Cheese

Blue, Blue, My Cheese is Blue

Newsletter 20190411 2This week, or weekend, rather, Suzy and I headed west to visit our son who lives in Oakland.  Preferring to escape the city for the weekend, we headed north to Sonoma wine country, with a too-brief visit to beautiful Point Reyes on our first day.

About an hour’s drive from San Francisco and Oakland, Point Reyes seems far more distant.  The seashore, which is a national park separated from the mainland by the Tomales Bay, is actually part of the Pacific continental plate, nestling against the North American continental plate in the narrow bay.  The landscape is breathtaking, mountains giving way to estuaries and beach, the Pacific Ocean churning in the distance.  We made a quick visit to the National Park and were able to see baby elephant seals warming their bodies on the sandy beach with their mamas.  Not your typical DC vista.

We also took in a visit to nearby Marshall and celebrated our arrival on the west coast with an outdoor lunch of raw oysters, pulled from the Tomales Bay just in front of us by the Tomales Bay Oyster Company.

But the highlight of our first day in California was our visit to the nearby Giacomini dairy, the family owned home of the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  We spent the better part of a couple of hours touring the farm, learning about their cheeses, their herd, their philosophy.  It was a great start to our west coast sojourn.

The Point Reyes Farmstead is open for public visits, but only by prior arrangement.  A sign announces the Giacomini Farm, but gives no hint that the farm is associated with the well known and even better regarded Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  From the main road, the Route 1 that meanders along the Tomales Bay, you see only rolling farmland, verdant green at this time of the year but burnt brown during the summer.  Wandering along the private drive you eventually summit a hill below which extends the farm in all of its glory, hidden from sight of the highway, occupying a vast expanse of pasture and numerous sheds, ponds, cheesemaking rooms and offices and a visitor/education center. This may be a family run business, but it is a vast enterprise.

Our hourlong tour of farm focused mainly on the stars of the show, the herd of 900 or so cows that provide the milk that is made into Point Reyes’ dozen or so cheeses.  The cows are health and happy – lovingly cared for in a facility that is clean, tidy and odor free.  It is hard to imagine that you are actually on a farm.

Sustainability and environmental sensitivity are incorporated into all aspects of the business.  Of particular interest is the methane recycling system that turns the cows’ solid waste into energy that powers the vast majority of the operation before being returned to the fields as fertilizer.  It is just one of the smart, one would say elegant approaches to this business that shows it is being managed from the heart as well as the mind and ledger.

But the real proof is in the pudding, or in this case cheese.  We have long been fans of Point Reyes’ blue cheese, their flagship offering which is still made entirely on premises at the family farm.  Our swag bag that we were sent home with included a healthy portion of blue but also their delicious gouda among others.

That evening, after we had checked into our lodging for the night, we enjoyed a home made cheese board (apologies to our cheesemongers back in DC who are a bit more artistically inclined) featuring our samples from the tour, as well as a few others we picked up in a local market.  It went down oh so well, rewarding us with great flavors that were bolstered by the excellent memories of our visit to the Giacomini’s dairy.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

This week, or weekend, rather, Suzy and I headed west to visit our son who lives in Oakland.  Preferring to escape the ...

Scott Tours Murray’s Cheese Caves

Love cheese? Join us for our Cheese of the Month Tasting featuring Sweet Grass Dairy on Wed, August 1 or reserve a seat at our Cheesemaker Dinner with Sweet Grass Dairy on Fri, August 10. Better yet, come to both!

I didn’t know all that much about Murray’s cheese before my most recent trip to New York City. Basically, I knew it was a famous shop that sold good cheese and was willing to wholesale to me. Now that I’ve been, I’m in love.

Here at Via Umbria we deal with a lot of different cheese producers from all over Italy, the United Kingdom, the rest of Europe and the United States. Walking into the shop on Bleeker Street I felt right at home. It wasn’t that I recognized every single cheese they were selling (although there were quite a few familiar faces)—it was that I could tell I was somewhere that cared about sourcing great cheese from great producers. It was awesome, and I was ready to taste.

