Cheese Is The New Wine
I really can’t explain what made me buy this.
I almost never buy bottled salad dressing. And, as you might remember, I have a particular horror of cheap blue cheese dressings.
Still, one day, I had an absolutely overwhelming desire for blue cheese dressing, and as I turned down the first supermarket aisle, there is was. On sale. For a buck. And you know I can’t turn down a cheese on sale for a dollar.
So, to my surprise, I bought shelf-stable Kraft Roka Blue Cheese Dressing.
Even more surprising: it’s actually really good.
I don’t know how they managed it—and in fact, I probably don’t want to know—but Kraft has somehow engineered a bottled blue cheese dressing that doesn’t taste like crap. It’s got a very good blue cheese taste to it (mild blue cheese, to be sure, but still) without that pongy gym-sock aftertaste most dressings have. Even my kid, who has made no secret of how much she hates “all stinky cheese,” really liked it.
Its lack of blue cheese pieces (and slightly scary ingredient list) keep it from being a truly great blue cheese dressing, but other than making it yourself, this is possibly one of the best grab-and-go blue cheese dressings around.
Ingredients: [Oh dude. You so don’t want to know. Although the label claims “No Artificial Preservatives,” it still has plenty of wtf is that? “natural” preservatives in it.]
Country of origin: USA.
Price: $.99 (on sale) for 8 oz. at Fine Fare.
Final verdict: Hide it at the back of the fridge when your foodie-douche friends visit if you must, but you and I will still know it’s well good.
So, here’s the thing about Murray’s Cheese.
First, the people behind the counter always give you their full attention. Not most of it or kind of looking at you but also kind of looking off in the distance with a bored look—their full (without being overwhelming or creepy) attention.
Then, after slicing the cheese you wanted, they very carefully wrap it up in their special cheese paper. Square, round, wedge-shaped; it doesn’t matter to these guys. It’s like cheese-paper origami.
And then, when you get it home and are about to unwrap it (with a small amount of sadness, knowing you will never ever wrap it back up again as neatly), you realize the sticker holding it all together doesn’t just say CHEDDAR $12.99/LB BEST BEFORE 10/29. It says something like: Raw cow’s milk is harvested from the lush Devon milk fields and taken to the Tickler creamery in the UK’s Taw Valley. After the 40-pound blocks have been made with traditional cultures, they are aged a full 18 months, during which an unusual depth of tangy, sweet flavor develops.
And yet, all that perfect awesomeness from Murray’s is nothing—NOTHING—compared to the total frigging awesomeness of this cheese. Yes, this cheese has reduced me to the level of a 13-year-old describing a Michael Bay movie. WHOA IT’S FRIGGING AWESOME YOU GUYS.
At its most basic level, it’s a sharp Cheddar, but it’s so much more than just sharp. Like the sticky label says, it’s genuinely tangy with a lingering sweet finish. It’s got a lovely dry, slightly crumbly texture, interspersed with little crunchy bits of crystallized salt.
Okay, it’s taken me more than an hour to write this post, simply because I can’t stop picking at this cheese as I write. Just go buy some already.
Ingredients: Raw milk, rennet, salt.
Country of origin: England.
Aged: Eighteen months.
Price: $12.99/lb. at Murray’s.
Final verdict: AWESOME LIKE WHOA DUDE.
Okay, look. I’m not a blue cheese sissy.
Yes, for many years, having only tried bottled blue cheese dressing, I thought blue cheese was putrid — at least until I tried a frisee salad with pears and blue cheese at a Legal Sea Foods in my early twenties. Fortunately for me, those were the wild west days of the dot.com boom (I was, at the time, getting paid $35 an hour to fix all the HTML accents aigu on a website for Nestlé) or else I never would have been okay with ordering a $14 salad and therefore never found out real blue cheese is actually quite good.
But I’m getting sidetracked.
Buttermilk Blue from Wisconsin is, for lack of a better description, the blue cheesiest blue cheese I have ever eaten, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The white (I guess you could call it) of the cheese has a creamy buttermilky tang, but the blue is like… have you ever eaten too much wasabi and it makes your sinuses hurt? That’s what the blue of this blue cheese is like — like a big blue cheese punching you in the face. I was into it for a couple good bites and then I was lying on the kitchen floor whimpering, “No más.”
I tried it a number of different way, but I could not find a way to make this cheese not overwhelm me, and now, sadly, it is languishing at the back of the fridge waiting to get tossed out.
Ingredients: Whole Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes, Penicillium Roqueforti.
Country of origin: USA (Wisconsin).
Aged: Two months or more.
Price: $11.96/lb. at Fairway.
Final verdict: You better REALLY frigging love blue cheese.
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Now, in my house, I am the cheese person. I’m the one who stands at the cheese counter looking equally perplexed and enraptured, deciding on cheeses a quarter-pound at a time, and then I bring them home and pick away at them over the course of a couple days. My husband and kid will sometimes try the cheeses I bring home (usually at my insistence), but otherwise, I’m King of the Cheese around here.
When I took this goat cheese with honey out of the fridge yesterday afternoon, I made my usual offer to everyone besides me: “Here, have a bite; you might like it.”
Within 20 minutes, I was looking at this:
“I love this cheese!” said my kid.
My husband agreed, saying, “I think I might be in love with this cheese.”
What did I think? Well…
Imagine an incredibly good cheesecake filling — honey-sweet, very rich, with a nice goat-milky tang. Could you eat gobs of it on its own? Then this cheese is for you. It was not, however, for me. The sweetness got to be too much for me after more than a bite or two and I surrendered the rest to those who liked it more.
