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’ve already covered hard, flaky cheeses like gouda and clothbound cheddar and semi-soft, fudgy cheeses like most blue-veined cheeses and young block cheddars; next up in our guide is Soft, Gooey Cheeses. Gooey cheeses will cling to and coat a spoon (or finger, and definitely your tongue). They ooze at the slightest chance; cutting open a protective rind or removing them from a container will result in a sticky, oozy puddle. Gooey cheeses tend to become even gooier with age. Examples include Époisses, Torta la Serena, and Vacherin Mont d’Or.
- Quesos Cañarejal
- Pollos, Spain
- sheep’s milk
The Santos family spent two years developing this cheese made with raw sheep’s milk from their own herd, which grazes on rosemary, thyme, oregano, and other herbs found in parkland along the Duero River in Castilla-León.
Bucking regional tradition, this silky cheese is covered in P. camemberti and curdled with thistle rennet, which creates a creamy, almost liquid paste with restrained bitterness, according to Ramón Santos. The non-pressed cheese is turned and molded by hand toward the end of its approximately two-hour make process, then turned every two days for the next two months in a humid curing room.
The finished wheel is so extraordinary that chef Ferran Adrià made it the star of his dish, “The sheep, the cheese, and its wool,” at the shuttered elBulli, adroitly riffing on the cheese’s cherry and sheep’s milk flavors. Santos says that other nuances include “floral notes over a background of fresh and vibrantly expressive aromas.”
FLAVORS: Butter, cherries, delicately tangy
PERFECT PAIRING: This gooey cheese is excellent when slightly heated—it spreads well on bread, crackers, and roasted vegetables. Make the most of an empty rind by refilling it with sautéed veggies or stew, then baking the whole thing in the oven, Santos suggests.
When Danny Meyer was seeking an exclusive cheese for his iconic Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park in 2013, he turned to some of the best in the business: Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm for its creation and New York’s Murray’s Cheese for cave-aging. The result is a washed-rind riff on very young Harbison (see below): Greensward.
The oozy, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese earned its title as Best Smear Ripened Soft Cheese at the 2015 United States Championship Cheese Contest with a luscious, silky paste boasting bold, meaty flavors. A brine of Michigan’s Virtue Cider and yeast quells the bitterness beneath Greensward’s soft-ripened, spruce-bark-wrapped exterior; frequent rotation in Murray’s aging caves helps each wheel mature to its signature gooey texture. Little wonder, then, that the crowd-pleasing wheel is named after the Greensward Plan, the aesthetic, civic vision that led to Central Park.
FLAVORS: Grass, cream, resin, bacon
PERFECT PAIRING: French bread fresh from the oven is all you need here. In your glass, lighter, delicate wines with fruity, mineral notes will offset the rich cheese. Bourbon is also a buddy; invite him over for dessert.
Jasper Hill Farm & Murray’s Cheese Greensward
- Jasper Hill Farm
- Greensboro Bend, Vt.
- cow’s milk
Jasper Hill Farm may be the only creamery in the country with a dedicated sanglier, or spruce harvester. Originally, Ron Hall collected supple, nutrient-rich inner bark layers on the Vermont property to wrap Winnimere, a brine-washed American Cheese Society Judging & Competition Best of Show winner made with raw cow’s milk and available for only a few months each winter. Now he’s working overtime: Spruce-encased Harbison, a pasteurized, bloomy-rind beauty with a luscious, spoonable consistency similar to Winnimere, is in cheese cases year-round.
“Harbison has been a winner right out of the gates for us,” says Jasper Hill’s director of sales and marketing Zoe Brickley. “We haven’t changed it much since its inception.” Smart, because the 6- to 13-week aged wheel stockpiles accolades: a Best Soft-Ripened Cheese at the United States Championship Cheese Contest, and a second runner-up Best of Show and a first-place category ribbon at the American Cheese Society Judging & Competition in 2015 alone. Simply put, the cheese is as lovely as its namesake Anne Harbison, a volunteer and innkeeper known as the “grandmother of Greensboro.”
FLAVORS: Butter, mushrooms, lemon, pine
PERFECT PAIRING: Accent Harbison’s bite with sliced fresh peaches or the new raspberry-and-moscato wine mostarda created especially for the cheese by Blake Hill Preserves.
photographed by Andrew Purcell, styled by Carrie Purcell