Planet Cheese is a weekly blog devoted to everything cheese: products, people, places, news, and views. James Beard Award-winning journalist Janet Fletcher writes Planet Cheese from her home in Napa Valley. Janet is the author of Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer, and The Cheese Course and an occasional contributor to culture. Visit janetfletcher.com to sign up for Planet Cheese and view Janet’s current schedule of cheese appreciation classes.
American cheese merchants know they can sell triple-cream Brie without lifting a finger. But what fun is that? The best merchants take risks, bringing in new creations and unfamiliar cheeses that required some handselling. And every year, a few of these newcomers click with customers and sprint away from the pack. I asked several top retailers from around the country about the new (or newish) cheeses that over-delivered for them this year.
“Deer Creek The Blue Jay from Wisconsin. It’s studded with juniper berries and extra rich. Some people frown on the juniper, but when they taste it, they almost always want a big piece. When it ripens to the texture of crème brulée, it is exceptional. Also, Maison de la Truffe Brie. It’s split horizontally and smeared with a thick mascarpone truffle layer. It’s over-the-top with truffle aroma. Lastly, Schnebelhorn: raw Swiss cow’s milk, rich and buttery with a touch of funk. I made a fondue with 70 percent Schnebelhorn and 30 percent young Gruyère. Superb.”
James Ayers, Atelier Fine Foods
Three newer cheeses did great for us this year. We were excited to see Flora, a new cheese from Capriole. It’s a delicate, small-format cheese and fairly affordable for how delicious it is. We also love Flory’s Truckle. It’s not new but this is the first year we’ve carried it, and our mongers and customers are huge fans. I ordered Tomme Brulée on a whim, and it has been a huge hit at our bar. Because it’s the same size as Tête de Moine, we decided to try it on the girolle. The cheese came to life! It’s sheepy in all the right ways, and the torched rind adds a toasty note. The cheese is really good as is but spectacular off the girolle.”
Kate Leeder, Aperitivo
Grand Rapids, MI
“This was the Year of Feta for us. Essex Street Feta became a top-moving item after being introduced in 2016. Flavored cheeses also performed well. Meredith Dairy’s Marinated Goat Cheese was a big hit at both of our markets and Quicke’s Elderflower Cheddar was an unexpected hit.”
Jon Fancey, Bi-Rite Market
“We’re in love with Foxglove from Tulip Tree Creamery. It’s everything we want in a stinker: a velvety mouthfeel and funky aroma but with savory notes of ham and grass. And then it just glides into the finish of silk and cream. Our customers are asking for it by name.”
Louise Kennedy Converse, Artisan Cheese Company
Domestically, it’s Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill. It’s better than ever. For an import: Alp Blossom. We used to just sell it in the spring but now it’s year-round. A super-cool story, too.”
CJ Bienert, Cheese Shop of Des Moines
Des Moines, IA
“Prairie Breeze is not new, but no one else in Fort Collins is selling it. Customers love its sweet nuttiness. We sell 20 pounds a week. Second runner-up would be Sweet Grass Dairy’s Pimento Cheese Spread. Customers buy two or three tubs at a time. I think the quality of the base cheese really stands out, even with the Duke’s Mayo and peppers.”
Tina Mooney, Fox & The Crow
Ft Collins, CO
“Cornish Kern blows off the shelf. It has a nice sweet-to-savory balance and it’s full of crystals.”
Steve Jones, Cheese Bar
“Two kinds of cheese new to our shops this year that totally shined: 1924 Bleu. The price is right and the flavor is spectacular. Also Alp Blossom. It’s stunningly beautiful, so different from other alpine-style cheeses, and we rarely get cheeses from Austria.”
Gina Freize, Venissimo Cheese
So there you have it: the start of your bucket list for 2018. Retailers, please weigh in on other newcomers that performed well for you.
Find Northern California retail sources for Deer Creek The Blue Jay and Maison de la Truffe Brie here.