October is American Cheese Month. The American Cheese Society designates the entire month of October to cheeses that are produced in North America.
They do this to raise awareness of the diversity and quality of the cheese we make in the U.S. and Canada. Beyond great cheese, American Cheese Month promotes local foods, family farms, traditional methods and sustainable production models.
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I thought I would share some of my favorite American cheeses on this occasion. One of the reasons why American Cheese Month is important is the fact that farmstead and artisanal cheeses produced in America are, more often then not, more expensive then other cheeses. Even cheeses that are imported from Europe are frequently less expensive then their American counterparts. In reaction to a price you often hear someone say “they must really be proud of their cheese.”
I am sure they are proud of their cheese, but it is not simply that fact that makes the cheese expensive. The money and time that goes into making cheese — a highly regulated industry — is passed on to the consumer in the cheeses price. In farmstead and artisanal cheeses we see the cost of regulation, infrastructure, expertise, time and energy reflected in the price.
Bent River Camembert is a great example of American artisanal, small-batch cheese making. Keith Adams, owner of Alemar Cheese Company, makes this fine cheese in Mankato, Minn. Alemar Cheese Co. is a one-man cheese making operation and this comes with its share of hardships.
This August, drought led to a shortage in the high quality cows milk Adams sources from a local organic dairy farm. He got a two-week vacation but he quickly ran out of cheese. Such is the life of a small cheese maker.
Bent River wheels are approximately 14 ounces with a white mold rind. As the cheese ages the interior breaks down into a molten runniness, great for a crusty loaf of bread. When Bent River is young the flavor is of butter, mushroom and hints of grass. The center is still firm with just the edges starting to break down and ooze. But as the cheese ripens the cheese becomes softer and the flavors intensify.
I even get some distinctly vegetal notes of Brussels sprouts and asparagus. Whether you prefer the cheese younger or older there is a constant clean and rich lactic undertone present.
Rogue River Blue’s — yes naming your cheese after a river is as ubiquitous as a band with a numeric name in the 90’s — 2012 vintage was recently released and for hardcore blue cheese lovers this cheese is a must have, even if it is just a small sliver of the five pound wheel. Rogue Creamery in Central Point Oregon makes this cheese seasonally.
The wheels of cheese are aged anywhere from eight months to a year and then released. As I write this they are making the cheeses that will be released next year. This raw milk blue is aged and then hand wrapped in Carpenter Hill Vineyards’ Syrah grape leaves that are macerated in Clear Creek Pear Brandy.
The flavors are very pronounced with a spicy blue cheese punch. Hints of brandy and fruit come though as well. Those flavors are balanced by sweetness with hints of butterscotch and caramel. These complex flavors won Rogue River Blue “Best in Show” at the American Cheese Society Competition in 2009 and 2011. It also won “Super Gold” at the World Cheese Awards in 2012.
Miette is one of the newer cheeses made at Baetje Farm in Bloomsdale, Mo. Its name basically means “crumb” or “bit” maybe a reference to its small stature. The four-to-six ounce sheep and goats milk cheese is covered in a moldy, wrinkly, white rind. When it reaches its destination in cheese shops at only a couple weeks old the cheese is soft, with the texture of cheesecake. As it ages the cheese begins to break down into a flowing liquid below the surface of the rind.
This reminds me a lot of Italian La Tur in texture but the flavor to me is a little more subtle. It has mild, sweet, milky flavor with subtly earthy undertones of grass and mushrooms. It seems rich on the tongue but hey, it is only a crumb so you might as well just eat the whole thing. Try it with crusty bread and something sweet, like a little honey.
If you can, go out and support real American cheese producers by buying their great products this month. I would venture to guess that they are not in the business to get rich because it’s a difficult way to do so. However, I would also guess that, like me, they see the importance of keeping alive traditions seemingly lost to industrialization just 30 years ago. Please support American-made cheeses.
Lincoln Broadbooks loves cheese. He is one of the first cheesemongers in the United States and Canada to become an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional. He is the manager and buyer for The Better Cheddar in Prairie Village. You can check out his monthly Cheese Wiz column in Tastebud Magazine and find him on Twitter @LincolnBbook and on Instagram @lincycheese.