You may know of Murray’s as an excellent purveyor of fine cheeses, but what most don’t know is that Murray’s is also an affineur (an ager of cheese). A few days after visiting the store, we were fortunate to travel to glamorous Long Island City to tour their “caves” (it’s actually a set of climate and humidity controlled rooms—I don’t think there’s much in the way of caves in Queens). And learned a bit about the history of these cheeses.

If you’ve read my blog post about Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, it’s a pretty similar story. A cheese shop taking care of their cheese decided to reach out to some producers and get things specially for the shop. In the case of NYD, they preserved a whole range of traditional British cheeses. At Murray’s, it was a case of innovation. The team took cheeses that were already in production and began to age them differently. They started inoculating cheeses with different molds and washing rinds of varieties that weren’t typically washed. In short, they were creating some deliciousness. They even worked in a dairy lab upstate with some local milk to make their own cheese from scratch—a delightful cheddar that tastes almost like cheddar-swiss hybrid.

We’re so pleased to have the opportunity to work with the Murray’s team,  as well as all the other cheesemakers and cheese lovers that  we partner with. Stop on by and ask to try some of our cheeses!

 

Love cheese? Join us for our Cheese of the Month Tasting featuring Sweet Grass Dairy on Wed, August 1 or reserve a seat ...

Neal’s Yard Dairy

When most people think of cheese (and, well, food in general) they tend not to think of Britain. In fact, they tend to actively avoid the thought of food in Britain. To me, that’s a mistake. The days of mushy peas and over boiled everything are long gone and what better way to prove itl than to eat (and drink) my way through London. In addition to eating world-class meals and drinking numerous pints of beer, no ‘work’ trip to London would be complete without a stop at Neal’s Yard Dairy- a company that showcases, advances, and promotes a cheese tradition as old and varied as any on the continent.

Neal’s Yard Dairy began as named – a dairy in London purveying milk, eggs, and a small selection of fresh cheeses. After some time in the business, they realized there was a gap in the market in London and they began to seek out hard, aged cheeses to bring into the shop. In order to do this they reached out to small farms and producers throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland and as they built relationships with these farms and farmers their business grew.  Nowadays, this is the main focus of their business. The very lucky people at Neal’s Yard spend their days traveling the country and tasting cheeses right at the source so that they can select the best of the best to bring back to London and add their unique touch to their selection by finishing the aging process in their maturation facility.

Their carefully selected cheeses showcase and represent an age old tradition of cheeses including the big names and heavy hitters like cheddar (the OG cheddars from Somerset, England) and stilton, as well as some lesser known (but equally tasty) cheeses from throughout England. Many of these are named after the places they are made, much like a fine wine from France or Italy, and are called “territorials.” Others are more innovative, and create true competition and inspiration for the exploding artisanal cheese scene here in the States.

Visiting their facility was an incredible experience. They’ve just moved into a new space in South London (across the street from a pub, of course) and have rows on rows of wheels of cheese undergoing the last stages before heading out to their retail stores, London shops and restaurants, and (luckily for us) some across the pond. Upon entering the facility we were greeted by the amazing and ever charming Clara Melluish, offered tea and coffee, and then whisked away to visit the cheese. After donning jackets, hair nets, and shoe covers we were led into the storage facility- which was basically just a giant library with floor to ceiling shelves full of cheese. Though the sight is amazing, the smell is the first thing to hit you. A little bit earthy, a little bit funky, and incredibly tantalizing, the scents that come from having that many delicious cheesy morsels in one room was overwhelming in the best possible way. Fortunately we were not just there to look but to taste and taste we did. Row after row, cheese after cheese, Clara guided us through the process of selecting cheeses, bringing them back to age, and how to decide when they’re ready to go off into the world. We learned the differences between aging hard cheeses and aging soft cheeses, we did side by side tastings of two identical cheeses where one was washed in beer and the other was not, and we got to taste a cheese next to its twin sibling made in different size formats. It’s sometimes hard to remember that cheese is a living entity, that it takes in flavors from its surrounding as it’s changing textures from maturing but while you’re standing at the source the incredible magic and art of cheese is undeniable.

