We talk a lot about the seasonality of food in this business. Last Sunday marked the beginning of the Lenten Season for the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics around the world are forgoing meat and fasting each Friday until Easter Sunday. So as chefs and members of the food community, you will no doubt be affected by this religious season, regardless of your own affiliation. But if you don’t want to play off of the classic Friday night fish fry, a bit of historical narrative would suggest that rather than fish, this season should be ripe with cheese… very ripe.
Much of our gastronomic landscape can trace its roots to the European artisan monastic traditions of the middle-ages. Today we can thank those monks for their culinary ingenuity, especially when it comes to all things fermented. A few well-celebrated monastic inventions that come to mind are Belgian Trappist Ales, the champagne cork, the cappuccino (which was named for matching the color of the cloaks worn by the Viennese Capuchin monks who invented the frothy drink), and of course cheese. No cheese better exemplifies the Lenten season than those stinky reddish-orange hued members of the washed-rind family.
Washed rind cheeses get their pungent, foot-like odor from the presence of Brevibacterium linens, a strain of bacteria that grows on the rind and gives the cheese its signature rosy color. Indecently, b-linens are also responsible for giving feet their pungent, foot-like odor. Washing the rind (typically with a brine or alcohol solution) effectively kills off the molds that would otherwise grow on the cheese, and creates the perfect environment for the b-linens to thrive. In the monastic tradition these cheeses were washed with any number of the tasty liquids that fermented behind the wall of their monasteries. It is said that the meaty flavor of the washed rind cheeses was a welcome addition to meals in times of religious abstinence from meat.
Fast forward to present day Minneapolis; here at the Great Ciao warehouse we have some washed-rind cheeses that are really special.
Jasper Hill Cellars Winnimere
This week received our first shipment of Winnimere from the esteemed Jasper Hill Cellars in Greensboro Vermont. This cheese is made using the high fat winter milk from the Kehler’s herd of 45 pastured Ayrshire Cows. Similar to a Vacherin Mont D’or, the cheeses are wrapped in bark peeled from the farm’s spruce trees, and washed in lambic ale brewed by their friends at Hill Farmstead Brewery. Mateo recommends that you eat the Winnimere the same way his daughter “Princess Winnimere” does: by peeling off the top and scooping out the interior. The high chair is optional.
Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson
Rick and Helen Feete joke that their Grayson, “Looks like cheese, smells like Feete.” They have been making cheese from their herd of grass-fed Jersey Cows in Galax Virginia for the last thirty years. The alpine conditions of Galax, which is located at 2,800 feet above sea level, provide their cows with clean air and mineral rich grasses. They’ve been making Grayson since 1998, and today it is their most well-known cheese. The Grayson is a raw milk cheese which is based on a Taleggio recipe. The texture is supple and velvety, with funky vegetal aroma and a meaty bacon taste. Grayson would be a great choice for a washed rind cheese on a domestic cheese plate, or used any recipe that calls for Taleggio.
Berthaut Epoisses de Bourgogne and Affiné au Chablis
We could hardly write about washed rind cheeses without mentioning this famous French stinker. Epoisses de Bourgogne is made in the tiny village of Epoisse which is located in the department of Côte-d’Or in eastern France. The Cheese is washed with Marc de Bourgogne, which creates a rather pungent and gooey washed rind cheese. Recently we started carrying the Epoisses’ cousin: Affiné au Chablis. Rather than being washed in Marc de Bourgogne, the affinuers at Berthaut wash this smaller version of an Epoisses using Chablis. The resulting cheese hints at the meaty aroma of Epoisses, but has a much milder, sweeter flavor.
We love our stinky cheeses at Great Ciao, and we work hard to air-freight them so that they are at their peak of flavor within a couple of weeks of arrival, rather than letting them languish on a boat. Here are a few other stinky cheeses that we air-freight.
- Stracco di Capra
- Rush Creek Reserve (Seasonal)
- Brun de Noix
- Chimay Trappist
- Abbaye de Tamié
- Trou de Crou
- Ami du Chambertin
- Roblochon (okay okay, just kidding – it’s still illegal to import)
If there’s another stinker you have your heart set on, just give us a call!