Cheese That Stays Fresh in Your Memory...
July 25th. Tonight's dinner was late and so, appropriately, quick. Blanched corn -- the first sweet stuff of the summer -- tossed with cracked pepper, torn garden basil, lemon cucumbers, brandywines, and Ploughgate Farm's Queso Fresco. A perfectly tangy and tender take on a cheese that's so seldom made right. Marisa Mauro was taught the authentic recipe and has started selling limited quantities at her local farmers markets. I was lucky enough to plea some off her at July 24th's Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and it didn't last 24 hours.
This is why I have a love/hate relationship with the annual VT Festival: all us cheese lovers are able to try the fleeting side projects and small-production items, fall for them, then miss them.
There are certain treats, often the fresh cheeses, that our beloved cheesemakers make as more of a pet project: a combination of a summer love for fresh cheese and of an awareness that Chris Gray of Consider Bardwell Farm states bluntly, "you can't show up to a summer farmers market without fresh cheese." Consider Bardwell's solution, Mettawee, is an impeccably dense and briny chevre disc with the sweetest hint of gaminess. I tried it last Monday at the farm and would have bought out their fridge with a little more foresight.
The same appeal applies to Bonnieview Farm's raw sheep's milk feta: a decadently rich, creamy cheese with low salt and a sweet lanolin finish. Sheep's milk's natural high butterfat content makes for a feta that crumbles in the hand but melts in the mouth. It is my perfect feta, and I willingly fight a weekly battle to coerce some of the little batches into my shop. Still. And it's been nearly a year since I last had it.
These fresh cheeses are hard to get our out-of-town hands on for good reason. The quick turnaround potential (meant to be enjoyed fresh!) and higher perishability prime these cheeses for farmers market sales. This also guarantees that all the profits stay with the cheesemakers. And to ship or distribute fresh cheeses can be pricier, especially in the summer, between more delicate fresh product and hotter days. The batches may be smaller to begin with, anyhow: the amount of milk used to create any cheese is enough to want to encourage shelf life. If a fresh cheese goes past its prime, your options in selling it are limited. You want to know it will be gobbled up soon. Limited quantities assure no waste.
All that said, it's cheeses like these that pop to mind so often for me: unadulterated new milk flavor, squeaky young texture, the farm itself singing out from each bite. And when you find one to be smitten over? Drive as far as need be to enjoy it once more. But don't forget to check in with your local cheesemakers as well, see what they're cooking up to satiate your palate and the heat. On days as ripe with grilled fairytale eggplant, torn basil, buttery summer squash, tight sugary corn, acidic tomatoes, and all the bounty of summer, there's nothing like a feta, a queso fresco, or a chevre button to brighten and sweeten your plate.