Friend Mo objects to the word turophile for its potential confusion with coprophiliac, but I’d rather be mistaken for someone with a shit fetish—if that would even necessarily constitute a mistake—than go with cheesehead & be mistaken for, say,
But either way, I am by no uncertain measure a cheese freak—mold, curd, paste, rind, hint of ammonia, whiff of feet, it’s all the highest expression of human achievement. When they say the wheel was man’s greatest invention, they mean the kind made of cheese.
Naturally, Alex Failmezger of Urban Pantry, the superb gourmet shop at South Broadway & Arizona that’s finally getting some of the recognition if not the foot traffic it deserves, agrees. & since she’s got the expertise to back up her belief that the world would be a cooler place if we all ate more cheese, I asked her for tips on broadening our curdled horizons. Except for the text in italics, the following’s in her words:
If you like aged parmesan, then you’ll like Vella Bear dry jack.
Cocoa-rubbed, raw cow’s milk cheese from California, $15.99
Background: During WWI a wholesaler in California salt-stored his jack cheese because of declining cheese sales. Months later, when Italy entered the war & importing stopped, this cheese wholesaler realized he had created a new cheese, dry jack, that made an excellent substitute for parm. Vella’s the only producer of dry jack left in the US.
Tasting note: It’s the texture in particular that’s akin to parmesan; the flavor, as Alex pointed out to me, is actually somewhat reminiscent of cheddar.
Cooking/serving suggestions: You can use dry jack much as you would a table parm. For the best flavor, leave it out of the refrigerator for an hour before serving to bring it up to room temperature. It will pair well & hold its own with charcuterie, olives & other salty snacks. Shave leftover bits & rinds into pasta.
If you like provolone, then you’ll like FenceLine Trumpeter Meadow.
Aged cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin, $18.99/lb.
Background: Not the rubbery provolone of your childhood, Trumpeter Meadow is all grown up. FenceLine is one of the few US cheesemakers to produce pasta filata, or stretched curd, cheeses. Hand stretching lends a firm, smooth texture to the paste (the interior of a cheese). Aging creates an incredible crust, which, while beautiful—it looks like you should put it in your fireplace—is inedible, bitter & gritty.
Tasting notes: Mild and a bit salty.
Cooking/serving suggestions: Aside from reminding your guests to cut away the crust (though you can eat right up to the edge), put it on a cheese plate with crackers & dried fruits or a savory fruit spread such as quince or fig.
If you like muenster, then you’ll like crucolo.*
*American muenster & Alsatian münster are whole different balls of wax, FYI.
Cow’s milk cheese from Trentino–Alto Adige, $21.99/lb.
Background: Crucolo hails from Trentino–Alto Adige, a northern region of Italy, near the Alps.
Tasting notes: It has the mouthfeel of meunster, a good chewy cheese. But the flavor has more bite & tang, like a parm. (Although, wonderfully, the tang stands an exclamation point at the end of a buttery, buttery phrase. Alex made me a fan of this stuff in an instant.)
Cooking/serving suggestions: One of the nice things about this cheese is its versatility; slice it, cube it, leave it in a huge hunk on the plate. (It’s awfully sexy that way, after all.) It melts well too! So add it to pizzas & toasted sandwiches.
If you like brie, then you MAY like taleggio.
Grotto-aged, washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Lombardy, $22.99/lb.
Background: From Lombardy, a central-northern region of Italy. Alex tells me the circular stamps on the top are exclusive to real taleggio.
Tasting notes: Taleggio has a soft creamy paste like brie, but with more of a punch. It ranges in flavor from tart & salty when it is young to nutty & meaty as it ages.
Cooking/serving suggestions: Serve it with alone with hard fruit,* crusty bread & a big Italian red, or on a cheese plate as the soft & creamy or full-flavored cheese (depending on whether you’re basing your selection on texture or taste). It melts beautifully, so use it on a toasted sandwich or top creamy polenta with it (check out the new Anson Mills polenta** at the store)!
*E.g. apples, grapes, plums; the term refers to fruits with a bit more durability than, say, fragile, quick-to-spoil raspberries.
**Urban Pantry is, as far as Alex knows, the only store to carry this acclaimed East Coast product locally.
If you like swiss, then you’ll like gruyère.
FWIW, swiss is 1 of my least favorite cheeses, & I still love gruyère.
Cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland, $19.99
Background: Emmental (what we in the US call swiss), gruyère & comté are all pretty similar cheeses. Made from alpine milk, it comes in large wheels & is considered one of the great cheeses of the world.
Tasting notes: Nice & chewy, salty-sweet, beefy flavor that’s more intense than emmental or comté.
Cooking/serving suggestions: Gruyère is a MUST for fondue. But if you don’t like your cheese hot and stringy, then (you are very silly &) pair it with hard fruits such as pear & apple as well as salty charcuterie.
If you like extra strong cheese like epoisses, then you’ll like Stinking Bishop.
Washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Gloucestershire, $32.99/lb.***
Background: Though its aroma has been compared to old socks, its moniker has nothing to do with its smell; it’s named after a pear varietal found in its native England.
Tasting notes: If you love the stink as I do, nothing but the stink will do. I’ve only had 1 cheese (a limburger) that was too much for even me to handle. That said, its smell is worse than its bite. The majority of the aroma comes from the rind; the paste itself tends to be relatively mild, slightly tangy.
Cooking/serving suggestions: Only serve this cheese if you know your guests will enjoy it, you know no one else will be around, or you live alone. Beyond that, since it is washed with perry (a pear brandy), pears are a natural choice; their sweetness always pairs well with gooey, stinky cheeses in any case. Dustin at Divino (the nifty wine shop handily located adjacent to Urban Pantry, which I’ve touched upon here, here & elsewhere) suggests Belle de Brillet if you want the full Gloucestershire experience. Above all, EAT IT RIGHT AWAY!
If you ALMOST like epoisses, then you’ll like langres.
Raw cow’s milk cheese from Champagne, $TBA (a new arrival)
Background: Langres is made in the same region of France as epoisses; it’s a less pungent cousin to the king of the stinkers.
Tasting notes: When fully ripe, it should have an orange rind, a fairly strong barnyard odor, a creamy texture on the edges & a chalky one in the center.
Cooking/serving suggestions: Because of its intensity, it can overpower other foods, so just enjoy it with some dried fruit at the end of your meal as you finish your bottle of wine.
General storage/serving tips: All cheeses should be tightly wrapped in a protective covering. There is much professional debate about whether plastic, tinfoil, or paper is best. I prefer plastic because you get the tightest wrap, which lets in the least amount of air. For small amounts of cheese, this is especially crucial because just a little air will dry out the cheese. For large amounts of cheese, I still use plastic, but I take the cheeses out every so often to give them a breath of fresh air.
About an hour before serving, put together your cheese plate. Let the cheeses come to room temperature on the plate. If you are worried about the cheese drying out, cover the plate loosely with plastic or a glass cheese bell.
***Lest that price tag hurt to look at, rest assured Alex feels your pain: “I’m trying to bring down the price points of the cheeses without compromising the quality. I’d rather not carry something than carry something that’s crap.” Coprophilia notwithstanding, I applaud her stance.