Chow Town

Picking a favorite cheese is not an easy task

Have you ever asked a cheesemonger what his favorite cheese is?

If so there might have been a lot of hesitation, maybe even enough to make you think the guy doesn’t even eat cheese. That’s not the case I am sure.

I have coined the problem that he or she is having the “Monger’s Muddle.”

It’s real. And it affects about 95 percent of cheese slingers in the business — it’s true, no need to look it up.

It’s such a hard question for a cheesemonger. As I watched the Cheesemonger Invitational competition last month in San Francisco the top 10 mongers were asked to describe their favorite cheese and they had a really difficult time doing so.

Really, this is a hard question for these people, not the description part but most of them probably did not have a favorite cheese.

My mind is racing at this moment thinking about it. When you work with cheese everyday you tend to like cheeses for what they are and picking favorites gets really tough.

In the spirit of the “Monger’s Muddle” there are two cheese I am enjoying right now — along with all the others in the case.

First, I like Swiss Gruyere. Is it my favorite cheese? I don’t know. But it is really good. It’s versatile and melts great for cooking.

In Switzerland in the warmer months the cows are allowed to graze on the alpine pastures that are rich with wild herbs, flowers and grasses. This diverse food source creates flavorful milk and in turn flavorful cheese. The whole cheese making process is continued in these higher elevations even through the aging.

There is a special label reserved for cheese made like this. Aplage cheeses are markedly different then other more large production Gruyeres. The flavor is nutty, fruity, a little meaty and funky. The complexity can make other Gruyere seem “one note.”

At The Better Cheddar we are still working through some Alpage wheels. Once they are gone we will not see them until next fall. The nature of how the cheeses are produced makes them more expensive then your average Gruyere but the flavor is definitely worth the few extra bucks.

Second, I like Wisconsin Little Darling. Is it my favorite? I don’t know, but it can be really good. As its name states the cheese is literally little. Each wheel is about 1.75 pounds.

Made by Brunkow Cheese, Little Darling is sold under the Fayette Creamery label. Brunkow is your typical cheese making operation in Wisconsin — you know orange block cow’s milk cheddars and “cold pack” cheese spreads. But in 2006 they introduced some smaller batch artisanal cheese to their repertoire.

One of those new cheeses was Little Darling. It is basically fashioned after a French tomme style cheese. This process includes letting wild molds grow on the cheese as it ages. Whatever mold is flying around in their cave is what grows on the cheese.

On Little Darling all sorts of gray, white and brown molds give it a cool rustic look. There are even splotches of rusty red colored molds. All of these molds bring an earthy, mushroomy note to the cheese that are expressed in a dank, musty aroma.

I tend to think that Little Darling is not that complex in flavor. It is tangy and a little nutty. It often reminds me of a cheddar. It’s great as a table cheese paired with a chutney or jam.

Are they my favorite? I don’t know. But it wouldn’t hurt to try them. Who knows maybe you’ll find your favorite cheese.

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.

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