A couple weeks ago Andy and I stopped in at our local cheese shop. He was looking for a fragrant wedge of blue for a burger and I wanted a special goat cheese. I examined all the cheeses and felt a little overwhelmed. So many choices, just within the goat category alone!
When the woman asked what I was looking for, I looked up, mouth dumbly agape, and said, “I dunno.” Totally inept.
And then, as chance would have it, I discovered Cypress Grove Chevre in Arcata, California. Fortunately for me I got an interview with founder and master cheese maker, Mary Keehn. (Fortunately for you, they want us to give away a terrific cheese sampler package.)
Working with dairy scientists, cheese experts and the knowledge they’ve accumulated over a quarter of a century, Cypress Grove has written “The Secret Life of Cheese: The Ages and Stages of Soft-Ripened Goat Cheese.” This secret life, says Mary, has to do with “proteolysis,” a technical term for the thickening of the layer between the rind and the cheese curd. Over the course of several days and weeks the layer thickens. The thicker it is, the stronger the taste of the cheese. Whether you prefer young ripe, or mature soft-ripened cheese or a more aged, ripened cheese – that’s all a matter of personal taste.
Like many cheese lovers, I’m not sure what to drink with a particular cheese. Cypress Grove to the rescue. Their staffers got together one New Year’s Eve, Mary recalls, with cheese, nibbles, wine, and beer. The following is the fruit of their labor:
Wine: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc,Demi-sec sparkling wine
Beer: Light Wheat Beer
Food: Pistachios, Marcona almonds, honey, Fuji or Pink Lady apples
Serve On: Baguette, thick cracker
Wine: Pinot Noir, Rosé
Beer: Pale Ale
Food: Jamon Serrano, prosciutto, aged salami, currants, Fuyu persimmon
Serve On: Nut/fruit crackers, Olive Bread
Wine: Full bodied, aged Zinfandel or Pinot Noir, Single Malt Scotch, Prosecco
Beer: India Pale Ale (IPA)
Food: Granny Smith apples, D’Anjou pear, dates, mango chutney, dried cranberries, fig jam
Serve On: Seeded baguette, savory or sweet Spanish torta crisp bread
One of my first questions for Mary (pictured left) was about storage. Our family has always unceremoniously wrapped leftover cheese in saran wrap and plunked it in the fridge’s cheese drawer. When Andy and I were in France this summer, we noticed that our French friends stored all their cheeses, unwrapped, in a large Tupperware box which they took out of the fridge in the morning and set in the shade on their balcony in preparation for lunch. “So,” I asked, “who’s doing it the right way?” The answer is, we’re both doing it half right. Hard cheeses without a rind, like Parmigiano and Pecorino should be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to keep them fresh and moisture free. Whereas cheese with soft rinds like aged goat cheese and Camembert should be kept in Tupperware. That’s because cheeses with soft rinds are covered in white mold which is, of course, alive and needs to breathe. Plastic suffocates the white mold, a major element of the cheese. Ideally, Mary noted, cheeses with soft rinds are best stored individually in Tupperware about the same size as the cheese.
My next query was all about the ideal serving temperature. Does it really make a difference? It does—and room temp is the rule. Eating cold cheese, Mary reasoned, is like drinking cold red wine. “It’s inaccessible to your tongue.” You get the big, bold tastes but not all the subtle, nuanced flavors – the undertones, the aftertaste. Same with cheese. It may taste good, but a host of flavors are lost in the cold.
I’ve never had a master cheese maker on the line, so of course I had to ask, “What are your favorite cheeses?” Of course she eats her own cheeses, and who could blame her? They are, as the French would say, “incroyable”! But over the past twenty six years, Mary has created fantastic relationships with other cheese makers and is equally enamored of their creations. She loves the Cowgirl Creamery located in the Bay Area, which she insists is so good I have to make it part of my itinerary when I’m in San Francisco in October for Blogher. She also loves bandaged cheddar from Beecher’s in Seattle or Fiscolini’s in Modesto. But you don’t have to be on the West Coast to get Cypress Grove. They’re carried by Whole Foods, Wegmans and most gourmet grocery stores. They’ll even ship it straight to your doorstep.
I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the success story of a strong-willed pioneering woman, but Cypress Grove is the type of company you wish made all your food. When Mary started this venture twenty six years ago, she wanted to make the highest quality American goat cheese at a time when people thought goat cheese could only be made in France. At first, she even had her own goats. Ultimately, Mary realized she couldn’t develop all the cheeses she wanted to and still tend a herd of goats. Today, to ensure the quality of its milk, Cypress Grove has “a little truck” visiting small, local dairies and collecting milk. Every batch from every collection point is lab tested for bacteria, butter fat and protein quality. Their farmers get paid based on the quality of their product: the better the milk, the better the bonus. And the cheese (at room temp!) has quality that wows the palate.
Next time I walk into my local cheese shop, I’ll know what I’m looking for, what I can serve it with and how to store it. I’m feeling so confident that in a few weeks, when I have my house warming party, I’ve decided to make it a wine and cheese tasting.
Now for the good stuff…
Here’s what two lucky winners will get: (keep reading for how to get it)
Humboldt Fog – 16 oz. Fog Mini
Our signature offering, Humboldt Fog is an elegant, soft, surface-ripened goat milk cheese. The texture is creamy and luscious with a subtle tangy flavor. Each handcrafted wheel features a ribbon of edible vegetable ash along its center and a coating of ash under its exterior to give it a distinctive, cake-like appearance. An American Original!
Truffle Tremor – 12 oz. slice
The classic flavor of truffle meets the velvety perfection of ripened goat milk cheese. Earthy, elegant, and sophisticated, it’s sure to make even the most distinguished taste buds shake!
Purple Haze – 4 oz. disk
Our best selling fresh chevre — The perfect mixture of lavender and fennel pollen gives Purple Haze a sweet and addicting flavor.
Midnight Moon – 16 oz. slice
Aged six months or more, this pale, ivory cheese is firm, dense and smooth with the slight graininess of a long-aged cheese. The flavor is nutty and brown-buttery, with prominent caramel notes. Made in Europe exclusively for Cypress Grove Chevre.
Lamb Chopper – 16 oz. slice
Born to be mild, this sheep milk cheese is buttery in color and flavor with a long, complex finish. The texture is smooth and soft-firm, making Lamb Chopper an enchanting table or cooking cheese. Made in Europe exclusively for Cypress Grove Chevre.
And here’s how to get it: To enter, answer the question “My favorite cheese is ___________ ” in the comments section. You have until noon on Monday, March 8th. We will announce winners no later than 6:00 PM the same day.
UPDATE: Our winning numbers were #8 Liz and #67 Susie Butler Dodd. We’ll be in touch with you for shipping details. Thank you all for playing and congrats to our two lucky winners.