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2015 Best Cheeses of the Year: Semi-Soft, Fudgy Cheeses


Ladies and gentlemen, get your graters and planes ready: It’s our Best Cheeses guide! In preparation for our upcoming 2016 Best Cheeses issue (on newsstands October 31!), each month we’ll be breaking down our expertly curated list of 75 oh-so-good wheels and wedges—the stuff of cheese dreams, really.

What’s our process? First we reviewed top finishers from some of the world’s most prestigious contests (held between September 2014 and August 2015): American Cheese Society Judging & Competition, the World Cheese Awards, the United States Championship Cheese Contest, the International Cheese Awards, the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, the British Cheese Awards, the New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards, and the Australian Grand Dairy Awards. Then we considered factors like style, flavor, provenance, appearance, and milk type to narrow the field and arrive at the year’s Best Cheeses, arranged by texture.

We covered our hard, flaky cheeses like gouda and clothbound cheddar last month, so let’s to move on to Semi-Soft, Fudgy Cheeses. Fudgy cheeses are easily mashed to a paste. They will not bounce back when pressed, but will collapse under pressure; however, they are too firm to spread without damage to a cracker. At room temperature the cheese will maintain its shape but may release drops of moisture. Examples of semi-soft, fudgy cheeses include young block cheddars, most blue-veined cheeses, and Colby Jack.

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Westfield Farm Bluebonnet

Bluebonnet

Westfield Farm has been turning out these aged chèvre nuggets for more than three decades. During this time, the farm has changed hands and increased total cheese production to 2,000 pounds per week, and Bluebonnet has picked up several awards, including a 1996 Best of Show and a 2015 first-place ribbon at the American Cheese Society Judging & Competition.

While the paste of most blue cheeses is pierced with Penicillium roqueforti, Bluebonnet is inoculated with the mold and left to age—resulting in a velvety, slate-blue rind with fluffy, bone-white paste free of veins. In fact, it’s made following the same process as Westfield Farm’s Classic Blue Log, just on a smaller scale. Bluebonnet’s petite proportion yields a higher rind-to-paste ratio, which produces a sharper flavor—an added bonus.

FLAVORS: Lemon, earth, minerals
PERFECT PAIRING: Smear slices of Bluebonnet on Simple & Crisp Dried Pear Crisps for a revelatory mouthful that balances sweetness and tang.


Celtic Blue Reserve

“It dissolves on the tongue like chocolate,” says Glengarry Fine Cheese owner Margaret Peters-Morris of her Celtic Blue Reserve, a creamy blue cow’s milk cheese that nabbed Best of Show at the American Cheese Society Judging & Competition this summer. Reserve is a spin on Celtic Blue, a cheese that Peters-Morris and head cheesemaker Wilma Klein-Swormink have been making since 2008. Enriched with cream, Celtic Blue Reserve has a smooth paste and a shorter aging period (two and a half months) than the original, which is more crumbly after aging between three and six months.

The recipe, says Peters-Morris, comes from her time in France and England, where she studied cheesemaking and was particularly taken by blue cheeses like Stilton and Roquefort. Celtic Blue Reserve is a happy medium between those heavyweights.

It’s “not too soft, not too hard,” and mellow with a nice balance of salt and milk, Peters-Morris says. “It’s quite complex—but everything comes in layers.”

FLAVORS: Cherries, hazelnuts, brown butter
PERFECT PAIRING: Spread Celtic Blue Reserve on sourdough toast or do as Peters-Morris does and crumble it over a plain burger—but don’t let ketchup and mustard interfere.

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Tillamook Colby Jack

Colby Jack

One of the West Coast’s preeminent cheese, butter, and ice cream factories debuted more than 100 years ago as the Tillamook County Creamery Association. Sourcing its milk from cows that munch lush coastal grass at nearly 100 dairy farms located on Oregon’s Northern Coast, the company retains its co-op roots. Tillamook’s triumphant marbled Colby Jack is a hybrid of the Midwest’s beloved Colby and California’s native Monterey Jack—washing the curds reduces acidity, producing a cheese that’s compact, milky, and ideal for snacking and melting.

FLAVORS: Butter, slightly tart
PERFECT PAIRING: Granny Smith apple slices balance the creamy, butterfat-rich cheese and cleanse the palate—put fruit and curds between pieces of rustic walnut pain au levain for a serious grilled cheese.


Goddess

“I like to lay out a cheese board without telling anyone what the cheeses are,” says Elaine Foran, one half of cheese producer Alex James Presents. “We knew Goddess was a winner as it was always the first to go.”

