I know that readers of this blog are probably asking themselves – three trips to the Cheese School in less than a week? Yes, it’s true, Patrick and I were back there last night lured by the irresistible offering of yet another class with Sheana Davis, this one entitled “Washed Rinds & Beer.”
“For the serious cheese fan there is nothing quite like the washed rind category to put the senses on high alert. The beautiful sunset orange color, the distinctly pungent odor, and the tacky touch all promise much goodness to come. European monks discovered that washes or ‘smears’ of a brine or even a wine or a brandy as a wheel of cheese develops can create just the right environment for the B. linens bacterium to work its magic. The monks taught the world a thing or two about good beer, too. Heavenly!”
Long ago, before I started taking classes at the Cheese School, I had never heard of a “washed rind” cheese. When one merely reads about them – including the references to the aggressive b. linens bacterium used to produce them, and their stinky, funky, gym-sock aromas (is it true that certain of them are banned on French public transportation systems?) – some reluctance to try them would be understandable. However, as we have learned from our classes, to try them is to love them, and a class offering nothing but washed rinds was not to be missed.
The entrance to the Cheese School is up a long flight of stairs and as we climbed the stairs last night there was definitely a powerful and tantalizing fragrance cascading down to meet us. We were greeted by Sheana and the Cheese School staff (Abby and Rebecca were on duty last night) and after a brief reception we turned to the evening’s work.
Sheana Davis - The Epicurean Connection
Sheana selected the following nine washed rind cheeses for us to sample last night:
1. Red Square – National Foods (Tasmanian Heritage) - Australia (Tasmania) – Cow (pasteurized)
2. Gravenstein Gold – Redwood Hill Farms – USA (Sebastopol, CA) – Goat (raw)
3. Comté – France (Jura/Franche-Comté) – Cow (raw)
4. Munster d’Alsace (Munster-Géromé) – France (Alsace) – Cow (pasteurized)
5. Gubbeen – Gubbeen Farmhouse Products (Tom and Giana Ferguson) - Ireland (Schull, County Cork) – Cow (pasteurized)
6. Les Frères – Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese – USA (Waterloo, WI) – Cow (pasteurized)
7. Brick Cheese – Widmer’s Cheese Cellars – USA (Theresa, WI) – Cow (pasteurized)
The cheeses were accompanied by three really excellent beers – we started with Russian River Brewing’s “Damnation” for the first three cheeses, then, staying in Sonoma County, moved on to Lagunitas Brewing’s “Lucky 13” for cheeses 4 thru 7, and finished off the evening with a great wheat beer, “La Fin du Monde” from Unibroue in Quebec.
In order to produce washed rind cheeses and impart flavors cheese makers use a variety of washes - everything from brine produced with sea salt or rock salt (e.g the Gubbeen or Comté) to marc (i.e. brandy – e.g. the Époisses) to apple juice (the Gravenstein Gold). Janet Fletcher, another instructor at the Cheese School, has a very nice article about washed rind cheeses here.
Of the cheese we had last night my own favorites were the Gravenstein Gold (#2), the Comté (#3), the Munster (#4) and the Epoisses (#8). The rest were not far behind. Of course, we only scratched the surface of the washed rind world last night – there are many, many others to enjoy, Taleggio, Reblochon, Pont l’Eveque, Limburger and Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk among them.
Sheana also mentioned that her own brand new cheese, Délice de la Vallée, a fresh cow/goat milk blend, is now available in cheese stores in the area.
We had sampled some in earlier classes and it is well worth trying. She also mentioned that the French Laundry in Yountville (!!) is now using her cheese, including in a savory mushroom cheesecake dish that sounded wonderful.
As always, the Cheese School staff did a great job in the course of the evening ensuring that our glasses were filled and everything went smoothly.