Cheeses

Why is Cheese Orange?

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

A lovely pale yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

Milk is white, not orange. Ever wondered how orange cheese was born?

Historically, cheese with more butterfat could be sold for a higher price at market. Higher butterfat naturally gives cheese a deeper, more creamy/yellowy color, so shoppers could look for more color when they wanted the best, most nutritious cheese. Legend has it that when old-world cheese makers wanted to cheat, they would skim the cream off of their milk and turn that into butter to make additional income. Then, left with only skim milk with which to make their cheese, they invented a way to give their “skinny” cheese the “heavyweight” color. Adding artificial colors from flower petals and other sources tricked consumers into paying more.

How and when this slight influence of color turned into the neon orange cheeses we see today, I have no idea. It must have been like people who use too much spray tanner… they just don’t know when to stop (and they think they look great).

Interestingly, orange cheeses have become staples of certain communities. For instance, East Coast Americans want their Cheddar white and Midwestern Americans want their Cheddar orange. In fact, some cheese makers will produce the same cheese in both orange and white for different regions. Today, cheeses can be colored naturally (annatto seed) or artificially (synthetic dyes).

Green Hill

Green Hill, from Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia, is a true American original. This double-cream, soft-ripened buttery beauty is hand-crafted from grass-fed cows’ milk. Its grassy flavor is delicate and fresh, due in part to the fact that it’s only aged a few weeks. Because of the small size (a 7-oz. disc) that’s plenty of time to mature the cheese to gooey perfection.

The question we always get with cheeses like Green Hill is, “Should I eat the rind?” The answer is absolutely YES! Soft-ripened rinds add flavor and texture to your cheese. And in the case of Green Hill, the rind is so delicate, there’s no risk of flavor overload.

Pair Green Hill with a crusty baguette (it’s the best partner for the unctuous texture). Add sparkling wine like Cava or Champagne to take it to a whole new heavenly level.

And remember… ALWAYS EAT AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. This is true of all cheeses, but is especially critical with creamy cheeses like Green Hill.

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Summertime Blues

Sure, blue cheese is salty and piquant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it during the hotter months.

On a platter, I recommend lighter blues like:

Cambozola: this German blue has the texture and rind of a Brie, but it lightly marbled with blue mold. Its flavor is mild and its mouthfeel is decadent and buttery.

Gorgonzola Dolce: “Dolce” means “sweet,” and in this case, it refers to the fact that this Gorgonzola is milder and creamier than its intense older cousin, Gorgonzola Piccante. Gorgonzola is one of the most ancient cheeses, being made in northern Italy for over 1,000 years. It has a texture like firm icing and a flavor like grass.

BUT one of the greatest ways to enjoy blue during the summer months is melted on a burger. In that case, you want to go for a stronger blue whose texture will stay (somewhat) cohesive and whose flavor will hold up when exposed to heat.

A fun approach is to choose older versions of the cheeses on your platters. Show your guests what time does to cheese by tasting the younger and older side-by-side. I recommend:

Grand Noir: This older sibling of Cambozola is aged longer – and aged in wax – increasing its flavor intensity, but still maintaining a dense, creamy texture. It will melt nicely, stay flavorful, and be able to stand up to the rich beefiness of any burger.

Gorgonzola Piccante: “Piccante” means “spicy,” which is a nice way of saying that this cheese is quite intense. Its texture is like a dense pudding with a bit more crumble that Gorgonzola Dolce. It will warm without liquefying and nothing will diminish this heavy cheese’s flavor.

Now… go eat some blue cheese, people!

 

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Grayson, a.k.a. Sir Stinks-a-lot

Grayson is one of those cheeses that people either love… or can’t stand. Like literally can’t stand near it. Falling into the Washed-Rind category, Grayson is a particularly heady specimen. Not only it its rind moist and pungent, but the cheese is also unpasteurized, which makes the flavors even more pronounced. The paste is velvety and rich while the edible rind is supple and piquant (yes, this rind is edible – try it!)

Some call Grayson “meaty” or “farmy” or even “fruity” (yes – those are the hard-core stink lovers). I call Grayson a work of art, made by hand on a family farm in Galax, Virginia, called Meadow Creek Dairy. The cows are pasture-born and pasture-raised, never confined, and dine on rich grasses all season long.

Cheeses like Grayson are best paired with off-dry white wines like Riesling or for the optimal combination, go for a full-flavored beer.

Learn how to store stinky cheeses like Grayson at home in this handy-dandy video by our owner, Jill Erber.

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Dragon’s Breath: Raw. Fiery. Fierce.

Keswick Creamery’s Dragon’s Breath has been with Cheesetique almost from the beginning. Once we tasted it, we knew that it would be the only cheese on earth that could make our Pimiento Cheese so special. We used it then. We use it now.

Keswick Creamery is a special place. Located near Newburg, PA, it takes pride in its herd of Jersey cows, which graze on fresh pastures and never see artificial hormones. Keswick uses organic practices and time-honored cheese-making techniques.

Dragon’s Breath is a raw cows’ milk cheese in the style of Jack, but with the addition of Jalapeño, Habanero, and Birdseye peppers. This trifecta of fire makes for such a unique, layered heat, that Dragon’s Breath is elevated from merely a “pepper jack” to a work of art. Another reason this cheese is so exceptional? The unpasteurized milk gives the cheese itself such defined flavor, it really stands up to the spice.

If you want to try Dragon’s Breath in the flesh, ask for a taste at our cheese counter. Or take home a tub of our Pimiento Cheese. You won’t regret it.

