Week Four of Our Winter Cheese Plate Winners: Name That Cheese!
We've arrived at the fourth installment of our Winter Cheese Plate Winners! Here's where you'll find five weeks of our winning foodie bloggers, sharing their personal spins on our Winter 2012 Cheese Plate! This next post in our series comes from Caitlin Harvey, the Bay Area blogger behind Milk's Leap, a chronicling of her hands-on adventures in home cheesemaking and DIY kitchen culture. Be sure to check back next Wednesday for our fifth and final post in this series, from Caroline Kaufman, RD, of Sweet Foodie!
This... is... JeoparCHEESE!
Queue that well-known plucky countdown music and welcome to my Winter Cheese Plate party. Here's how you play: You bring the wine and your best adjectives, I supply the cheese and prizes.
On a Friday evening, my guests and I gathered around culture's Winter Cheese Plate. I had labeled each of the three cheeses with only a letter—A, B, C—providing a list of the their names, in no particular order, nearby. Wine and pens in hand, the contest commenced. First round: name that cheese. Although my friends love cheese, they are not advanced cheese connoisseurs, so this may have fallen mostly to chance, but there was one home run of accurate guessing. Cheese A was Fort St. Antoine Comté from Haut Doub, France; Cheese B was Great Lakes Cheshire from Michigan; and Cheese C was Japer Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue, from Vermont.
The second question—where is it from?—aimed at getting to the terroir of things. I wondered if anyone would be able to taste the grassy French Alps, the brisk air blowing off Lake Erie, or the farmland of Vermont. Most people guessed Wisconsin at least once. I guess the Dairy State still reigns supreme when it comes to cheese associations. And more than a couple made declarations for California. We're all proud residents of the Bay Area, so even the most clueless of us know there is good cheese in them there hills. Nevertheless, there were a few accurate guesses of France for the Fort St. Antoine. The name may have given it away, but it also caught the imagination of one contestant who thought it was made "somewhere along the Oregon trail." You know, where they have wilderness forts, and French-Canadian fur trappers, and the like. Another person got very specific, assigning the Bayley Hazen to Italy, specifically to a cave made by monks. Perhaps monks have their own perceptible terroir?
The last and best part of the contest was descriptive: use five adjectives that you think a cheesemonger might write on the label of each cheese (I gathered the correct answers from the actual labels and cheese profiles found online). More nibbles were thoughtfully taken, followed by considering pauses. "Don't forget texture and smell," I reminded. Words like tangy, light, grainy, sharp, crumbly, and smelly were soon being passed around and jotted down. Someone even got so poetic as to describe Bayley Hazen as tasting "like jumping into a pond." I suppose penicillium roqueforti and pond scum might have something microbiological in common...in a good way.
Although the cheese ID contest made for a lively and entertaining party game, I couldn't help but sit back at one moment to quietly observe and really appreciate what was going on in my living room around a cheese board and a few wedges of the good stuff. Here was a group of my friends, with little to no complex knowledge of cheese, really considering each of these diverse offerings; feeling them, tasting them, smelling them, and discussing them in terms that any advanced turophile would bandy about. I saw them pondering each bite not as a simple, tasty mouthful of cheese, but as a delicacy embodying all the tastes of the history, geography, animals, and processes that went into its creation. For a moment my friends became cheese geeks just like me, and that was a prize in itself.