Don’t let us have all the fun! Due to all our hard (fun), taxing (exciting), and very serious (very delicious) work, we’re binging over some phenomenal cheeses for you next month. Trust me- you’ll thank us when the delivery arrives because we were able to pinpoint some amazing cheeses that will be close to their peak in flavor, texture, and general deliciousness when they arrive next month. Keep an eye out for our Neal’s Yard Dairy Cheese Board Special coming in April or join us for our April Cheese of the Month Club where we will be tasting and talking about some of our favorites from this trip.

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When most people think of cheese (and, well, food in general) they tend not to think of Britain. In fact, they tend ...

Holiday Entertaining

The holidays are here! Are you ready? Stressed about entertaining so many friends and relatives at your home? Well stop! There are so many easy ways to keep people happy, and to be able to spend time with them rather than finding yourself working double-time in the kitchen while everyones off caroling (though, personally, I’d rather be in the kitchen than subjecting others to my singing). Cheese is such a good way to spread some holiday happiness, get people an easy appetizer, and to keep yourself happy while you’re watching your rib roast cook away in the oven. I’ll be honest: there isn’t any cheese that doesn’t go with the holidays, but there are a few recommendations that I have that are exceptional this time of here. 

Cheese is such a good way to spread some holiday happiness

The first, and most traditional, is stilton. Here at Via Umbria, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a whole wheel of it from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. We carry cheeses from our favorite affineurs across the pond year but the stilton that we buy for Christmas is my favorite part of this relationship. Stilton has been a part of English Christmas tradition for a long time.  As such it pairs with so many of the foods that we eat, from spiced nuts to the big beef itself. Neal’s Yard’s stilton is made by one of the smallest producers: Colston Bassett, a co-op in Nottinghamshire where they take care to do everything by hand (something you won’t find at the factory that makes the stilton you’re buying at the supermarket). 

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I also really like the L’Amuse signature gouda for this time of year. It’s a cheese we are fortunate to have on hand year round, but when the days get shorter and colder, the cheese really stands out. This good gouda is not something soft and flabby, that requires smoke to mask it’s flavor. This gouda, traditionally made in the Netherlands, is colored with anatto and aged for over two years. If you ever hear someone talk about crystallization in cheese, this is the prime example, as it’s age makes almost crunchy. It’s flavor is an intense caramel that warms the soul – and pairs with some of your seasonal beers – the stouts and porters that good brewers release for the colder days. 

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My final cheese recommendation for the holidays is also the easiest to recommend, since it is only released this time of year: the Rush Creek Reserve. This is one of those now-trendy cheeses with washed rinds that are wrapped in spruce bark. But they’re trendy for a reason (they’re delicious) and they are perfect for entertaining. To eat them you slice off the top and open up to reveal a cheese so soft it’s ready for dipping. Of all these cheeses though, Rush Creek is the best. It’s producer: Uplands Cheese Company of Dodgeville, Wisconsin makes only two cheeses with their small herd. This cheese is made with milk that is produced in the autumn, when the cow’s diet has switched from the fresh summer grass to hay. It’s made with raw milk, making the beefy, brothy flavor so much more intense. It’s so good and honestly, hard to find and sells quickly (I’m not kidding people go crazy for this). If you’re entertaining for the holidays this is the cheese to get. 

Stressed about entertaining friends and relatives at your home? Read more

The holidays are here! Are you ready? Stressed about entertaining so many friends and relatives at your home? Well stop! There are ...

Cheese of the Month: Ogleshield!

One of the most fun aspects of working in food is that it is ever evolving and changing. Tradition may be the undertone of most things you see, but innovation is everywhere, regardless of how steeped the source. As a cheesemonger, finding fascinating new cheeses hidden in renowned traditional sources is one of my greatest pleasures.

