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Enjoy With Abandon: 2020’s Best Cheeses For Snacking


 

Socially Distant Party Showstopper: Rush Creek Reserve

UPLANDS CHEESE CO., DODGEVILLE, WI

Though Rush Creek Reserve may be overshadowed by its oft-awarded sister, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, it deserves a tip of our hat. Uplands Cheese Co. won the prestigious Resistenza Casearia Award at the 2017 Slow Food festival, not for a specific cheese, but rather in recognition of their process. Both of Uplands’ cheeses (there are only two) are made by hand in small batches from the creamery’s own milk, and the makers pay special attention to animal welfare and milk quality. Made only in the fall, Rush Creek is oozy, rich, and woodsy, thanks to each wheel’s cloak of spruce bark. Serving this cheese should be as methodical as its production: Let the cheese come to room temperature or warm it gently in the oven, carefully slice off the top rind, and prepare to be wowed.


Best Midnight Snack: Flagship Reserve

BEECHER’S HANDMADE CHEESE, SEATTLE, WA

 

This impressive beefcake of a cheese won Best American Clothbound Cheddar at the 2019 American Cheese Society awards, proving that Beecher’s knows its way around a cheese bandage. The Reserve is a slightly more rugged take on Beecher’s Flagship cheddar, a semi-hard cow’s milk that holds its own in a competition (it won second place in its category at ACS 2019). Flagship Reserve is our favorite for after-dark snacking, though, as its rich profile and savory crumble satisfy without overwhelming; add crackers and it’s almost a full meal. Just don’t forget to clean up your crumbs.


Best Cheese for the Single Snacker: Harbison Mini

JASPER HILL FARM, GREENSBORO, VT

In a multi-year victory lap, Harbison was most notably crowned Best American Cheese at the 2018 World Cheese Awards in Bergen, Norway. It’s now passing its legacy on to its children: The miniature version of the spruce-wrapped wonder hasn’t won any awards yet, but its pedigree secures it a place in our trophy case. Harbison the elder makes for an arresting cheese plate centerpiece, its sultry paste offering up notes of lemon, tree bark, and warm bread. It’s almost too good to share…and now you don’t have to! Each Harbison Mini is about half the size of an original Harbison wheel, and easily consumed in one sitting—no storage required.


Best Guilty Pleasure: Bite Size Burrata

LIUZZI CHEESE, HAMDEN, CT

What’s better than burrata? If you’re thinking “more burrata,” you’re singing our tune. Against all preconceived notions of perfection, Liuzzi Cheese has taken their American Cheese Society-gilded burrata (Second Place in its category, 2019) and mini-sized it, serving up adorable 2-ounce globes of pasta filata filled with creamy stracciatella. If you can’t stop at just one of these little munchkins, we won’t judge you—in fact, we endorse it.


Best Cheese to Share with Your Pet (in Moderation)*: Queso Cotija 

EL MEXICANO, SAN JOSE, CA

We’ll fervently make a case for naming cotija the salt of the cheese world. It’s great on everything! Its low-lactose crumble makes it ideal for sprinkling over salads, and its high melting point renders it a multi-textured joy when incorporated into hot dishes. And if a little bit falls on the floor, no worries—our four-legged furry friends love it just as much as we do. But Elvis and Sgt. Tibbs have standards, and that’s why only the finest (unflavored) cotija will do. El Mexicano’s Queso Cotija scored silver at the 2018 World Cheese Championship and gold at the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition, so yeah, you could say it’s fit for  your little prince’s consumption.

*Suggested solely for healthy cats and dogs, taking lactose and salt content into account. As with any food not meant specifically for pets, please indulge them sparingly.

Just Add Crackers (Or A Spoon): Cognac Fig Chèvre

MACKENZIE CREAMERY, HIRAM, OH

Listen: We’re all friends here. At the end of a long day, sometimes you just want to skip the pomp and circumstance of building a whole cheese plate for yourself and cut to the chase. If you haven’t eaten cheese straight out of its rind or wrapper in a fit of passion, we commend your poise. For the rest of us, thank the curd gods for Cognac Fig Chèvref rom Mackenzie Creamery. This boozy, jammy, sweet and tangy masterpiece won Best of Class in its category at the 2018 World Championship Cheese Contest, but (and we mean this with all due respect) you kind of don’t need an official recognition to know this ready-to-scoop chèvre is cheese royalty.


“While we specialize in imported cheeses from around the world, this year Formaggio Kitchen wanted to focus on helping some of our favorite local producers. Among the makers I spoke to early on was Patrick Apfel from Cochran Farm in New York State; they had expanded their facilities just before the pandemic, putting ambitious sales goals in peril. Since then, one of his flagship cheeses, St. Johnsville, has become a staple in our community; we have sold over 500 units out of our small shop in Cambridge Massachusetts over the past six months! This beautiful Loire Valley-style goat cheese is nothing short of stunning—it never disappoints. Paired with local honey and a nice light white wine, it is hands-down worthy of being my favorite goat cheese this year.”

-Marc Hernandez, CHEESE BUYER AND MONGER, Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, MA


 

Margaret Leahy

Margaret Leahy is a Contributing Editor at culture.

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