Hunkering Down: Four strong cheeses for weathering winter months

Story and Photo by Tenaya DarlingtonCOLD NIGHTS ARE IDEAL FOR CHEESE TASTINGS, and this time of year, strong flavors warm the cockles. Whenever I put together a cheese board, I aim for a range of textures and flavors. The mix below—all cheeses are made locally—reflect the bold colors and tastes of the winter holidays, from a new washed-rind cheese infused with orange zest to an award-winning blue that breathes hints of licorice. Add some tasty local beers, a handful of nuts, some Tait Farm apple pepper jelly, local honey, and you’ve got a lovely night by the fire.
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Cheese of the Month: Full Nettle Jack

story and photo by Tenaya DarlingtonIN THE WORLD OF FLAVORED CHEESES, Full Nettle Jack (a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam film, Full Metal Jacket) is a special character. Even if you’re the sort of person who bristles at the mere mention of “nettles”—they do sting, after all—you ought to reserve judgment. This bright-tasting cheese is both vegetal and herbaceous with a kick of vinegary acidity.  ¶  The taste evokes dill pickles, and would do well as slices on a Cubano sandwich. Full Nettle Jack is also a great cheese for melting. In fact, cheesemaker Sam Kennedy swears by Nettle Jack macaroni and cheese.
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Cheese of the Month: Blue de Ewe

It's rare to find a raw sheep’s milk blue outside the Roquefort Caves in France. But Pennsylvania can now make this claim, thanks to two Amish farmers, shepherd Emanuel Beiler and cheesemaker Amos Miller. Beiler, who raises sheep in Lancaster County, wanted to add value to his milk; Miller, who makes a variety of artisan cheeses at his Leola dairy—Misty Creek—likes to experiment. This summer, they released their collaborative endeavor under the Shepherd’s Hollow Farm label, which is distributed by Farm Fromage—an intermediary for Amish dairy.
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Cheese of the Month: Amram

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Cheese of the Month: Havilah

story by Tenaya DarlingtonHere’s a cheese perfect for the onset of fall, a raw-milk beauty that pairs well with apples, nuts and even chocolate. Havilah, from Lawrenceville, N.J., is a firm, nutty cheese that’s somewhere between a mild Cheddar and a mountain-style Swiss. It’s sweet and milky with a pleasantly bright finish similar to apples. If you’re setting out a snack plate or looking for a good munching cheese, this is a good choice. Havilah is also great cubed and tossed onto a salad, alongside dried cranberries and pecans.
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Cheese of the Month: Cranberry Creek Chevre

story by Tenaya DarlingtonWord of a new cheesemaker travels fast at Headhouse Square Farmers Market. There, amid the flowers and fresh vegetables, you’ll find muffins of beautifully-crafted fresh goat cheese by Mary-Jean Bendorf and Jeff Henry. Bendorf and Henry travel from their Pocono farmstead to offer raw goat’s milk and an assortment of raw and pasteurized cheeses, including a tart little natural-rinded goat cheddar. They’re also experimenting with an Appenzeller twinged with blue, for a crazy jackalope of a cheese.
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Cheese of the Month: Grass-Fed Ricotta

story by Tenaya Darlington, madamefromageblog.comForget about the sad, granular cement that comes in supermarket tubs. Fresh ricotta is feather-light, like the cheese Mark Lopez produces at his Wholesome Dairy Farms in Yellow House, Pa. Made from grass-fed milk, this stuff is dream-inducing. Take a spoonful, drizzle some honey on it, and you will experience double rainbows. That’s a promise.
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Cheese of the Month: Maysiola

story by Tenaya Darlington, madamefromageblog.comThis spring, Pete Demchur of Shellbark Hollow Farm debuted a new cheese he calls Maysiola—a moon pie of pasteurized goat’s milk named after Masie, one of his favorite Nubian goats, and with nods to robiola, an Italian cheese. Maysiola has a grassy scent and custardy innards, and if you’re a Brie head, you’ll enjoy this bloomy-rinded character. It’s more robust than a Brie, but not as tangy as a typical robiola.
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Cheese of the Month: Baby Bloomer

story by Tenaya DarlingtonIn France, spring goat cheese is prized for the delicate, vegetal flavor imparted by grass blades the nanny goats nibble. In Philadelphia, you can get a taste of this early succulence when you cut into Baby Bloomer. This aged log of local goat cheese is based on a recipe for Bucheron, a French specialty that looks like a cake roll. Its center is dense and supple, and the surface is covered in “bloom”—a fine layer of snowy mold. Imagine a creamy chèvre with a lemony prickle.
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Cheese of the Month: Oldwick Shepherd

