One of my favorite chapters to write in my cookbook was the cheese chapter. This is not just because I adore cheesecake, though let's be honest, that was a large part of it. It was also because it gave me a perfectly legitimate excuse to fan out a large wad of cash at my local cheese shop and not feel guilty about it in the least. The good folks at Formaggio Kitchen steered me toward more than a dozen local cheeses I hadn't tried before. Then I coerced friends and family to help me work my way through them all. Here are some of my favorites:
Tarentaise, Spring Brook Farm, VT: I could not stop eating this cheese to save my life. This was a surprise since I'd never heard of it before. But I'm a sucker for Gruyere, and this alpine-style raw cow's milk cheese was practically a dead-ringer. Call me head over heels for its irresistible nuttiness. I'd love to try it in fondue except I keep eating it all before I can get it into a pot!
Hannahbells, Shy Brothers Farm, MA: Pictured above, these tiny thimble-sized, soft-ripened cheeses are made in the French style from cow's milk on the southern coast of Massachusetts. They taste great, creamy and bright, but the cute factor is an added bonus when putting together a special cheese plate. Even I, with my stone-cold heart, couldn't help cooing over them a little. (The farm also makes a delicious fresh tangy curd called Cloumage, similar to creme fraiche or quark, that is very worth trying.)
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Cabot and Jasper Hill Farm, VT: We buy Cabot cheddar all the time at the local Hannaford—the kind you melt in grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas. This is not that kind. These aged 34-pound wheels of bandaged cheddar are a special project between Cabot, a large local dairy cooperative; Kempton Farms, the small family farm specially selected to produce the milk; and the singular artisan cheesemakers at Jasper Hill Farm. The cheese is brushed with lard (vegetarians take note) and aged for at least 10 months to produce a toothsome, complex, nutty cheese that flakes and crumbles and fractures like shale under the knife. It wins awards almost every year, and this year I finally tried it for myself. It is astonishingly good. With caramelized leeks spooned on top, it was perfection. If you want to experience how amazing cheddar in this country can be, this is it.
Other cheeses I enjoyed: Pillowy fresh goat cheese from Hillman Farm in Colrain, MA was spectacular warmed in the oven, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Ada's Honor, a semi-firm, mold-ripened goat cheese tomme from Ruggles Hill Creamery in Hardwick, MA, was served with local blueberry preserves and made everyone at the table very happy. The brie-like Moses Sleeper and washed-rind Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farm had many fans, as did the assertive Mossend blue from Bonnieview Farm, VT.
Any of these would be a great addition to your holiday cheese plates. After all, the best way to ring in the New Year is with ample amounts of cheese.* **
*Unless you're vegan