No matter where in the world you look, many of the practices of making cheese are the same. The curds are heated in similar patterns, similar cultures are used, and many similar rind formation techniques are applied, but the results can be drastically different. So if I was surprised to find one of the foremost names in traditional English cheeses attached to a Swiss raclette style cheese, I was even more surprised to find one of England’s foremost cheddar producers as well! Montgomery’s Cheddar has long been held as one of the standard bearers of English cheddars and their collaboration with Neal’s Yard Dairy in Ogleshield reflects a lot of that commitment to quality and tradition, even in a more innovative cheese.

The first of these collaborations occurred on Ogleshield’s predecessor, Jersey Shield. Jaime Montgomery uses primarily more mild Holstein milk for many of his cheeses but made the decision to expand his small Jersey herd to cheese production as well. Jersey Shield started more traditionally English with a ashy gray bloomy rind, a firmer texture, and a cheddared style. However, due to the larger size and delicate nature of the fat globules in Jersey milk, the cheese did not succeed as affineurs had hoped. William Oglethorpe, who at the time was the senior affineur at Neal’s Yard, knew that the cheese had the potential to be incredible, they just had to find a way to get there, and thus, Ogleshield was born.

Ogleshield has all the ingredients for an incredible cheese: Jersey milk with its characteristic bright yellow fat and complex flavor profile from a master dairyman and a rind hand-washed and salted in the traditional Swiss style developed by master affineur, for whom the cheese is named. The result is a semi-soft, nutty, and almost fruity cheese incredible for melting with more punch and tang that a traditional raclette.

We are very happy to announce that Ogleshield will be our May cheese of the month! Come taste it in all it’s wonderful forms May 3rd at 7:30! Please visit our website for tickets!

Author: Emily Shifflett

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One of the most fun aspects of working in food is that it is ever evolving and changing. Tradition may be the ...

Springtime means Sheep Time

I’ve been on a sheep-cheese kick, as of late. Sampling Umbria’s multitude of pecorinos while traveling through the region this past February (you can read about my trip in my last blog post) left me wanting more of that distinctively fatty and creamy, yet slightly gamey umami punch that you can only get from sheep’s milk.

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Unbeknownst to me at the time, I couldn’t have planned my return from Umbria any better –  I rolled right off the plane and smack dab into the beginning of lambing season. Springtime is the beginning of sheep time in the cheese world. Because of ewes’ lactation period, sheep’s milk isn’t available year round – the season starts in the spring and ends in the early fall. That means that fresh sheep’s milk cheeses simply aren’t available during the late fall and winter, and aged sheep’s cheeses slow down production because of the lack of fresh milk. Basically what I’m saying is, spring is a good time to come home with a hankering for sheep’s milk. Good job, me.

While lots of different cultures around the world make cheese out of sheep’s milk, pecorino is probably the best well known. That being said, it is probably one of the most misunderstood. Many of my customers come to my counter asking for pecorino, but have no idea that, a) it is actually made from sheep’s milk, and b) there are many different types of pecorinos out there. So let’s start with the basics: the word pecorino comes from the Italian word for sheep, pecora. Hence, any Italian cheese made with sheep’s milk is technically a pecorino. This means that in Italy, there are a truly incalculable amount of pecorinos – when I staged at Caseificio Broccatelli, their dairy alone made at least a dozen different styles of pecorino.

At the Via Umbria cheese counter, we’ve carried a few different types of pecorinos over the past year and a half, but three styles in particular stick out – Romano, Toscano, and Sardo. Pecorino Romano, from Rome, is probably the best well known of the bunch. With its grate-able texture and extremely salty flavor, is perfect for seasoning dishes. Our Tuscan friend, Toscano, on the other hand, is much softer, creamier, and milder – a good addition to any cheese plate and a natural fit, in my opinion, to pair with charcuterie. Pecorino Sardo, from the island of Sardinia, however, is my personal favorite. More moisture and complexity with less salt than the Romano, but harder and brinier than the Toscano, this delightful cheese is a happy medium on the pecorino spectrum. It’s good on a cheese plate, grated into dishes, drizzled with honey and served with walnuts, melted over traditional Sardinian bread – you name it, Sardo’s good for it.

