My Foliage Cheese Plate – and a Musing

From the left – Cantal, Black Madonna, Black Ledge Blue

An autumn dinner party – the menu, Julia’s “Gigot à la Moutarde” from Mastering the Art. For the most part, the wines would be single-vineyard Argentine Malbecs. My contribution to dinner, as it most often is, would be the cheese course. I was looking for cheeses that would have been made with milk from early or late summer pasturage. Additionally, I wasn’t looking for heavy hitters with big massive flavors – I’d save those for more chilly temperatures – but for mellow, less agressive cheese. At Central Bottle + Provisions, I found – or at least I thought I had – excellent components for my foliage cheese plate. Though the provenance of the cheeses indicated this would be a stellar line-up, in the end, there were hits and misses. And this is how it went down –

  • Black Madonna, Sage Farm Goat Dairy, Stowe VT  – I had had this cheese in the summer, enjoying it very much – it was a featured “summah” cheese at Central Bottle. A bloomy rind cheese made from the milk of a small herd of Alpine goats, the cheese is dusted with ash and then aged for two weeks. The cheese presents quite attractively on a cheese board. The cheese is bone white, a bit moist,crumbly yet liquid near the rind. The aroma is distinctively goaty. However, the cheese turned out to be a dud – the flavor  flat and lifeless finishing with a bit of bitterness and soapiness imparted from the rind. Something definitely amiss here and an inauspicious way to begin the cheese course.
  • Black Ledge Blue, Cato Corner Farm, Colchester CT – . Several years ago when I first had this cheese, it was practically inedible – poor flavor, blueing and rind development. Consequently, I avoided not only this cheese but all cheeses from Cato Corner Farm. Slowly, though, I’ve been reacquainting myself with their products and decided this blue might once more be worth a try. And it was. The cheese is ivory, firm yet pliable with the rich flavors of milk – grassy and buttery. As a blue, Black Ledge is subdued and mellow – there’s no big bite here; a good cheese for those with a blue aversion. My one quibble is with the rind. Rather than blooming with mold, some of the air holes pierced into the cheese had developed rind. A bit of rind inside the cheese is off-putting.
  • Cantal, Auvergne FR – A most ancient cheese made by the Gauls, antedating even the Roman conquest, Cantal is sometimes referred to as a French cheddar. Though Cantal undergoes a process analogous to cheddaring, the cheese is quite different. Cantal is an industriel product: large-scale production utilizing pasteurized milk. The same cheese made with raw milk as a farmstead cheese (fermier) is known as Sahlers. The manufacture of Cantal like so many of France’s cherished agricultural products is strictly regulated. This cheese was the star of the evening. By the end of dinner, all that was left was a snall bit of rind. The cheese is pale ivory, firm, pliable. The flavor is full, rich and savory – two thousand years of product development will do just that.

And so, after the ups and downs of my cheese plate, I was set to musing. I had begun my exploration of cheese with the European – particularly French – classics. Early on, I felt American cheeses fell short. With time, though, American cheesemakers learned their craft,  their cheeses improved  and I found myself eating more and more “made in America”. However, it was those European cheeses which had set the benchmark for my asessments. Now, having been wowed once again by a French classic, it’s time to renew my acquaintance with those icons. The “Old World vs. New World” debate continues…..

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