Three Cheeses We’re Loving This Month
Deer Creek The Stag
Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Wisconsin
Chris Gentine is the first to say he’s not a cheesemaker. But he is a certified “Wisconsin Master Cheese Grader,” meaning he can tell the amazing stuff from the just good stuff. He uses that knowledge to select batches of cheese he deems worthy of further aging and then sells them via his Artisan Cheese Exchange business.
He clearly knows what he’s doing given the dozens of awards the affineur has taken in recent years. Each of his cheeses has a whimsical label and name, many inspired by the characters from his favorite childhood book, The Golden Story Book of River Bend, written by Richard Scarry’s wife.
For The Stag, Chris selects the best vats of his younger cheddar, the Fawn, and ages them longer to let them develop intense and bold flavors. We love the strong toffee and butterscotch notes and the sweet finish.
Try it with a stout, hard cider, or if you want, wine. We’d go for a Pinot Noir or a Red Zinfandel.
Blackberry Farm Singing Brook
Raw Sheep’s Milk, Tennessee
Singing Brook is an aged sheep’s milk cheese that comes from Blackberry Farm in the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee. It’s a rich, nutty and buttery cheese with a sharpness reminiscent of a Manchego.
Blackberry Farms is one of the top-rated hotels in the world, but it’s far more than a hotel. It’s really a 4,200-acre farm that happens to have luxury rooms on the premises (and lets its guests take part in the daily operations). Fortunately for us, one of the things they do on the farm is make cheese from their flock of East Friesian sheep.
In fact, adding this cheese to the Cheese of the Month club is a little bit of a “coming full circle” experience. Back in the mid-2000’s, Blackberry Farm was just starting its sheep dairy and cheesemaking operations at the same time we were starting our own sheep dairy in Virginia. We spent a long weekend with their inaugural cheesemaker and several other sheep dairy operators at a small scale-forum for Southern sheep dairies.
Blackberry’s sheep dairy is an award-winning creamery, and Singing Brook is their trademark cheese. They only make it with late summer/early fall milk because that’s when the ewes become selective and only eat the most nutritious plants and grasses. This yields a more concentrated milk, and Singing Brook is their way to capture the amazing flavor of that milk. It’s aged at least six months to allow it to develop complex caramel richness.
Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Wisconsin
This cheese comes from a tiny town in Wisconsin and is made by a fourth-generation cheesemaker. It’s an “American original,” which means that there is nothing like it made in Europe. Many American artisan cheeses are inspired by French or English cheeses, but American originals are truly unique.
This one was invented in Wisconsin in the 1800s. It’s called brick because it’s made in the shape of a brick and, if it’s being made the way it was authentically made when it was created, the cheesemaker uses bricks to press the whey from the curds.
The current cheesemaker, Joe Widmer, is still using the same open vats and cheesemaking facility that his grandfather bought in 1922. And he’s still using the same bricks to press the cheese that his grandfather did. Widmer’s is the only cheesemaker in the U.S. still using real bricks to make brick cheese.
Brick is a washed-rind cheese, which means the rind is washed with a brine or a craft beer or local wine. That washing promotes the growth of the bacteria B-linens that gives washed rind cheeses orange rinds, a strong, sometimes pungent smell and an almost meaty flavor. Brick is washed with a top secret mix of brine and whey.
Pairings: This is specific because we featured brick in our Beer v. Wine class this month. Our picks were 2015 Little James Basket Press (wine) and Sunnyside’s Diebolt Charlie Blackberry Kettle Sour.