Here is a selection of domestic cheeses produced by family-owned farms and artisanal creameries across the country. The six cheeses below range from soft to hard and are perfect with a loaf of crusty bread or fresh figs and prosciutto. For wine lovers, I highly recommend pairing them with hand-picked selections from our resident aficionado,Wine Enthusiast’s Michael Schachner.*
S O F T
Harbison A bloomy rind that’s wrapped in bark from local Spruce trees gives this cheese a sweet, nutty, woodsy flavor. Creamy without being runny, it’s produced from Ayshire cows milk at a rustic farm called Jasper Hill run by two brothers in Greensboro, Vermont.
Bent River You know it’s good if they only make one. This Camembert-style cheese is the sole product of Alemar Cheese Company in Mankato, Minnesota. The soft-ripened artisan cheese is made in small quantities from organic cows milk that’s faithfully picked up each production morning from neighboring Cedar Summit Farm.
Kunik Made from an exclusive blend of goat’s milk and Jersey cow cream by the team at Nettle Meadow, a charming farm in Warrensburg, New York, this is an award-winning triple crème and it’s no wonder – the can’t-stop-eating-it flavor is rich and tangy yet intoxicatingly buttery.
H A R D
Jeffs’ Gouda As the name suggests, two friends named Jeff collaborated to produce this prized Gouda. Handcrafted in Wisconsin then aged in Minnesota’s Caves of Faribault (yes, actual caves), it boasts a deliciously nutty flavor with subtle hints of caramel thanks to the caves’ unusually balmy interior.
Eden Another award-winner, this cheese comes from the nutrient rich raw milk of Sprout Creek Farm’s free-range, grass fed cows. The taste can vary slightly depending on the season (and the weather in Poughkeepsie, New York) but the heady paste is always exceedingly flavorful with traces of sweet apples and butterscotch.
San Andreas Bellwether Farms in Sonoma County, California has garnered so many accolades that the mother-son owned and operated creamery is bordering on legendary. For me, the San Andreas takes the cake. Made from raw sheep’s milk a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, it’s deliciously smooth and gorgeously packaged to boot.
* When it comes to entertaining I’ve always been daunted by finding the perfect wine. For that I’m lucky to have a bona fide expert at my disposal. Mike has been a wine lover since he visited France in his twenties; now he’s a contributing editor to Wine Enthusiast—his beat is Spain, South America, and Mexico— and he just happens to be married to my dear friend (and Senior VP of Global Communications at Estee Lauder) Geri. Here are his picks for my menu:
“In general, bloomy rind and soft cheeses require a wine that's light and acidic to cut through their richness and high fat content. While a Pinot Gris from northern Italy or a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley would be capable of doing the trick, nothing goes better with soft, creamy cheeses than brut Champagne. So with your chunk of Harbison, Bent River or Kunik, I suggest opening a bottle of Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne. This non-vintage bubbly (about $30) is a classic brut with fine acidity, crisp apple and citrus flavors, and just a touch of sweetness to the finish.
As for firmer, aged cheeses like the latter three, an equally firm and structured red wine is the way to go. The ideal pairing would be a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Bordeaux-style blend. An aged wine, i.e. something about 10 to 15 years old, is more complex, shows smoother tannins, and brings an earthy factor to the table. The 2004 vintage of Chateau Sociando-Mallet (about $60), a structured, spicy, modern-leaning blend from the Haut-Medoc region in Bordeaux, would go great with a farmstead cheese made from raw cow's or sheep's milk.”
If you’d like to keep the whole meal all-American, Michael recommends Iron Horse 2008 Classic Vintage Brut from Green Valley in Sonoma (about $35) or Argyle 2009 Brut from the Willamette Valley in Oregon (about $25) for the soft cheeses, and the 2004 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon from Calistoga in the Napa Valley (about $90) for the hard. Enjoy!
To locate a store or dealer that sells Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne or Chateau Sociando-Mallet 2004, visit www.wine-searcher.com.