So let’s get right down to it… last night I opened three cheeses from Jasper Hill. Each came wrapped in brown paper so aside from the rough shape, all of us receiving these new cheeses had no idea what to expect.
What greeted us were three samples, each obviously the same cheese yet… not… exactly.
- Each sample is a slightly different size. The largest a fairly considerable wheel, the smallest, not exactly small.
- The rinds of all three show the characteristics of a washed rind cheese: salmon/pink, even a bit of white bloom.
- The rind of each is tacky to the touch… to varying degrees, but nonetheless a bit sticky-wet.
- The nose… forgive me for using a common descriptor but the first two samples especially smelled of cat pee. Lover’s of stinky cheese will know this is an OK trait. After warming to room temperature, the rinds dried appreciably and that odor most went away.
- The pastes of each cheese are a creamy butter-yellow.
Ooh That Smell… Meow?
Let’s talk more about the “nose” of each. Like a wine tasting, cheese-tasting depends heavily on the impact of smell; and, like wine, what the nose says and what the taste is can be quite surprisingly different. This is often true of the real stinkers. All that bacteria, mold, barnyard, feet, cat’s p-, well, you know. After warming and drying, the distinctions between the three became very apparent. Actually, it is more the similarity between samples one and two contrasted with the notable difference in nose of the third.
The first two smelled distinctly of butter-cream frosting, fairly heavy with vanilla. The contrast on the stinky rinds not playing particularly well against the sweeter odors of the pastes. Neither is particularly savory.
Number three, however, is a much different nose. Butter is still present, though less like sweet frosting. Number three smells remarkably like a fresh ear of corn, even a little buttered broccoli. It’s more vegetal, more green. It’s the most interesting of the three.
Taste & Texture
I’ll be honest, at this early stage, eaten plain in a pure tasting, none of these samples is all that interesting. Each is fairly nondescript and a little bland. I don’t know the ages of each nor whether these examples are considered “finished” or “immature”. I’d guess the latter?
All three have a creamy mouthfeel, with sample two being just a bit gritty. All are dense, with the second also being the most friable. The cheese has a longer texture to it a bit like string cheese. Sample number one has that too-powerful sense of vanilla, combined with a bit of vinegar/whey sourness. Number two misses the sourness of the first and replaces it with a more noticeable saltiness. And again, number three is the more complex. There’s that corn quality, no sourness, a bit of almost “Colby-ness” to the flavor. Number three also lingers: there is a savory “steak sauce” flavor that hangs around.
A note on melting/cooking. I tried melted samples of all three- the rinds of #1 & #2 fought a bit with the paste but would make for a good stinky “raclette-like” experience. No surprise that #3 was the best in this regard. Melted, it developed a nice tang and a bit of savory, brown-butter flavor. Nice.
With sample three being most interesting, I moved on to try a pairing. Thinking about what might work with alpine and similar washed rind cheeses, I went with something from the cellar that was ready to go, a 2009 Pinot Noir from California along with some Macadamias. Here, number three really woke up. The light fruitiness of the Pinot and the traits of the cheese were very complimentary. The sweet-saltiness of the nuts made for a very nice trio. A lighter Piedmont Barbera or a floral white (not too light) would likely pair well. I’ll give that a go soon.
As always, Birth of a Cheese blog posts here will cross-post at my Culture blog: