I rarely write about my cheeses anymore, and I don’t really know why. Probably because I spend the vast majority of my time working with my olive oils and vinegars, and other rare artisanal foodstuff that we import direct and exclusively. My cheeses are curated by the master cheesemonger Avanelle Rivera. Unless Ava shouts out about a specific cheese that thrills her, in my lassitude, I sort of let sleeping cheeses lie.
Only lately we have had so many extraordinary cheeses miraculously make it through U.S. Customs that it is seriously party time here. These are the cheeses I recommend to you not just because they are indelibly memorable, but because I bet YOU (as am I) are a creature of habit. I bet you find yourself coming home from Fairway with the same (though wonderful) cheeses week after week.
So let me try to break that routine and offer a bit of a primer on cheese provenance (origin) and nature (recipe):
L’Etivaz is a raw cow’s milk, 5-to-13-months-aged mountain cheese from the Vaud canton of Switzerland. It is named for the tiny hamlet near the pastures of its origin. L’Etivaz has to be one of the very most intensely delicious cheeses I’ve had in my life. It was created only 30 years ago by 76 Gruyere-producing families who felt Swiss Gruyere was losing its rusticity, so they pulled out of the Swiss government’s consortium in order to make the cheese the way they felt it should be made. Serve it with rustic bread at any juncture — whiskey on the rocks rocks, stiff cocktails, fruity red wines, alongside the salad course, for dessert with fresh fruit, as a snack with crackers, to accompany that extraordinary bottle of wine that has been burning a hole in the pleasure bank of your mind as well as the wood where it has been laying in your wine shelf. You know you’ve got to drink that bottle sooner or later. Here’s your excuse: A drop-dead cheese that’s worthy of a big, big red. L’Etivaz will obliterate the heftiest white wine.
Sbrinz. Of Celtic origin, it’s thought to be named for the village Brienz in the Berne Canton of Central Switzerland, there are a lot of place names where the S is followed by a b, and that falls to the old dialect known as Romansch. The cheese Sbrinz is massive, massively thick, and hard. A gorgeous thick rind, the color of amber, or butterscotch, as is the interior. The fragrance of the interior is almost like warm caramel, and as a chanterelle is apricot-colored and the mushroom tastes and smells sort of like apricot, this grand cheese tastes as much like butterscotch as it looks. Grate your Sbrinz for pasta. Shred it for gratins. Chisel off shards to accompany all manner of food and beverage.
Bitto. A raw cow’s milk, also of ancient Celtic origin, is made only in high Valtellina Lombardy pastures, and only from summer milk, the year’s richest and tastiest. Those Celts were run off the lowland pastures by the Romans, thus the mountain valley origin. Named around 2,000 years ago by the Celts for a river, or a valley — who knows ? Now that’s a pedigree. No wonder it’s expensive, and no wonder the Italians protect the name and recipe so ardently. Again, this is simply superb mountain cheese, and you deserve it, whether on a block of wood with fine butter and serious bread, or shredded or grated into any gratin or pasta dish you can imagine.
Speaking of butter, Fairway, you know, is BUTTER CENTRAL. Among the sterling brand selection we offer in the dairy, imported and American butters, the Fairway Cheese Department is offering name-controlled French butter (Poitou-Charentes) as well as the scintillating Beurre de Chevre, which is butter made from goat’s milk cream. You butter-lovers can only imagine the joy this Deux-Sevres butter brings from near Poitou and Cognac, France. This is butter that makes you feel like you never really tasted butter. And to slather goat’s milk butter across a tranche of hot baguette is to enter a world of fat and happy.
And never, never forget that REAL Brie is like that butter. If you have never had the good fortune to sit before a triangle of Brie de Meaux made by Robert Rouzaire, well, now’s the time. It will have been made from the richest, tastiest milk of the year, and that milk and that famous cheese will actually have come from the Brie region, Seine-et-Marne, just east of Paris. Not many Americans can say they have tasted REAL Brie. Real Brie is among the single-most complex amalgams of savory flavors of any foodstuff ever created by man or divine intervention.
TELL US: What new cheeses have you tried?