I’m pleased to announce that Pecorino Sardo will be the Via Umbria April cheese of the month! Come taste this springtime favorite at our Monthly Cheese Party, next Wednesday April 5th at 7:30pmPecorino_Sardo_Cheese.

Pecorinos on the rise Read more

I've been on a sheep-cheese kick, as of late. Sampling Umbria's multitude of pecorinos while traveling through the region this past February ...

Cheese Travel in Umbria

One of the little-known facts about working in the cheese business is that there is a fair amount of travel involved. Visiting cheesemakers and producers is essential to understanding your products and being able to bring them to life for your customers. Lucky for us cheesemongers, most of these cheesemakers live in some pretty darn beautiful, idyllic places. This winter, I was lucky enough to spend time in one of these gorgeous locations – Umbria.

Flying into Perugia, I was full of excitement, not knowing what to expect. I had visited Italy before – Tuscany, Florence, Venice – but had never been to the “green heart of Italy” known as Umbria. As the plane descended, I was struck by the beauty of the Apennine mountains framing the central valley. Even though it was winter, the view was indeed green – full of silvery sage olive groves and striking, pin straight cyprus trees. This was going to be a good trip.
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Having worked at Via Umbria since it opened in November of 2015, you could say that I have become quite familiar with Umbrian cuisine. However, experiencing this style of cooking – Torta al Testo, truffle covered everything, and lots and lots of pork – in its natural habitat was a truly one-of-a-kind experience. It was also fascinating to put these dishes into historical and geographic context. For example, Umbria is the only region in Italy to be completely landlocked, which meant that salt used to be very scarce. As a result, traditional Umbrian bread is still to this day made without salt.

Learning about the cheese culture in Umbria was equally captivating. Because of various importation laws concerning bringing cheese into the US, I was very unfamiliar with the cheese traditions of this particular region. I was lucky enough to be able to shadow Fabio Brocatelli, a local cheesemaker whose family has made cheese in Umbria for the past three generations. Following him around the dairy, I learned that because of the fairly rocky, local mountains, the soil isn’t rich enough to support the type of pastureland necessary for cows. It is, however, ideal for goats and sheep. As such, most cheese from Umbria is either a pecorino, or made from sheep’s milk, or di capra, or made from goats.

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We stopped by and visited with one of the farmers who provides Fabio with sheep milk for his various pecorinos. Like most of the sheep farmers in the area, this shepherd was originally from Sardinia. As we sat at the large, farmhouse table, waiting for the espresso to brew and munching on traditional Sardinian flatbread with homemade cheese, I learned that after the devastation of World War II, many Sardinian farmers made the trek north to Umbria to continue their farming traditions. As such, the amount of sheep drastically increased, and pecorino became an ingrained part of Umbrian cuisine. As drinking espresso turned into drinking housemade wine and mirta (traditional Sardinian liquor), various neighbors started dropping by, filling the kitchen with warmth and laughter. Although my Italian is, in the best of circumstances, poor, and my Sardinian is completely non-existant, I felt charmed and welcomed by these people.

My time in Umbria flew by entirely too quickly. To say I ate well would be the understatement of the year. To say I had a good time would be equally inadequate. I am so grateful for the experience and it is one that I will certainly not soon forget.

an Unforgettable Experience Read more

One of the little-known facts about working in the cheese business is that there is a fair amount of travel involved. Visiting ...

Via Umbria’s Very Older Brother

It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy.  A complex of food businesses (described by Anthony Bourdain as “an empire”), Roscioli is a family affair built over 4 generations that started with a renowned bakery, and now includes a wildly popular salumeria, ristorante, caffe/pasticceria and more recently the Rimessa and wine club.  Roscioli built its reputation on unrivaled quality and the breadth of their offerings.  They have been recognized through features in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller and even garnered a visit by Anthony Bourdain on his show No Reservations.

