Rainbow Cheesemonger Gordon Edgar Picks the Best Cheeses of 2009
Putting a cheese platter together for a holiday bash? Promise you're not planning to hit up Trader Joe's for a shopping bag full of industrial specimens entombed in factory plastic. In case you've been distracted by life these past 12 months, turns out 2009 was an interesting year in cheese ― which is where Gordon Edgar comes in. Cheese buyer at Rainbow Grocery (1745 Folsom at 13th St.) since 1994, Edgar curates an exquisite selection of the mild and the pungent, the grate-worthy and the semisoft. His cheesy memoir, Cheesemonger: A Life On the Wedge, will be published in early 2010 by Chelsea Green. Behold Edgar's picks for half a dozen of the most interesting cheeses you can drop on a platter this season. ―J. Birdsall, SFoodie Editor
2009 is almost over, so the Weekly asked me to do a little cheesemonger reflection upon this past year in cheese. If you love the cheese, a few new cheeses and dairy trends have surfaced that are worth checking out:
1. The New Swiss: Because of changes in Swiss government dairy subsidies, a lot of milk that used to go to Emmenthal and Gruyère is now available for creative cheesemakers. My favorite among the New Swiss is Challerhocker, a cheese with all the amazing sweet, nutty, slightly pungent flavor of a well-aged Gruyère, but with a creamy, semisoft texture (and including those amazing aging crystals). Besides Challerhocker, a plethora of new Swiss cheeses are available in select Bay Area shops: Nidelchas, Scharfer Max, Brebis Rossinière, Selun, Försterkäse, Dallenwiller, and Heublumen, to name just a few.
2. Dunbarton Blue: Made by the Roelli Cheese Company in Shullsburg, Wis., this cheese is basically a beautifully aged farmhouse cheddar with blue veins running throughout. No blue out there compares to this, except for the accidental veining found at times in other traditionally made cheddars (like Neal's Yard Montgomery or Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped). Sharp and earthy, with a mild- to medium-strength taste of blue.
3. Prairie Breeze: Half the things I do in my work-life seem to lend themselves to fart jokes so, to echo those old Smucker's ads, if we bring in a cheese that lends itself so easily to "cutting the cheese" mocking, it's gotta be good. Prairie Breeze comes from the Milton Creamery in Iowa and is made in unpretentious 40-pound blocks, the staple of American cheesemaking. Using local Amish rBGH-free milk, the flavor is like a cross between cheddar and aged Gouda: sharp and sweet like caramel.
4. The New Bay Area Sheep Cheeses: Bellwether Farms makes great sheep cheeses (and truly amazing sheep-milk yogurt) but for years they have been the only local producers. However, this year both Barinaga Ranch and Bleating Heart have come on the scene, making amazing Basque-style cheeses. Barinaga Basseri has the classic nutty, fruity, and earthy flavor of Pyrenees cheeses, while the Bleating Heart Fat Bottom Girl is sweeter and more firm (and sold out before I could even make a Freddie Mercury sign!). Hopefully, more of both these cheeses will be available in 2010, since cheese eaters love local sheep.
5. Délice de la Vallée: Longtime cheese educator and caterer Sheana Davis (The Epicurean Connection) has been serving this soft, spreadable cow/goat blend for years at her own events. This year she started selling it commercially and almost everyone who tried it asked, "Why didn't anyone do this before?" Tangy and rich, taking the best parts of the goat and the cow, this pairs amazingly with almost any fruit, jam, or chutney. As with many new products put out by people and not huge corporations, availability has been spotty, but next year cheesemongers throughout the Bay have been promised a lot more Délice.
Délice de la Vallée