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Raising the Bar: Most Innovative Cheeses of 2020


Best Grill-ready cheese: Bonfire Marinated Grilling Cheese

ROUGETTE/CHAMPIGNON NORTH AMERICA, ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, NJ

Halloumi who? Kick up your grilling game a notch with Rougette’s creamier, more flavorful take on a classic grilling cheese, named Best New Product in its class at the 2020 sofi Awards. The semi-soft cheese comes in easy-to-flip segments with its own grill pan, and is marinated with aromatics like basil, ginger, garlic, and more. We suggest skewering grilled cubes with halved cherry tomatoes, whole basil leaves, and folded prosciutto slices to really make an impression on the ol’ taste buds.

Unconventional milk cheese: Marinated Persian Feta

SUMMERLAND CAMELS, QUEENSLAND, AU

With big cover girl energy (see our Summer 2020 issue), this camel’s milk cheese swanned into the 2020 Sydney Royal Cheese and Dairy Produce Show and glided out with a gold medal. Bathed in olive oil and herbs, the cheese is rich, velvety smooth, and chock full of vitamins and minerals thanks to the sustainably kept rescue camels of Summer Land. The biodynamic farm in northeast Australia gives a home to wild camels that would otherwise be exterminated, and turns their milk into award-winning cheeses, gelato, and skincare products.

Most Unique marinated cheese: Goat Cheese with Fennel Pollen & Orange

CHEVOO, HEALDSBURG, CA

Citrus isn’t something you usually think to pair with dairy, so the fact that CHEVOO flavors goat cheese spreads with it and wins prizes must mean they’ve cracked the code. The key is in the EVOO: In this case, fresh goat cheese is blended with orange-infused extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of fennel pollen. The result is subtle, aromatic, and perfectly balanced so as not to overpower the palate with citrusy sparkle.

Best out-of-left-fielder: Farmstead Cheese

WORKING COWS DAIRY, SLOCOMB, AL

Over 30 years ago, Jan and Rinske de Jong of the Netherlands took a vacation to theUS and never left. Several homes, kids, plots of land, and dairy-related ventures later, they now run Working Cows Dairy in southeast Alabama, a 100 percent grass-fed dairy farm. Their hard work and big dreams paid off in early 2020 when Rinske’s Farmstead Cheese won a Good Food award; This is especially noteworthy because the South is not typically lauded for its cheese, excepting pimento. Since a large part of Rinske’s cheesemaking education came from watching YouTube tutorials (!!!), we’d say her cheddary, buttery masterpiece is double-worthy of its sleeper hit status. 

Best cheese to recreate at home: Marinated Ciliegine

CRAVE BROTHERS FARMSTEAD, WATERLOO, WI

We’re not saying that just anyone can make quality mozzarella at home—that’s why we have experts like Crave Brothers. But if you wanted to try your hand at DIY pasta filata, Crave Brothers would be a good example to emulate. If you have the patience for stirring, squishing, stretching, and shaping, homemade mozzarella can come together in about 20 minutes. It’s the marinating that’ll be the true test of fortitude (see our Summer 2020 issue’s Can Do for a how-to guide). Crave Brothers doesn’t disclose the exact proportions of their spice blend, but we’d recommend submerging your mozzarella in olive oil with any combination of Italianate spices and leaving for a couple hours at room temperature to infuse. It’ll be delicious, we’re sure—just don’t expect to snatch Crave Brother’s 2018 World Cheese Championship trophy from under them.

Freshest face: Aries

SHOOTING STAR CREAMERY, PASO ROBLES, CA

When this Alpine-style sheep’s milk beauty shot to stardom in 2019, its win was almost overshadowed by the cheese world’s interest in its maker: fifteen-year-old Avery Jones, daughter of Reggie and Kelly Jones of Central Coast Creamery. Mere months after its unveiling as Shooting Star Creamery’s debut cheese, Aries took home the Third Place Best in Show and First Place in its category at the 2019 American Cheese Society Competition. Avery Jones managed to break the mold with this one: Alpine-style sheep’s milk cheeses are hard to come by, especially Stateside, and it’s this uniqueness that makes Aries’ Best in Show win so remarkable. That, and the fact that Avery is the youngest person ever to place at that level. We were wowed by Aries’ smooth paste offering up notes of tropical fruit and fresh hay, and we can’t wait for more from this maker.

Honorable mention (No longer available): 80:10:10 Special Edition

MURRAY’S CHEESE CAVEMASTER, NEW YORK, NY

In the thick of a global crisis is not typically the best time to release a new cheese. When COVID-19 rocked the world, we saw a fair number of creameries turning excess milk into cheese, much of which was donated to struggling food pantries. New York institution Murray’s Cheese did us one better: They released a special edition of their 80:10:10 mixed-milk cheese, which was washed in wheat wine, and donated 15 percent of all sales to Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR). Though this intense, heady cheese is no longer available, Murray’s donations helped struggling New York restaurant workers stay solvent during the first wave of the pandemic. That gets a gold medal in our book.

Margaret Leahy

Margaret Leahy is a Contributing Editor at culture.

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