 

For the past several years they have sought to meet the customer where he is through a program of curated tastings they call Rimessa Roscioli.  Sommelier Alessandro Pepe and a team of top rated food and wine experts lead small groups on food and wine tastings in a relaxed, casual setting that they describe as “an educational and convivial lab.”  We think it describes perfectly Via Umbria.
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Rimessa Roscioli tasting dinner on left; Via Umbria Laboratorio on right.
When we first met the acquaintance of Alessandro and his partner, American born ex-pat Lindsay Gabbard, we were immediately struck by just how similar our passions were.  They, like us, love food and wine because they can create connections between strangers.  And they strongly believe that food and particularly wine, can and should be “democratic.”  Although an expert sommelier, Alessandro scoffs at wine tastings where the conversation focuses on arcane trivia such as malolactic fermentation.  Enjoying wine and getting in touch with your own tastes and sharing that with others is the what sommelier should strive to teach and it is precisely what Alessandro and Lindsay have been doing for the past decade.

 

Rimessa Roscioli is taking their show on the road and coming to Washington, DC and for one night Via Umbria is honored to be hosting them, preparing a special evening of food and wine tasting in the company of these fascinating and engaging people.  Limited seating is available on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm for an evening that promises to be unforgettable – a small group tasting around a communal table featuring eight hand selected wines paired with a dozen small tastes, including a pasta dish and a dessert and lots of conversation and enjoyment.  This is a rare one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience and savor true, authentic flavors imported directly from Italy by one of Rome’s most respected sommeliers.  Tickets, which are non-refundable must be purchased in advance and can be bought online or at Via Umbria.

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It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy.  A complex of food businesses (described ...

In Love with British Cheese

You guys. I have a serious relationship with British cheeses. This will come as no shock to those of you who have either read my blog posts or visited my counter – I’ve made my love known far and wide. Growing up with an English mother whose parents had a farm in the Yorkshire Dales, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where the roots of this relationship formed. Couple that with Via Umbria’s partnership with famed British cheese shop/affineur/exporter, Neal’s Yard Dairy – a partnership that has given me and my lovely customers access to the best that Britain has to offer – and my love of these curds from the UK has damn near become an obsession.

A very large portion of this love is dedicated to the one cheese that opened my eyes to the wonders of blue mold – Stilton. Creamy yet crumbly, powerful yet approachable, good on its own or incorporated into recipes, this beautiful blue cheese was my gateway blue. And no time of year makes me crave it more than holiday time.

Growing up, my family and I would celebrate Christmas with my English grandparents. My sisters and I looked forward to it for months – an hours-long feast that included caviar canapes, duck à l’orange or roasted pheasant, my granny’s famous roasted potatoes, and Christmas pudding served with copious amounts of rum butter. The meal was so lengthy and full of so many delicious things, that we’d have to play games between courses in order to make room for the next culinary delight. As with many a British Christmas, however, no Christmas meal was complete without a very large hunk of Stilton served with port. It was heaven.

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So what is Stilton? Named for the town of Stilton, this quintessentially British cheese can trace its roots all the way back to the 18th century, although research shows that it was a very different product then than it is now. The first descriptions of Stilton cheese describe it as more of a cream cheese with no blue veining whatsoever. Over time, however, it evolved into the classic blue beauty that we know and love today.

Now a protected food, there are restrictions on cheeses that bear the Stilton name – it must be produced in one of three counties (either Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, or Leicestershire), be made with local pasteurized milk, have a naturally rinded cylindrical shape, not be pressed, and of course, have blue veins. Even if a wheel meets all of these requirements, however, it still may not make the cut. Every wheel must be graded and pass a quality test before being dubbed “Stilton”. If a wheel doesn’t pass muster, it must be sold simply as “blue cheese”.

Even though about a million wheels of Stilton are made every year, there are only six dairies that are licensed to make this classic blue. At Via Umbria, our Stiltons are made by Colston Bassett Dairy in Nottinghamshire, and hand selected by our friends at Neal’s Yard Dairy. Founded in 1913, Colston Bassett has been making Stilton for over 100 years, and has only had 4 different cheesemakers during that period. As Jason Hinds, Sales Director at Neal’s Yard Dairy, puts it, “With only four cheesemakers in the last one hundred years, Colston Bassett has maintained a tradition and quality of cheesemaking that is unparalleled in the Stilton world. It is the only Stilton that Neal’s Yard Dairy has carried for the last thirty three years.” And if it’s good enough for Jason Hinds, you better believe that you have a seriously good cheese on your hands.