A queen at this year’s British Cheese Awards, Goddess—made by White Lake Cheese for Alex James Presents—took home Best Washed Rind and the number two spot overall as Reserve Supreme Champion. But celebrity for this cheese is par for the course considering its pedigree: Foran’s partner-in-cheese is Alex James, bassist for Britpop band Blur, while the cider brandy used to wash this Guernsey-milk treat is sourced from Julian Temperley, father of British fashion designer Alice Temperley.

Guernsey milk, renowned for its high cream content, supplies Goddess with its yellow cast
and buttery texture; Foran likens the cheese to a French Chaumes. Alex James Presents has been in the cheesemaking business for five years and offers a curated selection of five artisan cheeses: Goddess; two goat’s milk cheeses (also made by White Lake); the cow’s milk Blue Monday; and sheep’s milk Good Queen Maude.

FLAVORS: Butter, cream, citrus
PERFECT PAIRING: Goddess finds harmony with pear jelly and is truly divine baked and eaten with
breadsticks and celery. Wash it down with Ruinart, Nyetimber, or another dry sparkling wine.


Rowefords Blue

In 2007, cheesemaker Barry Charlton made a bold move. He’d been producing soft, bloomy-rind cheeses for a large manufacturer for 17 years and yearned to branch out on his own. So he decided to specialize in blue cheese—even though he’d never made the style before. The gamble paid off: Today, Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese is recognized as one of Australia’s best blue makers.

Charlton crafts and ages half a dozen different blues on his farm in Gippsland; in early 2012, after perfecting several cow’s milk versions, he added the goat’s milk Rowefords Blue to the line. It clinched the Champion Goat’s or Sheep’s Milk Cheese title at the Australian Grand Dairy Awards (AGDA) in both 2014 and 2015.

Rowefords Blue retains some of the chalkiness of a young goat’s milk cheese after about 12 weeks of aging, but at peak maturity of four months its texture softens and a slightly sweet finish balances spicy flavors.

“For a blue cheese, it’s relatively mild,” says AGDA deputy chief judge Russell Smith. “But it’s beautifully balanced with complex nuances of flavor that dance across the tongue.”

FLAVORS: Salty, spicy, savory
PERFECT PAIRING: On a hot day, Charlton likes a chunk of Rowefords Blue with a frosty glass of Natural Blonde from nearby craft brewery Grand Ridge—but any citrus-tinged Belgian-style wheat beer will do.

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Glengarry Celtic Blue Reserve

Shakerag Blue

Crafted with raw cow’s milk and wrapped meticulously in local fig leaves soaked in Chattanooga whiskey, Shakerag Blue “harnesses the essence of Tennessee valley,” says Sequatchie Cove Creamery co-owner and cheesemaker Padgett Arnold. What’s more, its production is a community effort: Supporters help harvest leaves near the fertile Shakerag Hollow, “many trading their goods for cheese,” says Arnold, who opened the dairy at Sequatchie Cove Farm in 2010 with her husband, Nathan.

Available in late-summer through winter, four- to five-pound wheels of the Southern belle are aged 100 days or more, allowing the creamy yet semi-crumbly paste to develop a spicy tang that finishes sweet with a subtle botanical fragrance. The farmstead cheese claimed a Best of Class at the 2015 United States Championship Cheese Contest and a 2015 Good Food Award—not bad for a boozer born in Prohibition-era moonshine territory.

FLAVORS: Coconut, root beer, chocolate
PERFECT PAIRING: Shakerag Blue’s coconut aroma and spiked sweetness pair well with dried fruits, including raisins and cherries—or, sprinkle it over salads or black-pepper-crusted steak. Sip fine Chattanooga whiskey, barley wine, or root beer.


Smooth Blue

In 2012, the canny cheesemakers at Long Clawson Dairy identified a gap in the market for a mild blue British cheese. Enter Smooth Blue. Produced on a smaller scale than Long Clawson’s lauded Stilton, Smooth Blue is a pasteurized cheese that is hand-ladled and hand-cut before aging. Eight weeks allow Penicillium roqueforti to sufficiently thread blue veins throughout the paste.

Its flavor profile may be mild, but Smooth Blue is a competition heavy hitter—not a year has passed without the cheese racking up honors at a significant contest. Long Clawson marketing manager Janice Breedon believes that Smooth Blue has earned such acclaim because of its broad appeal. It’s a hit, she says, with “people who are new to blue cheese as well as [with] Stilton connoisseurs.”

The Long Clawson operation has developed quite a thirst during more than a century of cheesemaking on the Duke of Rutland’s country estate. Today the dairy—located in the Stilton heartland of Melton Mowbray—sources milk from a cooperative of 43 local farms.

FLAVORS: Cream, butter, salt
PERFECT PAIRING: Slather Smooth Blue onto warm, crusty bread and relish with Sauternes.

photographed by Andrew Purcell, styled by Carrie Purcell

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