Tag Archives: cheese of the month

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

Tips From Our Cheesemonger Read more

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 – its sheep time.  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 - its sheep time.  Sampling Umbria's multitude of pecorinos while traveling through the ...

Harbison for Breakfast

“So what’s your favorite cheese?”

I’d say I get this question at least three or four times a day, every day. And do you know what? It is a freaking hard one to answer. I mean, I get it – customers want to know what their monger thinks is the best of the best. Sure, fair enough. But I always end up launching into a spiel about different cheeses tasting better at different times of year… Different cheeses being more or less appropriate in varying situations… The fact that my mood changes and with it, my “favorite” cheese… The fact that the words “best” or “favorite” are completely subjective.

But more often than not, I receive a reply along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…

But really. What’s your favorite cheese?”

And that’s when I turn to my dear friend, Harbison. Named for Anne Harbison, affectionately known as the “grandmother of Greensboro”, this wonderful little cheese hails from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. And while I stand by the fact that I crave different cheeses at different times, different cheeses are good for different things, (I’m sure you get the picture…), this is the cheese that I turn to time and again as my tried-and-true, year-round, no-qualifiers-needed favorite.

So what makes this particular wheel my go-to? Well, let’s count the ways – first, it’s a straight-up beautiful cheese. Whenever people come to my counter looking for something “different” or want to impress at a party, I always point them to the Harbison. It’s striking – modeled on the famous Vacherin Mont d’Or from Switzerland, Harbison is a 9oz circle of ooey gooey cow’s milk covered in downy white mold, which has been encased in a ring of spruce bark, mottled with blue, white, and green.

harbison-2In addition to the fact that it looks gorgeous as soon as you unwrap it, the best way to serve it is also a bit different than your average cheese. Instead of cutting it into wedges as per usual, I usually advise that customers use a butter knife to slice off the top rind, thus turning it into a self-contained cheesy dip. Believe me – it’s something that’s going to stand out from your average hunk of cheddar or a wedge of brie.

And finally, let’s talk flavor – while not, in my opinion, a real stinker, Harbison is chock full of flavor, making it ideal for a wide range of people. I always find tons of meaty, mustardy flavors hiding beneath it’s surface, along with a silky, spreadable texture that just won’t quit. True story – the year that I discovered Harbison, I brought a couple of wheels home for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately for my family, one of those wheels didn’t quite make it to the holiday table – I ate an entire wheel by myself for breakfast. That whole self-control thing goes right out the window when you get a perfectly ripe wheel of Harbison.

I’m so happy to announce that Harbison will be Via Umbria’s Cheese of the Month for January! We’ll be exploring this decadent, savory, umami-filled cheese next Wednesday, January 4th at 7:30pm at our Monthly Cheese Party. You may still feel full from the holidays, but believe me, you won’t want to miss it!


Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

What's YOUR favorite cheese? Read more

"So what's your favorite cheese?" I'd say I get this question at least three or four times a day, every day. And do ...

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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 ...

Feta: A Love Story

Most people who eat cheese have had some sort of interaction with feta or, more accurately, feta-style cheese. They think of it as the salty yet bland crumbles that sit unnoticed on top of iceberg lettuce, or the saline blocks that adorn many a badly made pasta salad. I used to be one of these people. As a self-proclaimed salt-fiend, I didn’t mind feta, but it certainly wasn’t interesting and didn’t even crack the top 50 in terms of cheeses I liked and cared about.

Fresh Feta Cheese

And then, at the ripe old age of 20, I spent a summer in Greece, and a whole new world opened up. A world that contained copious amounts of delicious, savory, complex, versatile feta.

I was volunteering on a Skyrian pony farm on the Greek island of Corfu for the summer with my sister (and yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds). While we weren’t getting paid for our hours of manure-shoveling and pony-grooming, we did have our room and board covered. This gave us access to some of the freshest and most amazing food I’ve ever tasted, including homemade feta. Every week, a lady who lived down the hill from our little pony enclave would bring a giant ceramic basin filled with brine and a large, white block of homemade feta. I had eaten feta-esque substances before, but never anything with this much zest and character. We would cut hunks of feta off of that block and eat them for lunch with cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden, and homemade bread. It was absolute heaven.

Coming back to the US was a rude awakening for my new found love of feta. Where did the squeaky, briney, zesty, puckery cheese that I had grown so fond of go? Why were people settling for such inferior imitations? Up until 2002, the name “feta” could mean anything – anyone could use it for any cheese, regardless of milk type, origin, or production method. This lead to a lot of really, epically boring cheese bearing the name “feta”.

Luckily for the cheese world, in 2002 feta became a protected designation of origin (PDO) cheese. This means that only cheeses that are made from sheep’s milk, or a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk, and have been produced in a certain way from specific parts of Greece may be called “feta”. This makes it much easier for consumers to tell the difference between real feta and inferior imposters.

