Cheese friends are great friends to have. They have a great sense of humor (they have to, to help them navigate all the “cutting the _____” jokes), and an exquisite level of understanding if you come to a party smelling like Roquefort because you’ll been plating blues at work all night. Plus, they occasionally send you cheese in the mail, which is infinitely better than receiving postcards from Hawaii. My cheese friends have a special place in my heart (granted, so do my my wine and beer friends, but they actually point out when I smell like Ewe’s Blue).
Recently, cheese friend, writer, and author Tami Parr of Pacific Northwest Cheese blog and the book Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest, sent me a regional dairy delicacy to sample. It was a different sort of cheese, she told me. It was cheese in a can.
Now, receiving artisan cheese in a can can be confusing. Regardless of whether you’ve heard that Cougar Gold is delicious, and canned, it doesn’t actually hit that the cheese comes in a can until the extra-large tuna fish style tin is sitting on your counter and the cougar fish on the label is eying you. And eye it does.
But you trust that your friends would only send you delicious cheese. So you reach for the can opener. As you work the tool around the lid, you get into a rhythm, and you relax. After you’ve cut off the top of the container and set the can opener aside, you smell the cheese.
It smells sharp, tangy with lactic acid, and you get a slight whiff of the tin it’s housed in. Then, you cut yourself a sliver. And you enjoy it.
Cougar Gold is the color of Straus organic butter made when cows are eating only winter fodder of hay and dried grasses- a slightly yellow, creamy white. Crumbly, the wheel has occasional small pleasant calcium lactate crystals that offer an occasional bite to the cheese reveler. The taste is clean. A little tangy and somewhat sharp, Cougar Gold tastes like fresh buttermilk drizzled over a grassy cheddar.
It’s really good. And, according to some Cougar Gold customers, it has tasted delicious upon opening 30 years after it was made.
Why is it in a can? Because when Washington State students developed Cougar Gold in the 1930’s for a research/educational project, they wanted to make a cheese that would last for years and needed a strong container to store the cheese in. Plastic wasn’t yet introduced as a food storage option. Check out their website for more info; it even has ideas for what to do with the can when you’re done with it, such as how to “make it a night to remember with these romantic Cougar Candles.”
But back to eating the cheese. The can is 30 ounces– almost two pounds. That’s a lot of Cougar Gold. What to do once you’ve set aside a portion to eat fresh?
Make Cougar Gold cheese balls.
Take the recipe for Farmhouse Cheddar Cheeseballs, second one down on this link, almost to the end of the article. Omit the bourbon, use thyme or lemon thyme instead of rosemary, and use the canned deliciousness as the cheddar.
Then, invite guests over for a Cougar party and say a little prayer of thanks that you have cheese friends in other areas of the country.