My extreme love of wine stems in part from my constant search for inspiration when I was a full-time chef. In 2003 I attended an intensive master series of classes held at the newly founded Artisanal cheese center in NYC. Little did I know these classes would change my life. I found not only inspiration but a true passion, for cheese and the wines paired with them. I couldn’t get enough, trying endless combinations. Since then I’ve tried hundreds of cheeses and countless wines but there are some cheeses that have a special place in my heart and fridge! Below is my list of the top ten cheeses I simply couldn’t live without and suggested pairings.
Top Ten Artisanal Cheeses That Are A Must To Try
Comte St. Antione, Jura, France, Raw Cow- This delicious cheese is made from the milk of small herds grazing on Alpine grass. A cooperative of cheesemakers pool their milk to craft a cheese that has a myriad of flavors. Aged for up to 2 years in small huts it’s like the never-ending gobstopper in Willy Wonka, flavors ranging from pineapple, cooked milk, toast, apricot and more can be tasted as it lingers into a smooth mellow finish. My favorite pairing is a full bodied Rhone white or a buttery Chardonnay. Lighter Jura reds are also an excellent choice.
La Tur, Piedmont, Italy, Pasteurized Cow/Sheep/Goat- A bloomy thin skin barely covers a luxurious rich, silky, sexy paste with the texture of ice cream. Slightly sweet and salty at the same time with aromas of fresh clover. The ultimate pairing for Italian Franciacorta or your favorite sparkling wine.
Valencay, France, Raw Goat- This was once a stately pyramid of cheese. Legend has it Napolean ordered the point lopped off lest it remind him of his unsuccessful campaign to conquer Egypt. It’s dense earthy paste is concealed under a dusting of dark vegetable ash. Sweet aromas of hay give way to a full, melting taste and slightly acidic finish. A Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc is the ultimate pairing.
Roomano, Holland, Raw Cow- This rock hard cheese is aged for 3 years but in small wheels that gain a candied, crunchy intensity. Almost like salted caramelized burnt sugar. Seriously this is crack cheese, you just can’t get enough. A big fruity new world red like Zinfandel or a California Cabernet is just the ticket for this culinary wonder, if you can stop eating it long enough to take a few sips.
Epoisses De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France, Raw Cow EU, Pasteurized USA- Washed rind cheeses are some of the stinkiest cheeses on the planet. This one takes a weekly bath in the local Marc de Bourgogne to help develop the shimmering, orange molten rind that barely contains the pudding like paste at full ripeness. Addictive and decadent its earthy, musky aromas will get you hooked in no time even if its smell drives others away. I’ve cleared a car on Metro North with one of these beauties. Off dry German Riesling or an Alsatian Gewürztraminer are the perfect marriage.
Barely Buzzed Cheddar, Utah, USA, pasteurized Cow- This cheese is lovingly hand rubbed with a Turkish grind of Colorado Legacy Coffee and lavender buds that are diluted with oil to suspend the dry ingredients in the rub. This unlikely match had me at first bite. The bitter coffee taste mingles with the sweet fruity cheddar to create a truly heavenly taste. Sooooo good with Stout and believe it or not a steaming hot cup of cappuccino.Roquefort, Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France, Raw Sheep- From the caves of Combalou in southern France, Roquefort, is arguably the world’s greatest blue. So unique are the production methods it was the first cheese granted an A.O.C status in 1925! Watch this cool video about the ancient craft of making this cheese. Heavenly flavors reminiscent of the cavern air where the cheese ripens include a peppery punch, nutty goodness and a savory rich salty finish. The pairing of Sauterne is to Roquefort as peanut butter is to jelly, yeh its old school, but it’s divine!
Pecorino Tartuffo, Tuscany, Italy, Raw Sheep- Generous slabs of black truffle are laced throughout small wheels of this Pecorino. A great cheese on its own this saucier version is all dressed up and has nowhere to go but in your mouth! The younger versions are semi soft, rindless, smooth and buttery with a luxurious earthy aroma. Best with a Pinot Nero or a Sangiovese.
Mimolette, France, Pasteurized Cow- This cheese resembling a giant cantaloupe has a dirty little secret! As it matures for up to 24 months it is home to microscopic little creatures called cheese mites. As they nibble their way into the dark damp rind they promote airflow and flavor development within this big bowling ball of a cheese. No worries, they are long gone by the time you get it and the rock hard crust is not edible. Never fear, the neon orange paste is worth your trepidation. Flavors of intense caramel and floral notes are fabulous! Search out a Malbec from Cahors and enjoy!
Mrs. Quickes Cheddar, Devon, England, Raw Cow- Made from the milk of cross-bred Holstein/Freisan and Fresian/Ayrshire cows that spend 10 months grazing on grass. This produces the richest, most flavorful milk possible for this cloth bound farmhouse beauty. Earthy, vegetal flavors and a firm paste with less acidity than an average aged cheddar. A must for cheddar geeks. A Cru Beaujolais or a juicy Merlot works magic with this special cheese.
There are more than a few wonderful shops in NYC to source artisanal cheese. Here are a few that are my favorites. Both Artisanal and Murray’s will ship to your home and have interesting cheese of the month clubs you can join. Also many farmers markets have featured cheese makers offering at peak selections. Enjoy and experiment to create some favorite wine pairings of your own. Click on links for shop information.
Bedford Cheese- Small shop with an incredible selection of cheese, salumi and local accoutrements
Artisanal – Cheese Bistro has retail counter at 32nd & Park Ave, online site that will ship
Murray’s Cheese- Newly expanded flagship store on Bleecker St. with super friendly, knowledgeable staff. Grand Central location and online site that will ship
Saxelby Cheesemongers- An incredible selection of US cheeses in Essex Street Market on LES
Beechers Cheese- New cheese making facility, retail counter and great wine/cheese bar in Flatiron District