Ingredients: Pasteurized goat milk, starter culture, rennet, salt, honey.
Country of origin: Belgium.
Aged: “Only a few weeks.”
Price: $8.99/lb. at Fairway.
Final verdict: Good, I guess, if you’re into that sort of thing.
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As I sat down to type in the ingredients of this cheese, I realized this should have been my first clue: nine ingredients? Even the cheese spread I reviewed only had six.
I really wanted to like this Cambozola cream cheese. It’s made by Champignon, a name I actually recognized. I like most blue cheeses and I would probably eat a clod of dirt if there was enough cream cheese on it. This should have been a win-win here. But no.
So, what happened?
Ever order blue cheese dressing in a less-than-upscale restaurant? Cheap blue cheese has this… tang to it. Not a good tanginess, but a sort of sweaty-gym-sock-plus-metallic aftertaste, right?
I tried this cheese on a burger, on a sandwich, on its own, and I kept coming back to the cheap blue cheese dressing comparison. Worse, the more of it I ate, the more I thought, you know, I bet this is what spoiled cream cheese tastes like.
The best thing I can about this cheese? At least it was only a buck.
Ingredients: Pasteurized cream, blue cheese (pasteurized milk, salt, microbial rennet, cheese cultures, penicillium roqueforti), yogurt (pasteurized milk, yogurt cultures), milk protein, cellulose gum, salt, stabilizer (carrageenan, locust bean gum), citric acid, traces of dextrose.
Country of origin: Germany.
Price: $0.99 for 2.86 oz. at Fairway.
Final verdict: Pass.
A week ago, when it was suddenly a gorgeous 80° spring day (compared to the 55° days earlier the same week), my husband, kid, and I took my visiting mother-in-law on a picnic in Central Park. First, though, we stopped into Zabar’s to pick up some things for an outdoor lunch.
For those of you who’ve never been there, Zabar’s cheese selection is absolutely overwhelming. Packed into one corner of the store, there’s a fully-staffed sizable cheese counter (where my Dutch mother-in-law was able to buy a piece of Leyden cheese — a Dutch cheese spiked with cumin seeds), as well as several more refrigerated sections of packaged cheeses… which is where I saw Snøfrisk selling for a mere $0.99.
Can you remember ever seeing halfway decent cheese being sold for a buck? Neither can I.
Still, my cheapness won out over my misgivings and I bought one.
Two days later, I went back and bought another.
It’s that good.
Snøfrisk (meaning “snow-fresh”) is a bit like chèvre and a bit like cream cheese, but less “goaty” as the former and less bland than the latter. The Snøfrisk site offers dozens of recipes for using Snøfrisk (I løve making the “ø”) — many of which, such as their cheesecake recipe, are recipes in which you would have easily used chèvre or cream cheese. I, however, first ate it on a baguette, then on crackers, and quickly realized would have eaten it on virtually anything had I not polished it off so handily.
Made by the people who brought the world Jarlsberg cheese, Snøfrisk was launched at the Olympic Games at Lillehammer in 1994 and has been sold ever since (which is more than you can say for most Olympics-themed products). According to their site, it also comes in dill, forest mushroom and juniper berry varieties. I didn’t see these, but I’ll now definitely seek them out.
Ingredients: 80% goat’s milk, 20% cow’s cream, salt, cultures
Country of origin: Norway
Aged: No. According to their site, the “length of time between milking to finished product is rarely more than two-three days.”
Price: $0.99 (on sale) for a 4.4 oz. container
Final verdict: Versatile and delightful.
Yesterday, I was in the interminable line at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods, trying to mentally calculate just how much I was about to drop, when, placed in a tray of crushed ice next to line in an oh-don’t-mind-me-I’m-just-a-sad-little-sale-item-left-over-from-the-holidays manner, there it was. Cheese spread! And not just just cheese spread: ALL NATURAL CHEESE SPREAD. These are words I have been waiting to read for my entire life without ever realizing it.
As much I love all sorts of swanky, stinky imported cheeses, I also really love cheese spreads. The most unnatural, unswanky cheese of them all, usually on a par with Cheez Whiz and Velveeta, but oh, I love them.
I quickly grabbed a tub of the Cheddar Horseradish, hoping no one would recognize me and rescind my food blogger status on the spot. As soon as the rest of the groceries were put away, I headed for the cheese spread with a knife and a slice of sourdough Wasa.
“Well?” my husband asked as I took the first bite.
“Moh ma gof, itsh so fuffing goof,” I managed to say while still cramming more in.
It’s creamy and about as salty as most other cheese spreads, but with a better, sharper Cheddar taste. And the horseradish is perfect, enough to give it a nice bite without singeing your nosehairs out. Basically, if you’re okay with buying cheese spreads in the first place, this is probably one of the best ones ever.
Ingredients: WI Grade A cheddar cheese aged nine months or more (pasteurized milk, cheese culture, uniodized salt, enzyme), reduced lactose whey, water, cream, horseradish, annatto (color). No antibiotics, added hormones, preservatives, or nitrates/nitrites added. Sustainably farmed, humanely raised, and 100% vegetarian fed.
Country of origin: USA (Wisconsin)
Aged: Nine months (at least in part).
Price: $2.99 (on sale) for an 8 oz. container
Final verdict: No one needs to know if you buy it and eat it all.