To kick off the holiday season, what could be more appropriate than a cheese than looks like a Christmas tree? Well, not exactly a Christmas tree, but those stinging nettles on the surface certainly remind me of fallen pine needles, and I don’t even celebrate Christmas!
In all seriousness, though, this is a serious cheese. I walked into France 44 Thanksgiving weekend looking for some seasonal favorites, but Song directed me toward three varieties of ribbon-wrapped packages in the case and said, “You have to try the stinging nettle.” What she was pointing me toward was a Minnesota-made sheep’s-milk cheese from Buffalo Creek Creamery, a family farm in Plato that raises sheep for their meat, wool and, obviously, milk. And that’s all I know because the website is pretty bare, but I’m cool with that because my tastebuds tell the rest of the story.
Inside the brown wrapping lies a perfectly shaped disk of pure white cheese coated with a forest floor’s worth of fragrant nettles. The paste is smooth and creamery enough to spread on a bagel – but please don’t – tastes like lemon and sunshine. It’s a little too dense to be called souffle-like, but the cheese retains a soft, pillow-like texture that belies its squat stance. Maybe it’s the magic of the nettles. If you’ve only had firm sheep’s-milk cheeses, you might be surprised to find how light the younger variety is – it’s closer to a young chevre than an aged wedge of Manchego.
France 44 also sells the plain and herb-coated varieties, and I’m eager to try them all. In the meantime, place the stinging nettle version on your holiday cheeseboard with water crackers, seasoned nuts and some sparkling rosé or a light white wine. After all, when’s the last time you served a cheese that matched your tree?