AUSTIN, Texas (November 17, 2005) Whole Foods Market National Cheese Buyer Cathy Strange counts food as one of our two universal languages. She and her team of cheese buyers travel great distances to satisfy the passion for cheese that Whole Foods Market shoppers have, delivering a treasure trove of artisanal cheeses. Her favorite way to enjoy cheese? “With friends. Getting together and talking about cheese — making it a shared type of experience.”
In the spirit of bringing people together through food while alleviating some of the stress harried hosts might feel from mounting holiday parties, Strange shares four artisanal cheeses in varying styles that are sure to wow New Year's guests with one-of-a-kind serving suggestions that will make entertaining a breeze.
“The uniqueness of Whole Foods Market's cheese program is not only the numerous varieties that we carry, but the lengths we go to understand who's producing those cheeses and how. All of these cheeses tell a story about where they came from – they had a wonderful journey to get to our stores,” said Strange. “Their milk reflects the terroir of the region. A Parmigiano that has been aged three years reflects what that cow ate in a flower field in an Italian mountain range two years ago. It was aged and turned in Italy then got on a boat and came to our stores.”
Here are some picks for plunging into the New Year in style with flavor profiles that can't be beat:
- Tried and true old world sweet and fruity cow's milk Comté from France
- Hard, nutty Parmigiano from Italy
- Award-winning new world creamy goat's milk ch?vre from Northern California
- Complex, cow's milk blue from Oregon
Try them together on a cheese plate with soft fruit and nuts or experiment with the serving suggestions or recipes below.
Cypress Grove Aged Fog Lights Chevre
Rogue Creamery Crater Lake Blue
Type: Cow's milk Aged: 15 months From: France, along the Swiss border in the mountains in the Franche-Comté region with rugged terrain and lush green fields. Flavor Profile: Sweet, nutty, slightly creamy with a bit of fruitiness. Firm and mild. Meadows in that region have 1,200 varieties of wildflowers — the floral component can definitely be tasted, along with the lush, spring grass. The butterfat in the milk is high and makes the cheese rich. Beer and Wine Pairing:
- A hearty ale would be typical to the region and holds up well to the Comté.
- Because they both have some fruity components, a C?tes du Rh?ne would pair nicely. The richness of the grapes and the saltiness of the Comté would bring out the cheese's creaminess.
- Elevate your grilled cheese sandwich — shave off slices of Comté as soon as it comes out of the refrigerator onto rustic bread with grains and top with fruit compote or chutney, bitter green mesclun, and balsamic-pickled red onions.
- Substitute Comté in a fondue recipe.
- Make a sweet and creamy plate with slices of comté drizzled with honey and paired with any type of fruit in season.
Recipe: French Onion Soup Beyond Strange's monthly cheese maker visits both locally and internationally, once a year she also gathers Whole Foods Market regional cheese buyers to travel abroad to taste through products, meet producers, and visit farms and production facilities.
On a trip to France three years ago, the trip focused on finding a Comté producer. After tasting through different levels of the cheese, the buyers decided they preferred more aging than what is mainly sold in the United States (only six months). “We found that the profile changed, turned a corner at 15 months,” said Strange.
Comté was the first cheese to be awarded a label of origin by the A.O.C. or appellation d'origine contr?lée guaranteeing its quality. In addition, the cheese is graded using a 20-point grading system. A green label ensures the cheese has been graded with more than 15 points while a brown label has scored 12-15 points. The points are awarded on the basis of taste (9 points), texture (5 points), internal appearance (3.5 points), quality of rind (1.5 points) and overall appearance (1 point).
“We buy only green label Comté because it's the most delicious and is the best reflection of what is wonderful about this French cheese,” said Strange.
Type: Cow's milk Aged: 24 monthsFrom: Italy, Northern valley region. Parmigiano-Reggiano is strictly bound to its place of origin. Both the production of milk and its transformation into cheese take place in four different provinces – Whole Foods Market works with five producers in the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia. Flavor Profile: Can be salty or fruity, depending on what it is paired with. Lush, floral nose – you can smell the flowers that the animals have been eating. High butterfat content, nutty. Protein crystals provide a crunchy flavor burst.Beer and Wine Pairing:
- A crisp Pilsner — the beer's effervescence will lift the cheese's cream off the tongue.
- A Chianti with a full body.
- Shave Parmigiano on ice cream or a lemon sorbet to bring out what is fruity about Parmigiano for a sweet and salty balance.
- Enjoy Parmigiano for dessert with honey and nuts (with the skins on) to make the cheese taste very sweet.
- Traditionally served with a pear tart as a bottom layer or on the side.
