Photo: Rocket’s Robiola by Nina Gallant
When culture reached out to cheesemongers across the country to get their input for this issue, Gordon Edgar, the cheese buyer from Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco, had a lot to say. Rather than choose just one of his excellent and timely suggestions, we’re sharing them all.
BEST CHEESE TO EAT WHILE THE WORLD IS BURNING: BoxCarr Rocket’s Robiola. Ashed geotrichum cow’s milk. Buttery, ashy, and smooth in the mouth. Takes some of the pain away.
BEST CHEESE TO EAT BY YOURSELF WHILE HIDING IN YOUR ROOM: Briar Rose Mini Maia. Washed rind organic Ayreshire milk. Just the right combo of stink and fat.
BEST CHEESE TO (RE)DISCOVER: Roelli Dunbarton Blue. I have carried this cheddar blue since the beginning, but every time I buy it for myself, I say, “I forgot how good this cheese is.”
BEST CHEESE THAT KEEPS GETTING BETTER: Capriole Piper’s Pyramide. Judy Schad is one of the last active members of the fabled women who brought goat cheese to America and her cheese keeps getting better. My favorite these days is the Piper’s Pyramide, a hand-ladled, ripened goat with smoked paprika.
BEST DEAL FOR YOUR DOLLAR: Valley Ford Estero Gold Reserve, one of California’s most underrated cheeses. Based on a Montasio recipe, this cheese is aged for 14 months and has big flavor—nutty, sharp and a little sweet. More complex than you’d expect at $20 per pound or less.
BEST CHEESE ORIGIN: Red Barn 5-Year Aged Heritage Cheddar; clothbound and wax-aged, this cheese must be made with milk from small, humane-certified, family farms.
BEST COMBINATION OF FARMSTEAD AND PASTURE: Jacobs and Brichford JQ. Aged just over 60 days, this soft-ripened, raw-milk cheese is all about the grass and the earth. JQ is mild but complex and easy to eat. It comes in one-pound blocks, so if you aren’t careful, you’ll realize you ate it all in one sitting.
BEST CHEESE THAT I DIDN’T EXPECT TO KEEP SELLING DURING THE PANDEMIC: FireFly Farms Merry Goat Round with Spruce. When the lockdowns started, consumer demand went from fancy-schmancy to commodity overnight. We had to take a break on a lot of our favorites or package them in Victory Boxes. I kept talking to my Merry Goat Round and saying, “Well, little buddy, I don’t know how much longer we can keep you.” But no, it kept selling when others didn’t because people demanded this bark-wrapped oozy goat gift. Totally unique in the U.S.
BEST SURPRISE CHEESE: East Hill’s Silver Lake is a full-on, 70-pound Gruyere-style from Upstate New York. I hadn’t heard of it before I tried it but it became a mainstay right away. Earthy, nutty, and a little oniony in the best possible way.
BEST NEW CHEESE THAT I PUSH ON CUSTOMERS (WHEN ALLOWED TO BY LAW TO SAMPLE): Jasper Hill Eligo. Washed rind goat that people don’t know they want until they try it.
BEST CHEESE BY A TEENAGER: Shooting Star Scorpio. Washed rind sheep. Who makes a washed rind sheep? A teenager from Central California does, and it has quickly become a favorite when we can get it. Super clean, rich, and lightly pungent.
BEST CHEESE TO CLEAR A ROOM OF TIMID EATERS: Tulip Tree Foxglove. Double cream washed rind, so you get lots of butterfat, grass, and aroma. A joyous celebration of milk and stink.
BEST OF THE WORST: This was the worst cheese year of my adult life. I’ve worked in cheese since 1994 and it’s never been so depressing. Cheesemakers struggling and laying off staff…other cheesemakers and dairy farmers going out of business altogether…cheese selling transforming from fun interaction to packaging commodities and re-stocking pre-packed shreds. During the first month of lockdown I barely ate outside of my apartment even though I was at work for 10-12 hours at a time. Everything just felt too tenuous and unsafe. Then one day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was hangry and exhausted and needed to eat right away to just keep going. I looked around the store and decided I needed cheese. I grabbed a bag of free broken crackers, a piece of Milton Creamery Prairie Breeze on a whim and went to town. I ate the whole block. I immersed myself in the taste, the fat, the salt, the sweet/sharp flavor, and for a moment, I didn’t think about anything else. A total comfort cheese. It was the perfect antidote to everything.