All of this to say: Colston Bassett Stilton is Via Umbria’s December cheese of the month! Come and join us next Wednesday at 7:30pm for our December Cheese Party, and jump into the holiday season by tasting this fantastic piece of British tradition.

 

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

Discover Their Roots Read more

You guys. I have a serious relationship with British cheeses. This will come as no shock to those of you who have ...

Fall Flavors at the Cheese Counter

So you guys, it’s official – summer is finally over. And I, for one, am THRILLED. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some 4th of July fireworks, grilled meats, and summer-only cheeses paired with some gorgeous tomatoes or cucumbers. Those are all lovely things. Add in some chilled rose, and I’m a pretty darn happy camper.

All that being said, I decidedly do not love the hot, sticky, sweaty, mosquito-y weather that DC calls summertime. Holy moly. Don’t get me wrong, I really do love living here, but this little swamp-town known as our nation’s capitol is pretty darn unbearable from June until about halfway through October. Woof.

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But it’s over! It’s finally over! And with the weather graciously subsiding, not only are wardrobes changing – oh hey there sweaters, scarves, and boots! – but tastebuds are starting to change as well. When the temperature starts dropping and leaves start falling, bigger, bolder flavors that are just too darn much in the oppressive heat suddenly seem incredibly appealing.

Which leads me to one of my all-time favorite cheeses: aged gouda. For me, fall means it’s time for some butterscotchy, nutty, salty/sweet aged gouda. And no one does aged gouda better than L’Amuse.

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Let me back up for a moment – what is gouda? Strictly speaking, gouda is a cow’s milk cheese made with washed curds that traditionally hails from the Netherlands. Actually, the name “Gouda” comes from a town of the same name where the cheese was originally traded. This is about as specific as gouda gets, though. The name itself is not protected, so when you see the word “gouda” on a package, it can mean many different things. It can come from different places, be aged for varying degrees of time, be made from different milks – all things that lead to very different flavor profiles and/or textures.

So how do you know if the gouda you’re buying is the right one for you? How do you know you’re not going to end up with plastic wrapped, pre-sliced, rubbery cheese that tastes like fake smoke? My answer is the same one I pretty much give in any cheesy situation: talk to your cheesemonger. It’s our job to find the best cheeses around and then pair you with the right one.

Now, some of you may be asking yourselves – but how do we find these delicious cheeses? Well, in the case of the gouda that I carry, the answer is simple: I turn to Essex St. Cheese Co. For those of you who read my blog post about feta way back in July, that name will sound familiar – this team of fantastic importers provides the Via Umbria counter with their fabulous feta, as well as manchego, and gouda. To refresh you guys on what Essex St. does, I turn to my previous post: “Rather than importing many different types of cheese, Essex finds the best of the best and brings in only a handful of cheeses, with each type only having one producer. Their bar is extremely high.”

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Not only is this high bar met, but I dare say that it’s exceeded by the goudas coming out of L’Amuse Fromagerie in Santpoort-Noord. L’Amuse is owned and operated by master-cheesemonger and affineur Betty Koster – I had the privilege of meeting Betty during CMI and not only is she amazing at what she does, but she can also only be described as thoroughly warm and decidedly delightful.

But back to the cheese – for their Signature Gouda, the L’Amuse team hand-selects cheeses from the Cono cheesemaking plant in the northern Netherlands, and then ages them to perfection over the course of 2 years. Instead of aging them at cooler temperatures, as is done with most traditionally aged goudas, Betty keeps them at mid-temperature in order to develop fully rounded flavors. And oh man, what flavors develop! Butterscotch, caramel, toasted hazelnuts, and cream are all ensconced in this dense yet velvety paste.