- On a cheese plate, play with Parmigiano's multiple personalities — with rich, juicy pears like a Bosc or an Anjou, taste the sweetness of the cheese. With tangy, dry-cured olives — the cheese shows its savory side.
Recipe: Lemony Angel Hair with Cr?me Fra?che, Parmigiano and Artichoke HeartsOn another Whole Foods Market cheese buying adventure four years ago, Strange and her buyers discovered a few producers that they enjoyed. With the number of stores growing dramatically, Parmigiano is now sourced from five to six producers, and the focus still remains on small farms and hand-crafted cheeses.
Parmigiano is strictly controlled in production using only milk from the provinces surrounding Parma, Italy.
On their trip, the buyers determined that they preferred the cheese from spring and fall milk, which excludes buying cheese from some producers and six calendar months of production from other producers. In addition, they found the two-year Parmigiano to have the most pronounced protein crystals that exude crunchy flavor bursts.
“Parmigiano is our signature cheese — it is the “King of Cheese” and sets us apart.” said Strange. “If you use this cheese only for cooking, you're missing an unparalleled eating experience. We chose this cheese because it can be served as a stand-alone table cheese — try slivers of it accompanied by tart apples or sweet pears.”
Type: Goat's milk Aged: Young and fresh From: California. Scenic rocky northern coastline of Humboldt County. Fog rolls in from the ocean and hangs in the Redwood trees surrounding Cypress Grove.Flavor Profile: Ash-covered and ripened for an earthy, creamy and multidimensional taste. Beer and Wine Pairing:
- Also from Northern California, Whole Foods Market's exclusive 25th Anniversary Belgian Triple Ale from North Coast Brewery — Cru d'Or — is an homage to the magic of Belgian yeasts, legendary for their fruity flavor and floral bouquet.
- Sauvignon Blanc — either a fruity or grassy version will complement the ch?vre's acidic finish and make the cheese even more creamy.
- Soak seasonal fruits in a balsamic vinegar and serve alongside the ch?vre.
- Or, simply drizzle a raspberry or blueberry balsamic reduction over the ch?vre.
- For a simple but hearty salad, roll cakes of the ch?vre in chopped nuts and warm in an oven until nuts are golden. Mix seasonal greens with a good quality extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and top with warmed chevre-nut cakes.
Recipe: Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Sherry Walnut VinaigretteStrange and Cypress Grove cheese maker Mary Keehn have looked for opportunities to work together for more than two years. Whole Foods Market's 25th Anniversary in 2005 made perfect sense. “When the anniversary came up, we discussed the idea of a small portion of cheese that one or two people could enjoy at home as an appetizer or for dessert,” said Strange. “The Cypress Grove Fog Lights has a light fruitiness and creaminess that you don't often find in goat cheeses.”
Type: Cow's milk Aged: 6 months minimum From: Oregon. Just north of the California border in the picturesque Rogue Valley Flavor Profile: Robustly flavored creamy and bold blue cheese Beer and Wine Pairing:
- Whole Foods Market's exclusive 25th Anniversary full-flavored Celtic-style dry stout made by North Coast Brewery, Old Plowshare is smooth and firm-bodied with the bold flavor notes of roasted malt. The roasted coffee flavor of the stout rounds out the savoriness of the cheese, bringing out a sweetness with a buttery aftertaste.
- A claret or Syrah or even a sweeter wine such as a ruby or tawny port also make great partners with the blue.
- Because it is such a creamy cheese and does not crumble well over salad, the blue works best served on a cheese platter with clementines and toasted nuts.
- For dessert, serve up a slice of blue with a scoop of red raspberry sorbet.
Recipe: Bruschetta with Pecans and HoneyIn 2002, Strange met the new young and eager owners of the Rogue Creamery — David Gremmels and Cary Bryant — during the American Cheese Society Conference in Washington, D.C. They had not yet begun production but had bought the southern Oregon cheese facility from Ig Vella, the “Godfather of Artisan Cheese,” and creator of famous Dry Jack cheese. Bryant, a microbiologist studying and experimenting with different molds, and Gremmels, a gourmand with business savvy, started producing new blues and cheddars, carrying on the tradition of hand-milled cheese. They went on to become the first Americans to win the highest honor at the London World Cheese Award for their blue cheese.
Working with Gremmels and Bryant, Strange secured the Rogue Creamery Hand-Selected Blue to celebrate Whole Foods Market's 25th Anniversary where it is an exclusive through January 2006.
“The Rogue Creamery Hand-Selected Blue is dynamite — it's a contemporary and complex blend of Danish and Rogue Creamery molds, and the vibrant blue-green color of Crater Lake is mirrored in the veins of this bold blue,” said Strange.