We sell somewhere around 600 cheeses at Fairway Market, many of which we were the first to discover and bring to you, many of which are giantly, absurdly delicious.
“Which is your favorite?” Customers asked me nearly every day when I worked behind Fairway’s cheese counter.
“That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child.” But I tried to give a favorite, something I was crazy about in the moment. Maybe Cabrioulet from the Pyrenees, a goat’s milk cheese so intense it makes my tongue tingle. Or perhaps hay-y, musky Tomme Crayeuse, or butterscotchy Ewephoria sheeps’ milk gouda, or the still-warm salty, milky just-made mozzarella.
Steve Jenkins, Fairway’s Cheese Guru and the man who wrote THE book on cheese gets asked this question all the time. Here are his top five cheeses in the universe–life-changing, classic, superb cheeses.
PARMIGIANO REGGIANO raw cow’s milk from Emilia-Romagna/Italy
An enormously flavorful, important cheese. Law dictates that Parmigiano-Reggiano can be made only between April and November so that the cow’s graze on fresh, verdant pastures rather than dry hay. The milk, and thus the cheese, adopts a remarkable complexity of flavors—at once spicy, salty, briny, black walnutty, and lavishly piquant. Will melt in your mouth and tingle your tongue; or make the flavors in your cooking sing. Serve In everything and anything—pasta, risotto, eggs, veggies, meat dishes, salads, soups. Break out a big, bad Italian red: Barbaresco, Barbera, Barolo, Brunello, Chianti, etc.
From the area surrounding the tiny town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in Southern France comes this redolent, creamy sheep’s milk blue. According to the legend of Roquefort, the cheese was born when a young boy saw a beautiful girl in the distance. He abandoned his lunch of bread and cheese in a cave, running to soak in her luster. When he returned a few months later Penicillium roqueforti (the famous Roquefort mold) had transformed his plain cheese into Roquefort. The first cheese to receive AOC status, Roquefort earns its nickname “The King of Blues.” It’s been around for at least a thousand years. It is rindless and fudgy, with green and blue veining and a punchy, spicy-sweet, and incredible flavor. Great in a salad with walnuts and beets, or melted on a juicy steak, or paired with Sauternes after a lovely dinner.
FONTINA D’AOSTA raw cow’s milk from Aosta/Italy
Perfumy, fruity, and brazen—Fontina d’Aosta is made from the raw, fresh milk from a single milking of Valdostana cows inthe Valle d’Aosta, in the Italian Alps. These 20-ish-pound wheels are firm and supple. Real, DOC-protected fontina’s flavors are a grand symphony of fruits and nuts and herbs. Perfect with a spread of charcuterie and fruit. The star of fonduta, a butter and egg-laden fondue and a classic Piedmontese dish that’s often laced with white truffles. At home in any panini or grilled cheese sandwich, and welcome on any cheese plate.
FARMHOUSE ENGLISH SOMERSET CHEDDAR raw cow’s milk from Somerset/England
The world has become infatuated with this grand cheese and copycats are everywhere—but nothing reaches the heights of the nutty, fruity, grassy, tangy, beautifully balanced original.
Farmstead cheese, made with milk from, Montgomery farm produces a small 10 to 15 wheels a day, unlike the hundreds made at factories. Montgomery’s matures in cheesecloth for many months, during which time a beautiful rind develops and a firm yet creamy texture materializes. The flavor is nothing short of magic, especially with a glass of fry red, a cold ale, or for a special occasion, melted lavishly atop an apple pie.
TORTA DEL CASAR raw cow’s milk from Extremadura/Spain
From Extremadura, the rugged, “wild west” region of Spain famous for jamón ibérico de bellota, pimentón, and from where we import our awesome gata-hurdes un-filtered barrel olive oil (so successful here it has a cult following!), AND our Naturvie olive oils, olive jams, and salts. Named after Casar de Cáceres, the Extremaduran village where it was born. The milk of Merino and Entrefina sheep milk is curdled using the coagulant found in pistils of the purple cardoon’s blossoms, a wild thistle. An enormously flavorful cheese; fantastically creamy, funky, a bit bitter, a bit of tobacco and leather. Wrapped in burlap-like cloth in order to keep it from oozing away; bring the whole thing to the table and scoop away (with wooden spoons!).