I found unnecessary. It was now time to assemble the cheese which meant a trip to Central Bottle and Provision and a consultation with cheesemonger David Seaton. As we were catching up on cheese world gossip – such as a recap of the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival; and no, a cheese-themed tattoo is not the best idea for long-term self-adornment – David led me on a tasting of what was new and good in the store. In the end, I did a local trinity – cow, sheep, goat – consisting of two new cheeses and one reliable standby. My summer breakfast cheese selection –
- Hildene Farms Chevre, Manchester VT – This small production chevre is produced by the Rowland Agricultural Center at Hildene, ancestral home to President Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert and his family. The dairy is small and promotes the historical agricultural heritage of the estate. The chevre is pure white, lemony, surprisingly moist, somewhat dense and less chalky than typical chevres. A good choice to spread on cracked wheat toast.
- Vermont Dandy, Townsend VT – This aged raw milk sheep cheese, made at Peaked Mountain Farm from its herd of one hundred ewes, is modeled on a Pyrenees mountain-style cheese. The paste is pale ivory; the texture dry, a bit granular, crumbly; the taste – buttery and grassy with an intriguing sour edge. Perfect with a slice of tomato for a breakfast sandwich.
- Verhampshire, Walpole, NH – And finally, what I term, the little stinker. From what I understand, this raw cow’s milk cheese is an interstate production – made in Vermont and aged in New Hampshire at Sawyer’s Artisanal Cheese. The cheese has been washed – the rind rust-colored with B. Linens – but also brushed. The aroma of a washed rind cheese is here somewhat subdued – a perfect breakfast choice. The paste is golden showing a few “eyes” with a moist, supple texture and a big meaty flavor – vegetarian bacon, anyone? This stinker stands on its own and needs no accompaniment. And it was the favorite of my hostess.
Good friends, good cheese and a spectacular view of the stars – what more could I ask of August?