If you’re working on your resolutions, allow me to weigh in. There’s never been a better time to explore American cheese, and with the bounty available to you from small artisans it’s high time to move beyond Cheddar and Brie. In the spirit of newness, here are five types of American cheese to try in 2013.
Note: These selections are all from the eastern part of the United States, but you can find variations of these cheeses across the country.
1) Try an American washed rind.
My top pick for funky cheeses is Hudson Red. When I saw it on the cheese board at Daniel, Manhattan’s 3-Michelin Star French restaurant, I knew it had arrived. Washed rind cheeses got their start in French monasteries, but this style is now produced across the United States, from the award-winning Grayson in Virginia to California’s stunning Red Hawk. Hudson Red, from Twin Maple Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, is made from raw cow’s milk and washed with a saltwater brine. It comes in a small round that tastes like ultra creamy bacon. Serve it with Cognac.
2) Skip the Brie and try an American triple-crème.
The French may have perfected the mouthfeel of ultra rich cheese, but American makers haven’t lost time in developing their own sensuous souvenirs. On New Year’s, try my new favorite cream bomb: Kunik, from Nettle Meadow Farm in Thurman, New York. Heralded as the sexiest cheese in America (by Esquire), it’s so much better than the tasteless rubber diskettes of Brie sold at supermarkets. Fatty Jersey cow milk and delicate goat’s milk are combined in a small wheel that is both naughty and flavorful. Serve it like cheesecake, with bubbly and berry preserves.
3) Try a cheese with an unusual surface.
Show your friends that American cheese does not always come in blocks. In fact, American rinds can be quite beautiful, thanks to artisan companies like Cricket Creek Dairy in Williamstown, Mass. Their award-winning Maggie’s Round Reserve gets its stunning surface striations from a basket mold – a plastic form that mimics straw. Many early cheesemakers packed their cheeses in grass or in reed baskets, something the FDA would frown at now. Still, Cricket Creek’s nod toward tradition is one reason I love this gentle, Brazil-nutty cheese from the foothills of the Berkshires. Serve it with a bright white wine.
4) Melt some American Raclette.
Both the Swiss and the French make this gorgeous melter, but so does a small family of artisans in rural Vermont. Reading Raclette may just be the most reached-for cheese by the crew at Di Bruno Bros. when mongers need a hunk for the road. RR is great melted on sandwich or on top of onion soup. For a simple meal, toss cubes of it into a skillet of home fries, and serve some gherkins on the side. With a glass of Syrah or a brown ale, it’s your new table cheese.
5) Grab a leaf-wrapped blue.
Spain is known for its leaf-wrapped Valdéon – always a crowd pleaser – and American makers have picked up on the tradition. Wrapping a wheel in leaves from a local vineyard or orchard builds on an area’s terroir (it also keeps the cheese moist). My leaf-wrapped cheese of the moment is Figgy Blue from Pennsylvania’s Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm. Her first batch made it to the shelves of Di Bruno Bros. recently, and I haven’t been able to get enough of it since – she wraps her Birchrun Blue in fig leaves that have been soaked in local apple brandy.
Also wonderful: Rogue River Blue, an award-winning leaf-wrapped masterpiece from Oregon. These cheeses couldn’t be more different from one another, but they both speak to the wonder of cheese and plant life. Pour some brandy and put on some Stevie Wonder.
To explore the cheese wilderness, please visit Madame Fromage.