Last weekend I held a pre-nuptial cheese-tasting for the illustrious Tarr clan and the parents of the eventual bride. It was a France vs. USA tasting: rather apropos considering the current festivities/competitions (I would have brought a Chinese cheese, but as previously noted the Chinese see cheese as solid phlegm, thus they aren't so big on dairies). Six rounds of cheese later, here are the group's rulings.
California Crottin (PG) vs. Le Lingot (PG)
served with Sancerre and apricot preserves
Crottins are dense little rounds of goat cheese, typically exhibiting the gamut of classic goat's cheese characteristics: chalky, tangy, lactic, lovely. The California Crottin is all of these things in a stocky, sturdy little nugget. Le Lingot, on the other hand, (the link is a great article from the SF Gate) is deliciously lemony with a voluptuous creamline. I thought it ripened beautifully on the train ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, yet the judging panel decided it melted, literally, against the stoic Crottin. Point one for team USA.
Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor (G) vs. St Maure de Tourraine (RG)
served with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and local honey
Truffle Tremor is one of my all-time favorite cheeses, and it never fails to impress. Flecks of black truffles peek out of luscious goaty paste melting to a runny creamline nearing the rind. There is a balanced piquancy to this cheese that is unrivaled, even by the in-your-face spice of the ash-covered St Maure. Click on the links if you want to know the story behind the stick. Team USA is pulling ahead.
Jasper Hill Constant Bliss (C) vs. Brillat Savarin (C)
served with Champagne and balsamic strawberries
Ahhh the Brillat was just so ripe -- so perfectly, delectably, fragrantly, decadently ripe. I kept smelling the wrapper. This cheese always brings fabrics to mind: velvet, satin, silk. Paired with the champagne and peppery strawberry relish the entire experience can only be summarized as: rich. Still, when we followed our silky Brillat with the slightly firmer and more complex Constant Bliss we had to concede the latter's superiority.
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk (C) vs. Abbaye de Citeaux (C)
served with Norman cider and toasted almonds with honey
I had to make three trips to the cheese counter over the course of two weeks to get my hands, finally, on a round of Red Hawk. This stuff is popular! It's pungent, but balanced; rich, yet palatable. In fact, the group ultimately found it more palatable than the famous/infamous Abbaye de Citeaux, which I included largely because of it's dwindling availability: cheeses like Abbaye de Citeaux will no longer be allowed in the States because the moisture content (greater than 67 percent water). I don't quite understand this law, but you can read more here. At least we have Red Hawk to satiate our stinky cravings.
Gruyere Surchoix (C) vs. Beaufort D'Alpage (C)
served with a Cotes du Rhone and all of the accompaniments
Both these cheeses were pressed, cooked cow's milk cheeses featuring a toasty, earthy profile and a firm, snackable texture. Neither stood out as a favorite with the group, but both were superb -- round five results in a draw, although in my heart this one belongs to Wisconsin for their truly delicious gruyere. Both worked particularly well with the toasted almonds and honey, although in hindsight I would have preferred a beer pairing.
Point Reyes Blue (C) vs. Roquefort (S)
served with a Port, a Sauternes, cocoa fig spread and an almond fig cake
I had never tried the Point Reyes Blue but decided to trust the advice of the Whole Foods cheese counter when selecting a domestic blue. I think I regret my decision. "Mild" in this case seems to mean "bland", and "subtle" might be substituted with "boring." I'd stick with Black River Blue or Rogue's Oregon Blue next time. The ever-salty Roquefort therefore took the prize this round, particularly when complimented by the Port -- the dessert Sauternes didn't quite stand up to the blue punch, and the fig-based accouterments did little to enhance the cheese.
In the end, France: 1 USA: 4. Who knew our palates were so patriotic?
*Photos courtesy of Robin from Roto-Blog. Thanks, Ro!
P - Pasteurized; R - Raw; G - Goat; S - Sheep; C - Cow