While we’re reliving some of our highlights from the past five years over on Facebook, for our #curdwise31 American Cheese Month celebration, we’re still seeking out new cheeses to share with you. Well, sort of new cheeses. Today’s cheese was perhaps my favorite new cheese of 2012. Yes, last year. So why has it taken me so long to share it with you? Because it was only released sporadically last year and it didn’t seem fair to tempt you with such a cheese only to have you walk out of your local cheese shops empty handed.
Vermont cheese aficionados may recognize the name Willoughby, but this cheese has been re-imagined by the talented team at Cellars at Jasper Hill. Originally produced by Marisa Mauro at Ploughgate Creamery, and aged at the Cellars, her creamery was devastated by a fire in 2011. She sold the recipe to Jasper Hill, and they spent last year tinkering with the brine and recipe until it was ready for re-release. The first sample I tasted, summer of last year, was still good enough that I tucked it into my purse to share with Jill when I picked her up en route to the summer Fancy Food Show. That’s right, I was so impressed with this cheese that I felt she needed to try it on a day we were set to taste another 100 or so cheeses.
Willoughby is a small washed-rind, cows-milk cheese — small enough to be a meal for two, but I guess you could share it with a few more friends if you’re feeling generous. It’s pasteurized but made with traditional (animal) rennet, and boasts a creamy, rich paste with a pungent yet approachable rind. It’s not too funky to frighten away your less curd-adventurous friends, in other words. I think I love it because it has the lactic, cream taste of a double-cream married with the savory notes of a washed-rind. When properly ripe, it has a nutty, almost peanutty flavor. Spread it on a baguette with Concord grape jam and think of it as a grown-up PB&J. Willoughby is perfectly paired with fall’s harvest beers, like my current favorite Scythe & Sickle from Brewery Ommegang, or a slightly sweet cider.
I’ve spent the better part of this year hounding Vince, the Cellars rep, from New York to Vermont to Wisconsin, to demand they make more of this cheese. (Only a slight exaggeration.) So I felt particularly vindicated when it won a blue ribbon at the ACS competition this year — open category, washed-rind cheese made from cows milk. (Yes, in addition to the Cellars’ blue ribbons/best in show for Cabot Clothbound and Winnimere.) I may have put in a request directly to the cheesemaker, too. Unfortunately, when last we spoke, they were planning to make less of Willoughby in favor of other cheeses as the holiday season approaches, so do check your cheese counters for it ASAP.