This Wednesday I wore my cowboy boots to teach. I may have even worn a little green eye shadow and en extra ring. When teaching a class titled “Extreme Cheeses and the Wines that Love Them,” one has to step it up a notch.
I’ve been teaching at the Cheese School of San Francisco now for over three or four years, and I’ve taught some of my favorite classes there, from Springtime Cheese and Rosés to Southern Cheese and Spirits. This last class was one of my tops taught. The focus: The weird, the odd, the unusual cheeses, unique wines to pair, and the stories behind them.
What makes a cheese odd, you ask?
Good question. We didn’t limit it. And we didn’t judge. If a cheese was delicious after being patted down with flavors as oddly harmonious as espresso grounds and lavender, we weren’t going to raise an eyebrow. If a cheese couldn’t decide between being a cheddar or a blue, we were’t going to try to make them. Hell, if a cheese wanted to wear that swan dress that Bjork did to the Oscars one year, or even decide they wanted to be in an open relationship, we wouldn’t judge either. Just as long as they showed up to class tasty and ready to charm.
Our requirements for an “extreme” cheese was that a cheese was novel and delicious- it was made in an interesting style, had an unusual taste, or was made with unfamiliar milks or a mix of milks. But because we also wanted to include awesome or rare wines, we made an exception or two. We included Comté not because it’s odd (it’s special and unique, but not odd, per se), but because it makes one of the weirdest wines in the world (which happens to be one of my favorite) from the Jura taste amazing. The pairing is transformative, delicious, and odd as heck.
Here’s the list. Hope you enjoy our picks! They’re listed in clockwise order, starting at 11 o’clock with the golden Comté. Cheeses with a * have write-ups in my book.
Provenance: Jura/Franche-Comté, France
Type: Raw cow’s milk
2. Pecorino Foglie di Noce – sheep milk pecorino wrapped with walnut leaf as it ages (leaves only available twice a year and the cheese was in very limited, seasonal supply until just recently).
Provenance: Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Type: Pasteurized sheep’s milk
Both paired with 2008 Domaine Macle Côtes du Jura (Jura, France), made mainly in the oxidative style typical of vin jaune from Savagnin and Chardonnay, in the Chateau Chalone appellation. Tasting Comté and Macle together years ago was a transformative pairing for me. May have or may not consumed a half a pound of cheese first time I tried this.
3. Dunbarton Blue, Roelli Cheese Co- Cheddar/Blue Hybrid *
Provenance: Shullsburg, Wisconsin
Type: Pasteurized cow’s milk
4. Barely Buzzed, Beehive Cheese Company, rind of espresso grounds and lavender. *
Provenance: Uintah, Utah
Type: Pasteurized cow’s milk
Both paired with 2009 Gricos Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata, Italy), Aglianico grown on soils from the Vulture volcano.
5. Hubbardston Blue, Westfield Farm – the first goat, soft ripened blue cheese in the U.S. *
Provenance: Hubbardston, Massachusetts
Type: Pasteurized goat’s milk
6. Torta de Trujillo – washed rind sheep’s milk made with thistle rennet. To eat, slice off the top of the torta and scoop.
Provenance: Extremadura, Spain
Type: Raw sheep’s milk
7. The Bomb, Bohemian Creamery – a lovely blend of milks on this bumpy, natural-rinded cheese that’s been washed with a Russian River Brewery’s sour beer, Consecration.
Provenance: Sebastopol, California
Type: Pasteurized sheep and goat’s milk
All three paired with 2009 Clos Lapeyre Jurançon La Magendia (Jurançon, France), made with 100% Gros Manseng.
8. Casatica di Bufala- Buffalo milk normally belongs in the south. The Gritti brothers sold their family’s Alpine cows to focus entirely on buffalo.
Provenance: Lombardia, Italy
Type: Pasteurized water buffulo’s milk
9. Kunik, Nettle Meadow Farm - one of the only mixed-milk triple cremes in the world. *
Provenance: Thurman, New York
Type: Pasteurized goat’s milk & cow’s cream
Both served with 2010 Château de Ripaille Vin de Savoie Ripaille (Savoie, France) – see third photo above.
What are your favorite “extreme” cheeses? What do you drink with them?