[Note: The image above is of Crottin de Chevre, a goat cheese by Xavier David, soon to be sold at Fromagination.]

In this seventh edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger, our intrepid blogger, Grace, discusses about the work that went into French goat cheese….

This past week I tasted some palhais, a small goat milk round from Portugal that is salty, creamy, rather mild, and quite ‘sessionable’ as I like to say (a term borrowed from beer fanatics like my brother, used to describe beers that are suitable for long drinking sessions).  I finished this small palhais round in about 10 minutes, eating it with my fingers standing at the kitchen counter. This little, white goat milk cheese made me nostalgic for the cheeses that Marisa made at Chevrerie de la Baie, and the evenings we would spend sharing a few rounds of fresh chevre and mozzarella de buffle.

An average day on the farm consisted of me waking up and having a bowl of coffee, a few crepes with nutella (okay, maybe more than a few), and then heading off to the barn to feed the goats and check in on ‘my babies’ (the kids). After making sure everything was copacetic at the barn, we would take an ATV out to the field to feed the buffaloes and check in.  There was always something to do out with the buffaloes, in the barn, or in the laboratoire, and we spent most of the day going back and forth (with regular breaks for coffee and a square or two of chocolate, of course).  We usually didn’t finish for the day until 7 or 8 at night, but every once in a while we’d get done in time to sit down together before dinner with a glass of wine and few cheeses while the sun set.

Although I learned a lot from Marisa and Fred during the day, one of the best parts of living on the farm was when we got a moment to sit and talk (well, once I could understand French well enough to keep up with the conversation).  They would tell me stories about how they had built their business, starting a goat cheese farm in a region in France known for their cows because they wanted to do things their way. They told me about how crazy everyone thought they were when they got the water buffaloes, and about how much work it had been to start a cheese business themselves.  There was something so idyllic about sitting around a table outside, snacking on an impeccable cheese that we had made together, and learning about the years and years of work that went in to being able to make that delicious piece of fromage.

In this sixth edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger, our intrepid blogger, Grace, thinks about Cheddar cheese….

The other night, at dinner, I was talking to some friends about artisanal Wisconsin cheeses. One of them interjected, “Artisanal cheese? From Wisconsin?? What, do you mean cheddar?” They were expressing an attitude that I see frequently in Americans; this idea that there is no good cheese from the United States. Americans love our imported cheeses, and impressing friends with ‘exotic’ cheeses. I’ve said it before, though, and will keep saying it—there is SO much more incredible artisanal cheese on the platter (so to say) in the United States than most people realize.

Although it makes me sad to hear people speak this way about American cheese, I totally understand where this idea comes from. Americans too often have little cubes of bland, plastic-tasting store-brand ‘mild cheddar’, or, even worse, a nice slice of Kraft Singles: American Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product (we won’t even get in to why they have to call it a ‘cheese product’). I understand the desire to look down upon American cheeses, and there are plenty of American cheeses I will say ‘No, thank you’ to. However, the idea that cheddars in particular have to be bland is almost shocking to me, after growing up on Hook’s sharp cheddar (2, 5, 10, 12, and 15 year aged, as well as a 20 year limited edition that’s coming out soon!). So, I want to start making the case for cheddar.

The first thing to understand about cheddars is that there are two main categories of cheddar: block cheddar and bandaged cheddar. Block cheddar is what we normally consume today, the stuff that can sometimes be bland and boring and plastic-y, but has the possibility to be one of the most punch-packing cheeses you’ve ever tasted. The reason this cheese is so varying is that it is packaged in large cryovac packs, so that the cheese ages very slowly. A cryovac cheddar that’s only a year or two old won’t taste like a lot, usually. However, cryovac is how star cheese makers like Tony Hook make star cheeses like Hooks 15 year cheddar. This cheese melts on your tongue while small crystals crunch between your teeth, and a tiny piece packs a huge amount creamy, strong flavor that lingers on your palate.

Cryovac cheddar was only made possible in the past 50 years, since cryovac technology has been introduced to the food industry. Before then, all cheddar was bandaged, which means it was made in large rounds literally wrapped in bandages, and then aged (usually in a cave). A cave aged bandaged cheddar can only age a few years before its flavor begins to decline, so a flavorful bandaged cheddar is usually around a year and a half to two years in age. However, bandaged cheddars have the advantage of absorbing some of the flavor of their surroundings—you can really taste the caves that they are aged in.

Fromagination is celebrating spring with a new lunch menu that includes new sandwiches and other offerings at our shop on South Carroll Street.

The Dehli Deli Sandwich (pictured above) is a hybrid Wisconsin/North India-themed sandwich: Roasted chicken with a Tandoori marinade on a Telera roll with chutney mayo, Wisconsin mozzarella cheese, and lettuce.

The Gastronome Trio Sandwich is meat-lover’s mix of smoked turkey, smoked ham, roast beef, Wisconsin Muenster cheese, shallot confit with red wine, lettuce and olive oil, on sesame semolina bread. It is made at the time of order.

And our new vegetarian offering is the Ambrosia Minor Sandwich, which is a Greek-themed concoction of feta cheese, red onion, tomato and cucumber, served on focaccia. It is also made at the time of order, to ensure that it’s fresh.

We have more new items, including a Cheesemonger’s choice cheese sampler box, and two crostini plates for after-work snacking on our outdoor patio.

Come in and sample our new sandwiches April 15, 16 and 17 between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.!