Last year, Valley Shepherd Creamery in New Jersey appeared on my radar and quickly became a favorite source for rustic, raw-milk cheese. This Pecorino-style wedge made from the milk of pasture-raised sheep is a good choice for February, when your disposition needs sweetening and your palate craves dense, nutty cheeses. Tuck a wedge of Oldwick Shepherd into your down vest pocket and go for a walk in the woods. Pair this with a flask of scotch, and you’ve got a mood lifter—call it the ultimate stay-cation package.

Oldwick Shepherd has a natural (edible) rind and a dense paste like a Pecorino, but it tastes more like a cave-aged Gruyère crossed with a clothbound cheddar. The wheel I tried was caramel-sweet and herby; near the rind, I detected pronounced walnut notes. Unlike other sheep cheeses, there isn’t a muttony finish. As one friend from the Garden State recently told me, “This cheese makes me proud to be from New Jersey.” 

Tenaya Darlington,

Look for cheeses from Valley Shepherd Creamery at Di Bruno Bros. and Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market. Valley Shepherd Creamery, 50 Fairmount Rd., Long Valley, N.J.;

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Cheese of the Month: Blue Suede Moo

Around the holidays, Blue Suede Moo has become my local go-to Stilton impersonator. Like its famous British counterpart, it’s straw colored with beautiful indigo veining, densely packed beneath a cobblestone-like rind. One whiff, and you smell a burlap sack full of walnuts. One taste, and your mouth fills with toasty nuts and portobello mushrooms. The finish is like green branches on your tongue.
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Cheese of the Month: Old Man Highlander

Calkins creamery in honesdale makes a brie-style cheese called Noble Road that has garnered a cult following. But the creamery also produces a Gouda-style heartthrob with a nutty swagger, which is just as fabulous. If Robert Redford were a cheese, he’d be this one. Old Man Highlander even has a leathery exterior. Inside though, it’s all walnuts and sweet cream, thanks to the unpasteurized milk of Delaware River Valley Holsteins.

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Cheese of the Month: Red Cat

If you’re looking for a bold cheese to pair with beer, reach for Red Cat from Birchrun Hills Farm. This classic washed-rind stinker from Sue Miller isn’t as bossy as a ripe Epoisses—a pungent French delicacy—but it has the same creamy texture and beefy character. Think of stewed meat and bitter greens. The slightly astringent finish makes this cheese an ideal pairing for the rustic hoppiness and grapefruity twang of a Yards Pale Ale. For something gentler and smoother, try Red Cat alongside a pint of Slyfox Saison VOS. Loaded with apricot and honey notes, this saison softens Red Cat’s growl into a luxurious purr.

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Cheese of the Month: Hummingbird

When Kristian Holbrook named his mixed-milk robiola “Hummingbird,” he couldn’t have chosen a more perfect image. Like its namesake bird, this soft cheese is bright and delicate, with a nectar-like flavor profile that calls to mind vanilla and citrus. At one week, Hummingbird has the consistency of airy cheesecake; at three, the center liquefies and gains pungency.

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Cheese Of The Month: Claudio’s Mozzarella

Claudio Specialty Foods
by tenaya darlington,

If you’ve never had fresh mozzarella—I’m talking one-hour-old—do yourself a favor and stroll down to Claudio’s in the Italian Market. It’s one of the few places in the city where you can still observe a food tradition in action. Like Nan Zhou (927 Race St.), the noodle bar in Chinatown where you can observe skilled technicians pulling dough into ribbons, at Claudio’s you can see people in shower caps making mozzarella by hand, Tuesday through Saturday.
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