If you like booze – specifically, apple brandy – then Little Big Apple is the cheese for you. Because once you unwrap this triple-cream from its leafy coat, you’ll be bowled over by the alcoholic aroma. And if you’re sensitive to that kind of smell, pass this cheese by and leave your portion for the rest of us.
Like our doughnutty friend Torus, Little Big Apple is a Murray’s Cheese exclusive also crafted in Vermont. But instead of Vermont Butter & Cheese, this cheese comes from a collaboration among Murray’s, Champlain Valley Creamery and New York-based Warwick Valley Distillery & Winery. Champlain Valley provides the creamy cow’s milk and cheesemaking prowess to craft a soft-ripened beauty, and then Murray’s wraps it in apple leaves soaked in Warwick Valley’s apple liqueur before aging the triple-cream in its famous cheese cave, where the leaves ferment and the cheese grows oozier and yeastier.
The result is a pungent package that arrives on your doorstep wrapped like a small, cheesy present. It may look a little scary, with the leaves reeking of brandy and striped with bloom, but you can’t help but laugh as you cut the binding and take off the top layer to find the perfect impression of an apple leaf imprinted on the paste. It’s almost too perfect to mar with a cheese knife, but go ahead and make a cut.
For Little Big Apple, the liqueur’s bark is worse than its bite, with only a hint of boozy flavor seeping into the thick, fudgy cheese. It’s earthy, of course, but most triple-creams are, with the underlying flavors of musty mushroom and foliage. However, the sweet apple notes temper the forest-floor flavor, making Little Big Apple a much more balanced cheese than I had expected. Indeed, my button was gone in a few mere days! Its dense paste stands up to the heartiest of crackers and nutty breads, and of course, pairs excellently with cider. Little Big Apple is a seasonal cheese – I snuck in my order before it began its winter hibernation – but look for it again in the fall. It’s a stunning cheeseboard centerpiece and conversation piece.