By Christine Hyatt – With Halloween just around the corner, the time is ripe to explore some fantastic cheeses which may look a wee bit scary on the outside, but which are gems of flavor perfection – a truly grown up treat.
For the uninitiated, some selections in the cheese case may look a bit menacing, but don’t let that dissuade you. Handcrafted cheeses made with traditional production techniques and a plethora of cultures, develop a variety of unique and intriguing rinds, which can put timid tasters out of their comfort zone.
With cultured curd that runs the gamut from wrinkly, brain like orbs, to velvety-rinded pucks, to blue-rinded barrels and funky, aromatic rounds, these are definitely not the “American Cheese” of your youth.
Thankfully, those truly scary, plastic-wrapped singles have been relegated to their highest aspirations: topping generic, sad burgers and oozing from Wonder Bread grilled cheese.
Rinds that form on these handcrafted cheeses appear as beneficial molds and bacteria colonize on or in a cheese. As they flourish, they transform youthful, rather bland fresh cheese curds into the wildly funky, oozy or aromatic specimen it is destined to become.
Read on to hear more about some of my favorite “Scary Cheeses” which are fun, grown up treats for Halloween and beyond. Seek them out at your favorite cheese shop or order online direct from the producer.
All of the selections in this article are part of the American Cheese Society Best of Show Project, a photo retrospective of three decades of award winning cheeses from North America’s premier organization supporting and promoting American cheese.
Hubbardston Blue from Westfield Farm in Massachusetts, may look alarming, but is ultimately delicious. When it was first entered into competition – it won Best of Show in 1987 and 1993 – an entirely new category had to be created to accommodate this externally-rinded blue cheese.
The 5 ounce, disc shaped cheese has a downy white rind with hints of blue. Similar to a brie but made with goat’s milk, the cheese has an edible penicillium rind and a soft, spreadable consistency. The cheesemaker adds blue cultures to provide additional flavor complexity.
Wabash Cannonball is a stunning little cheese hailing from Capriole Goat Cheese in Indiana. Best of Show 1995, the cheese has a unique velvety, convoluted rind that resembles a brain, a common characteristic of geotrichum rinds. You may also notice a thin layer of vegetable ash, which adds visual appeal and is traditional in French style cheeses upon which this cheese is based.
The stark, white interior paste is tangy and sliceable with a bit of softening or even oozing beneath the rind, depending on the age of the cheese. The younger the cheese, the firmer the paste. Cheeses with a bit of age may run a bit when cut. Simply scoop up with crusty bread and you’re in heaven!
In 1996, the smallest Best of Show winner was crowned as the diminutive Bluebonnet took top honors. Made by Westfield Farm, famous for the Hubbardston Blue, above, these one ounce, barrel shaped rounds come in a three pack and are dark and mysterious like a night sky on the outside with a firm, chalky and totally tasty interior.
These tiny treats start out as a Classic Blue Log, which the cheesemaker inoculates with penicillium roquefortii, a culture which results in blue veins. The logs are sliced to maximize surface area – blue molds grow when exposed to oxygen. The slicing means a perfect single serving size cheese with tangy, bright notes and a distinctive kick of blue.
2003 Best of Show winner Red Hawk is an orange-rinded, one pound round with a bold aroma and funky flavor, a hallmark of a “washed rind” cheese. Made by Cowgirl Creamery at their original Point Reyes Station location, production of this cheese depends on the cool, coastal breezes and unique microflora of the area for its character.
The interior paste has an almost butter-like richness that comes from the extra cream added to the locally sourced cow’s milk from Strauss Family Dairy. During aging, the cheese is regularly washed with brine to encourage the naturally occurring brevibacterium linens to colonize on the rind, transforming the interior paste to a smooth, rich, spreadable consistency.
Rogue River Blue is a two-time Best of Show winner in 2009 and 2011 made in southern Oregon by the historic Rogue Creamery. The blue veining in this cheese can be alarming to some, but try it anyway. You’ll be rewarded by complex yet balanced blue flavors and a dense, sweet paste with hints of pear, bacon and cream.
Perhaps the ultimate autumn cheese, wheels are made only between the autumnal equinox and the end of the grazing season using the extra-rich, late lactation cow’s milk from the creamery’s nearby dairy. Aged for a year and wrapped in local Syrah grape leaves, which have been macerated in Clear Creak Distillery Pear Brandy, this cheese is truly a taste of Oregon.
I hope this inspires you to try some of these tasty, not scary cheeses! Learn more about these incredible cheeses and get serving suggestions in the links above.
About the Contributor
Christine Hyatt is the “Cheese Creative” behind Cheese Chick Productions, a niche marketing company specializing in food photography, video production and sharing the story of handcrafted cheese and the people who make it. During her tenure as American Cheese Society President, she championed American Cheese Month which celebrates its third year this month. She loves answering cheesy questions on Facebook and Twitter.