Cheese Maker

Not all fetas are created equal, however, even within the PDO designation. I’ve hesitated bringing the cheese to the Via Umbria counter for fear of choosing one that turned out to be bland or boring.

As good fortune would have it, however, I was lucky enough to meet the team at Essex St. Cheese. 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, and I was so excited to find out that they were importing a particularly fantastic feta from the island of Lesbos. This PDO cheese, made by third generation cheesemakers, M. Tastanis, is made entirely from sheep’s milk that has been collected from local shepherds. The salt used to salt both the cheese and the brine comes exclusively from the Kalloni salt flats, giving this feta a taste that can truly only be found in Lesbos. Additionally, the cheese makers stay as close to tradition as possible, which means that the process of making this feta is essentially the same as it was in Homer’s time. Tasting it brought me right back to that summer in Corfu – bright and fresh, with flavors of fresh yogurt, cream, and the ocean.

I’m beyond thrilled to announce that this feta from M. Tastanis in Lesbos, Greece is going to be our August Cheese of the Month! It’s a spectacular way to explore a true taste of tradition and place, and also a beautiful compliment to late summer’s bounty of fresh produce. Come taste it at our monthly cheese party on August 3rd and learn all about how gorgeous feta can truly be.

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

Transport yourself to Greece with this cheese Read more

Most people who eat cheese have had some sort of interaction with feta or, more accurately, feta-style cheese. They think of it ...

‘Tis the Season for Some Cheesin’

Many of my customers are shocked to find out that cheese is seasonal. Yep, you read that right – cheese is a seasonal food product. “But Alice,” you might be asking yourself, “how can that be? Cheese is not like a fruit or vegetable that pops up out of the earth or suddenly materializes on a branch – how can cheese ever be “out of season”?”


The seasonality of cheese depends on two main components. The first factor is the lactation period of the animal who is providing you with the delicious milk for your cheese. Different types of animals give milk for varying amounts of time after breeding – for sheep, it’s eight months, goats clock in at about eleven months, and cows have a lactation period of about 13 months. Since animals tend to breed at the same time during the year (as opposed to farmers being able to stagger their animals breeding cycles throughout the year), this means that for a few months out of the year, cheesemakers working with goats or sheep have no fresh milk with which to make cheese.


The second component has to do with how long the cheese itself ages for. For fresh cheeses like chevre and sheep or goat’s milk ricotta (which require no aging time), this means that they are only made when fresh milk is available – usually March through about October. For cheeses that do require aging, seasonality plays a part as well, but you need to factor in the aging time to figure out when that particular cheese’s season starts and ends. For example, if you have a goats milk cheese that’s aged for three months, it’s going to stop being available at the end of the milking season plus three months. For cheeses that are aged for a much longer time, the seasonality isn’t as much of a factor and are available more or less year round.


There’s another seasonal factor in cheesemaking that has less to do with milk availability and more to do with the quality of milk produced – what type of food is available to the animals during their milking season? As we all know, we are what we eat, and there are few instances where this is as obvious as with milk. The difference between milk from an animal who has been eating lush, fresh grass and herbs during the spring and summer, and an animal who has had dried, uniform fodder during the winter is night and day. The flavor of that summer milk showcases the terroir of the region – particular combinations of wildflowers, grasses, herbs, and other greenery that the animals consume all become apparent in the milk. This nutritious summertime feed also has a positive effect on the milk’s protein and butterfat content. As such, certain farmers will only make cheese using spring and summer milk and forgo cheesemaking with inferior winter milk.

Whew! So what does all of that mean for Via Umbria’s cheese counter? Well, we’ve got a seasonal treat to showcase for our next Cheese of the Month – delicious, fresh sheep’s milk cheeses from Landmark Creamery in Wisconsin. These little one ounce buttons, named Petit Nuage, or “Little Cloud” en francais, are only made April – September, when the sheep are being milked and are munching on delicious spring and summer Wisconsin grass. Bright and citrusy with clean flavor and a distinct, sheepy tang, these little wonders are gorgeous summer treat that are great paired with heirloom tomatoes and olive oil for a simple salad, topped with fresh or grilled stone fruits like peaches or nectarines, or simply smeared on a baguette and enjoyed on their own.

Don’t miss out on this gorgeous cheese – sign up for our Cheese of the Month Club and get a half pound of Petit Nuage to enjoy during July. Swing by our next meeting, Wednesday, July 6th, and to taste and learn all about your new favorite summer cheese!

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

The seasonal factors in cheesemaking Read more

Many of my customers are shocked to find out that cheese is seasonal. Yep, you read that right - cheese is a ...