by Sarah Mason
In another life, Sarah was an office stooge, Internet addict, and curator of Miss Sarah's Freak of the Week. She discovered the beauty of cheese when she became a cheesemonger, and now she sells lots of cheese and craft beer from her grocery & deli on Chincoteague Island, VA, called Poseidon's Pantry.
Many of the best cheeses in the world are made right here in the United States. That's right, France, I said it.... Here are a few that I have enjoyed the hell out of in the past year.
1. TARENTAISE - Cow - Thistle Hill Farm, North Pomfret, Vermont
This cheese won the Best of Show award this year at the American Cheese Society Competition and it totally deserves it. It's probably the most artisanally-made cheese in the U.S., and holds its own against any cheese in Europe. Why is it so good? Thistle Hill Farm makes this cheese and this cheese only, from the milk of their own cows, and they've been making it for over a decade. They're quite good at it, at this point. Tastes like the best butter and mountain grasses and nuts and caramel. Treat yourself!
2. SOFIA - Goat - Capriole Goat Cheese, Greenville, Indiana
Q: What would it be like to eat a cloud, if a cloud was made of goat cheese? A: Sofia. It's tender, velvety light, and not at all gamey. Truly, it's amazing. Also a 2014 ACS Competition winner.
3. CREMONT - Cow & Goat - Vermont Creamery, Websterville, Vermont
Yes, it will stink up the fridge a bit. But that smell gives Cremont its character, and gives its mild creamy flavor a funky, slightly acidic edge. Quite rich, as it's made from goat and cow's milk enriched with cow cream, but not cloying. Put it out on the kitchen counter in the morning and let it sit out all day, lightly funking up the joint, and then enjoy it just before or after dinner, maybe with a glass of Cava or hard cider.
4. HARBISON - Cow - Jasper Hill Creamery, Greensboro, Vermont
Yep, Vermont's really got it goin' on; it's like the Napa Valley of cheesemaking. Harbison is a wonderful example of a cheese that rivals some of the best in Europe. It's a soft-ripened cheese, but that doesn't even begin to describe its ooey-gooey texture. It's wrapped in spruce bark (an old Swiss tradition), so it tastes like you're spooning up cheese off the forest floor. But in a good way. Should be eaten when quite ripe. Squish it just a little before you buy it to make sure it's ready.
5. GRAND CRU SURCHOIX - Cow - Emmi Roth USA, Monroe, Wisconsin
So aged and intensely flavored it's almost not like cheese anymore, but rather like an edible gemstone or crystal. With a caramelly finish that borders on bitter, especially when close to the rind. It's really quite extraordinary and nuanced. Don't cook with it, it's a total waste. Actually don't cook with the first six cheeses on this list, unless you just enjoy throwing money away.
6. CAVE AGED MARISA - Sheep - Carr Valley Cheese Company, La Valle, Wisconsin
The owner of Carr Valley, Sid Cook, is a super-prolific genius cheese inventor who is constantly coming up with delicious new cheeses. I mean, the number of cheeses Carr Valley makes is crazy! It's seriously like a hundred, easily, and many of them are Sid Cook originals. Marisa is named for Sid's daughter. Sheep's milk has more sugar than cow or goat milk and the sweetness of Cave-Aged Marisa proves it. Cave-aging adds another layer of flavor and complexity. Transforms and opens and blooms into something truly wonderful at room temperature, as all good cheeses do (but particularly sheep's milk cheeses).
7. BURRATA - Cow - BelGioioso Cheese, Green Bay, Wisconsin
I know, I know, burrata is so five years ago, right? But here's the thing: it's simply quite good. And don't bother with getting the way-overpriced, flown-in-overnight stuff from Italy. They now make tasty bags of mozzarella filled with curds and cream right here in Wisconsin. In fact, I'm pretty sure BelGioioso's burrata is even available at Walmart. (But don't buy it there, unless you absolutely have to!) Eat at room temperature, dressed simply with balsamic, salt and pepper, or ripe tomatoes and basil. The interior is soft and luscious. Sometimes you don't need the most complex and aged cheese out there.... just a mouthful of creamy goodness.
8. BREAD CHEESE - Cow - Carr Valley Cheese Company, La Valle, Wisconsin
This cheese comes in a slab and looks like a piece of cake, or bread. But it's a chewy, mild, salty, buttery delight, best served hot. You can microwave it or, even better, fry it up in a pan. Apparently it's a thing in Finland, where it's called Juustoleipa. You can also use it in recipes! I sliced it and fried it with some peppers and onions and put it in a tortilla. Yum.
9. TILLAMOOK 3-YEAR CHEDDAR - Cow - Tillamook Cheese, Tillamook, Oregon
This is a fairly easy-to-find cheddar that just hits the spot. It's exactly what I want in an aged cheddar: tangy, not so sharp that's it's bitter, creamy, a bit crunchy, salty.
10. SMOKEY BLUE - Cow - Rogue Creamery, Central Point, Oregon
The bacon of cheeses. Normally I find smoked cheeses to be overdone, but not this one. It's a perfect balance of creamy, smoky, nutty, and salty. Just, wow.