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A Winning Platter

How to Pick Better Cheese for Every Occasion


Home : Eats By Photo by Chase Pellerin

On a rutted-out, unmarked dirt road deep in the hills of Greensboro, Vermont, there are more cows than humans. Tenfold. This is the world of small creeks, covered bridges and rolling hills that lead to the small mountains of Vermont; it’s also HQ for a Wonka-like cheese operation known as Jasper Hill Farm and Cellars. This is a land of milk turned art, and the staff at Jasper take their cheese seriously. They geek on the microflora of raw milk, rally against pasteurization laws, and have spent millions on developing a state-of-the-art, seven-vault cellar for aging some of the most awarded cheese in America.

If better cheese is what you want, this is top crop. Katie Park, the Manager of Jasper Hill’s Boston Public Market branch, was more than happy to relay the rigors of more “advanced” cheeses. And, if Jasper Hill isn’t available in your backyard (they do ship), use this advice to talk to your local cheesemonger to find yourself the best result of the cow/goat/sheep/buffalo udder.

Basic Tips for Buying Cheese

‘Don’t Fear the Monger’ by Katie Park, Cheesemonger

Ask yourself the basics. “What do I want? Hard or soft? How many people am I going to be serving? Is it just going to be me or am I going to be taking it to a party? Do I need it for cooking? Basically: what is the end use of the product that you will be buying?”

Consider the source. “Know if you’re looking for cow’s milk cheeses or goat’s milk cheeses or sheep’s milk cheeses. And if you don’t know any of those, ask the cheesemonger to help lead you in some direction. You can also say, ‘I love cheddar, or brie,’ and then the cheesemonger can lead you in the right direction.”

Know your pairing. “Some cheeses and some beverages just don’t go together well. The inherent makeups of some products aren’t going to taste good together. Mention what you’ll be eating and drinking, and the person you’re working with can help steer you toward an awesome pairing.”

Serve at Room Temperature. “If you’re buying cheese on your way home, don’t refrigerate it. When the cheese cools down, the flavor profile and the texture of the cheese are going to be subdued because of the temperature. Bring your cheese up to room temperature — 65 to 70 degrees — to showcase what the cheese should be. There, it’ll smell as it should, taste as rich as it should, and it will be the correct texture.”

Elevated Cheeses

The Gateway to Great Dairy

If You’re Having a Party

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Winnimere: “This cheese is going to be a little bit more on the pungent and complex side,” Park said. “So for folks looking for great flavor profiles like smokey-ness and bacon-y-ness, this cheese comes to mind. If you’re having a backyard barbecue and you want a cheese that’s going to complement whatever you’re grilling, it’s an awesome cheese for that. And it comes in a ready-to-eat container.”

Food to Pair: fresh baked bread, salami, bacon
Drink to Pair: porter beer
Milk Type: raw ayrshire winter cow
Aged For: 60-90 days

Harbison: “A camembert brie, it is similar to the Winnimere. But the Harbison is a little creamier; it tends to have a lot of fresh fruit and raspberry flavor. I think it’s a bit more of an elegant cheese. It can be done for a couple; the size is more accessible for a party of two or party of four.”

Food to Pair: fresh baked bread, fresh fruit, red berries
Drink to Pair: barrel-aged sour beer, oaked white wines
Milk Type: pasteurized cow
Aged For: 60-90 days

If You’re Cooking with Cheese

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Bayley Hazen Blue: “Bayley is hands down my favorite cheese. It starts out a bit mellow, then it builds to kind of a rich blue flavor without being too spicy in your mouth. You don’t get a lot of gaminess on it either. A lot of times folks will come up and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, I don’t like bleu cheese at all,’ and I have them try it, and they kind of turn around and are like, ‘Whoa, I actually really enjoyed that.'”

Food to Pair: burgers, steaks, salads
Drink to Pair: imperial stouts, sherry
Milk Type: raw cow
Aged For: 3-4 months

Alpha Tolman: “So, Alpha is Alpine style, so when you are looking for a cheese that’s a little bit sweeter and nuttier in flavor, and if you’re looking for something that’s not a cheddar, that’s not too sharp, I’d do the Alpha. If someone wants Gruyere or Comte or Emmental, Alpha’s the perfect hit. It’s not going to have as much of a caramelized flavor, but it’s incredibly nutty.”

Food to Pair: grilled cheese, quesadillas, pizzas
Drink to Pair: hoppy ales, plummy reds
Milk Type: raw cow
Aged For: 8-12 months

If You Like Brie

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Moses Sleeper: “This has a tendency to go towards the really mushroom-y kind of umami flavor. So folks that absolutely love mushroom, this is your cheese. Also, if you’re doing a baked brie or that sort of thing, this is perfect for that.”

Food to Pair: cranberry nut bread or crackers, dried cranberries, raspberry preserve
Drink to Pair: fruity saison, rosé wine
Milk Type: pasteurized cow
Aged For: 50-80 days

If You Like Cheddar

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Cabot Clothbound: “It’s a bandaged-wrapped cheddar. People are always looking for sharp cheddars, and our Clothbound isn’t necessarily going to be so sharp that it’s, like, bracing in your mouth, but it’s also really complex and almost buttery. You get a really well-balanced cheddar cheese. It’s a crowd pleaser.”

Food to Pair: apples, crackers
Drink to Pair: brown ales, fruity cabernets
Milk Type: pasteurized holstein cow
Aged For: 9-13 months

Landaff: “In my shop, I literally describe it as cheesy. If you’re looking for something saltier and something on the tangy side, this is it. It’s a very well-balanced and well-rounded cheese. So people who are looking for something in the direction of a cheddar but want something a little bit more complex and a little different, I steer them in this direction.”

Food to Pair: melt it down, or shave it over bread and pasta
Drink to Pair: crisp pilsner, chardonnay
Milk Type: raw holstein cow
Aged For: 4-6 months