As we compiled our 26 cheeses for American Cheese Month, we wanted first to avoid duplication from last year’s 31 Essential American cheeses — it also turned into an opportunity to go through a year (or more’s) worth of photos to find the cheeses we hadn’t yet shared tasting notes for. And to realize just how many new (or new to us) cheeses we’ve encountered this year. Despite a few setbacks this year, the American artisan cheese scene is still steadily surging forward, and we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Not least of which are these seven cheeses — any or all of which we encourage you to seek out for your holiday cheeseboards.
1. Fat Bottom Girl, Bleating Heart Creamery, California
I’ve been hearing raves about Seana Doughty’s sheeps milk cheeses for a while, and was delighted to finally taste them at the summer Fancy Food Show. Bleating Heart opened a micro-creamery in California’s Marin County in 2013. Their Fat Bottom Girl is a seasonal raw milk tomme with a distinctive shape (the result of an accidental leaving the cheese too long while flipping, that resulted in a slightly squashed bottom) and straw-colored rind. It’s a little salty, a little nutty and full of rich hay flavors. Pair it with a fruity syrah or pinot noir.
Because sheeps milk is so seasonal, Doughty is also developing mixed milk cheeses, utilizing goat, cow and buffalo milk. This is a creamery to watch, for sure.
(Bonus: DC-area readers can now find Fat Bottom Girl and Bleating Heart’s sheeps milk blue, Ewelicious, at Arrowine.)
2. Iris, Briar Rose Creamery, Oregon
One of two Oregon cheesemakers whose handiwork we were finally able to sample at last year’s American Cheese Society conference (find the other at #7, below), Briar Rose Creamery is located in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country (and just down the road from where I grew up). Cheesemaker Sarah Marcus apprenticed at Ticklemore Dairy in England and Goat Lady Dairy in NC before launching her own creamery in 2010. She makes an array of fresh and aged goats milk cheeses as well as renowned chocolate goat cheese truffles. Iris is a washed-rind firm cheese with earthy, straw flavors and a citrusy finish. We’d pair this one with a bright white wine.
3. Julianna, Capriole, Indiana
Okay, this is probably the least “new” on this list, but it’s one we hadn’t yet reviewed from Indiana’s Capriole Farmstead Goat Cheese. Maker of fantastic goats milk cheeses like the Wabash cannonball, Sofia, O’Banon and the Crocodile Tear, Julianna is an herb-crusted aged cheese with a bloomy, natural rind and a mushroomy, nutty flavor. It’s named after a former Hungarian intern at Capriole who is now making cheese in England. Pair this delightful cheese with a buttery chardonnay.
4. Kinsman Ridge, Landaff Creamery, New Hampshire
If you’re already familiar with Landaff, that buttery, Irish Caerphilly-inspired cheese from Landaff Creamery in New Hampshire, you’ll want to seek out its new sibling, Kinsman Ridge. This cheese is a little softer, more supple, with big flavors that will enable it to hold its own against its older brother. Kinsman Ridge is buttery, savory with notes of artichoke. Like Landaff, Kinsman Ridge is also aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill; you’ll want to keep this on hand for snacking on through the winter. Best paired with a wheat beer or sauvignon blanc. Raw milk, traditional rennet.
5. Nickajack, Sequatchie Cove Farm, Tennessee
We’ve been crushing on Sequatchie Cove, a fairly new creamery from Tennessee and maker of Dancing Fern, for a while now — Nickajack is a seasonal, raw milk, washed-rind semi-firm cheese. Washed in cider, it garners sweet, fruity notes that make it ideal for pairing with fruits, ale and of course, cider. And just look at that sunny yellow paste, the product of happy cows grazing on Tennessee pasture.
6. Picolo, Andante Dairy, California
Andante Dairy, operated by acclaimed cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan, has been around since 1999, but we’ve only just gotten to sample her cheeses this year. They don’t travel well beyond their home state of California; indeed, while my cheese sherpa brought back a bag full of West Coast cheeses earlier this year, the delicate Picolo arrived a little smooshed. It was still delicious, however, the luscious combination of rich Jersey cows milk and crème fraiche puts this beauty high on our list of bubbly-worthy cheeses. If you can get your hands on this triple-creme, it’s sure to be the belle of your holiday cheeseboard.
7. Valentine, Ancient Heritage Dairy, Oregon
Rounding out our featured seven is another luscious, bubbly-worthy specimen; the aptly-named Valentine of Ancient Heritage Dairy, Oregon. This bloomy-rind sheeps-milk cheese is buttery, rich with just a hint of sheepy lanolin. A decadent treat, it’s named after the farm’s first ewe, Val. Ancient Heritage presently operates a farmstead creamery in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, where they grow alfalfa to feed the sheep through the winter when they can’t graze on pasture. They are presently constructing an urban creamery in Portland, however, with hopes to move into the new cheesemaking and retail space this winter.
Have you tried any of these cheeses yet? What new cheeses did you discover this year?