In case you hadn’t already guessed it, L’Amuse Signature Gouda will be Via Umbria’s November cheese of the month, and I couldn’t be more excited! Please join us for our monthly Cheese Party next Wednesday, November 2nd, to not only taste this unbelievable cheese, but to also learn about it from Essex St. educational director, the wonderful and talented Rachel Juhl! It’s going to be a fantastic evening that you don’t want to miss.

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

Bigger and bolder flavors suitable for fall Read more

So you guys, it's official - summer is finally over. And I, for one, am THRILLED. Don't get me wrong - I ...

The Tale of Two Accidents

Alice and her Dad

Early last spring, my dad and I attempted to go spring skiing out in Deep Creek, Maryland. Rainy and foggy with lots of slush and mud, we were not entirely successful in our sporting endeavors. It got to the point where one day we looked up at the slopes, and decided to go to the movies instead. Let me tell you, you know the conditions are really bad when the best option is to watch a sappy, poorly written sports movie in an empty theater with sticky floors and the distinctive aroma of old popcorn clinging to the walls.

Even though the weekend itself didn’t exactly go according to plan, it was far from a bust. First of all, I got to hang out with my dad (hi Dad!), which was, as always, a great time. And secondly, I stumbled upon FireFly Farms.

We were on our way out of town when we decided to stop and get some snacks for the road. Driving through the small town of Accident, the FireFly Farms Creamery and Market sign caught my eye. I’d heard the name bantered about by various mongers in DC, and knew that they made goat cheeses. And, well, you guys know me – I’ll jump at any chance to try some new cheeses, so we stopped.

Goats at Firefly Creamery

After tasting through a bunch of their gorgeous, goat’s milk cheeses, I settled on my favorite: Mountain Top Bleu. Made in the Valencay style, these beautiful, surface ripened pyramids are a perfect gateway blue – mild and creamy with just a hint of funk. The piece that I got that day was just the way I like my soft cheeses to be – ripe, oozy, and full of flavor. During the two and a half hours it took us to drive back to DC, we easily devoured the entire thing.

I’ve learned a few things since that inaugural visit to FireFly. Firstly, although Mountain Top Bleu is one of FireFly’s original three cheeses, it was initially made by accident. It came into being when a bloomy-rinded cheese was cross contaminated by a nearby blue. Instead of throwing the contaminated batch away, the cheesemakers created this beautiful hybrid. And it’s a great thing that they did: Mountain Top Bleu is the most awarded cheese in the FireFly repertoire. With twenty individual honors to its name, including a bronze medal at the American Cheese Society conference this past summer and multiple World Cheese awards, this cheese is certainly no mistake. Saveur Magazine even named it as one of the top 50 cheeses in the nation.

Mountain Top Bleu

I was also impressed to learn about FireFly’s commitment to sustainability, both with regards to the farmers that they partner with and to the environment. FireFly is a small cheesemaking operation on the Allegheny Plateau region of Maryland, and they use milk from six goat farms within a 30 mile radius of their shop. By working closely with these farmers, and implementing a mutually beneficial contract, Firefly assures that the farmers are committed to “humane animal husbandry and restrict the use of antibiotics, hormones, and animal feeds that have been treated with chemical or synthetic fertilizers”, while also paying them a fair price for their milk that doesn’t penalize producers for “under-production” in winter months, nor “over-production” in summer months.

Additionally, FireFly is very conscious of their energy consumption. Instead of using energy-hungry machines, they’re committed to handcrafting and wrapping each of their cheeses. Furthermore, as of the summer of 2015, one third of the energy used by FireFly comes from their newly installed solar panels.

It is my great pleasure to announce that not only will Mountain Top Bleu be Via Umbria’s October Cheese of the Month, but that FireFly Farms founders Mike Koch and Pablo Solanet will be joining us for our monthly Cheese Party! Please join us on Wednesday, October 5th to eat, drink, and learn all about this wonderful local cheese and these awesome cheesemakers!

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

A visit to FireFly Farms Creamery in Maryland Read more

Early last spring, my dad and I attempted to go spring skiing out in Deep Creek, Maryland. Rainy and foggy with lots ...