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Pecorino Romano: Savory and Sassy

In Italian, the word “Pecorino” simply means “sheep’s milk cheese.” There are hundreds produced, ranging from young and tender to firm and intense, and including anything from peppercorns to truffles to red pepper flakes.

Because we cook so much with cheese, I’m always seeking flavorful, robust, low-maintenance additions to our cheese drawer. One that often cycles through is the beloved Pecorino Romano. This cheese is made today just as it has been for over 2000 years (in fact, it was carried as rations for ancient Roman troops because it was so nutritious). When you taste Pecorino Romano, you are tasting history.

Milk: 100% Sheep

Taste: Salty and super-tangy. Some would even call it “gamey.” But in a great way.

Texture: Very firm. Perfect for grating, but also for slicing. Serving at room temperature is CRITICAL for this cheese, as the high fat content will cause it to be brittle and almost flavorless when cold.

Cooking: Melts well, but is especially impactful when grated over roasted vegetables or pasta, as its flavor is robust throughout heating.

 

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Feta Cheese: Ancient & Awesome

Feta is one of the most ancient cheeses in the world. In fact, some claim it was the “first” cheese ever created. Since this was many thousands of years ago, we may never know the full story, but suffice it to say that Feta has witnessed every major world event since the foundation of human society. Wow.

Feta is very simple – a fresh cheese whose curd is pressed and then preserved in salty brine. Stored this way, Feta can last for months, which would have served ancient people well in the days before refrigeration.

Milk: Originally, Feta would have been made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. Today, most Feta in the world is made from milder cow’s milk, as it is more plentiful (Feta is very popular).

Taste: Because of its unique preparation, Feta is a very salty cheese. If made from sheep’s milk, it is also quite full-flavored (almost gamey). When made from cow’s milk, it’s still salty, but you won’t get that nice full flavor – you get mostly salt.

Texture: Since the curd is just lightly pressed together, Feta is very crumbly, and works beautifully as a topping to other dishes. When you put it in your mouth, however, high quality Feta will become quite creamy, not grainy.

Cooking: Feta melts well, turning soft, not gooey, and maintains its flavor when heated.

One way to serve Feta which will blow your mind is to mix it with fresh melon of any kind. It’s a life-changer. Check out this recipe, where we pair Feta, melon, and grilled Grouper (yes – FISH!) with Feta. If you think fish can’t go with cheese, this will change your mind.

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An Epic Battle of the Goudas

Just for kicks, we decided to have our own little Battle of the Goudas at Chez Erber. The final decision was made by a toddler, so that’s always exciting.

Beemster XO (right), with its deeper color, advanced crystallization, and brittle texture competes against Wilde Weide (left), with a more buttery color and firm but creamy texture.

The first contestant was the ever-popular (and eternal Cheesetique staple) Beemster XO, a 26-month pasteurized cow’s milk Gouda renowned for its deep butterscotchy flavor and dense, chewy texture. The second, a relative youngster, was Wilde Weide, a raw cow’s milk Gouda aged for about 15 months. Both cheeses hail from the Netherlands.

The big question is: will advanced age beat out raw milk?

Aroma: You can smell Beemster’s sweet richness a mile away. Your hands smell like butterscotch after you’ve handled it. Wilde Weide is more delicate so you don’t get that same aromatic punch. Winner: Beemster.

Texture: Beemster is chewy and crunchy, bordering on brittle. Wilde Weide is also super-firm, but raw milk makes it more creamy on the palate. Winner: Wilde Weide.

Flavor: Beemster is intensely sweet and savory at the same time, tasting of salty butterscotch. Wilde Weide is more subtle, still having butterscotch notes, but not so “in-your-face.” Winner: Wilde Weide.

Overall: For a more nuanced flavor with excellent creaminess, go for Wilde Weide. If you want an intense “a little goes a long way” experience, go for Beemster.

To make the final decision, I checked with the nearest 2-year-old child, who happens to be the exact same age as the Beemster we tested. Which did she prefer? The pictures speak for themselves.

The moment of anticipation. Which will she choose?

The moment of anticipation. Which will she choose?

The first bite. Not necessarily the method I'd recommend in good company.

The first bite. Not necessarily the method I’d recommend in good company.

Hmmm...

Hmmm…

The face says it all. The winner is... Wilde Weide! (at least for this toddler)

The face says it all. The winner is… Wilde Weide! (at least for this toddler)

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Brebirousse, a Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing?

Brebirousse d’Argental is one of my all-time favorite cheeses, not least of all because it’s kind of sneaky. Why? At first glance (and sniff), one might think this is a washed-rind cheese. But unlike cheeses that are rinsed in brine to foster the growth of orange-hued, stinky bacteria, Brebirousse is a “simple” soft-ripened cheese with natural color added to the rind.

Sheep’s milk makes Brebirousse sweet and rich, and its mold-covered rind creates an unctuous texture and heady fragrance.

But it’s NOT washed. Let’s just call it a sheep in wolf’s clothing!

(Pair with Champagne or lightish-reds like Red Burgundy or Cotes du Rhone).

 

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Burrata Beautiful

Burrata is a cloud of creamy goodness – a palm-sized purse of fresh cow’s milk Mozzarella filled with creamy curd. When you cut into Burrata, it is super-squishy, like cutting into a water balloon (see video below). The taste is all fresh cream and luxurious simplicity.

Burrata with Roasted Red Peppers

Burrata with roasted red peppers, chopped pistachios, olive oil and sea salt.

 

Feel free to adorn your Burrata with olive oil and Balsamic – or roasted red peppers and chopped pistachios as we did here. But honestly, eating it straight with a spoon is also lovely!

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