As you may or may not have noticed, I haven't gotten a chance to buy cheese in over a week. It's been rough, I tell ya! You know you're a cheese addict when the reason you are cranky about working late is because you won't make it to the cheese store before they close! I got out of work in time to make it to Andrew's Cheese before they closed today. Happy Friday to me! I kind of went on a buying binge. (I have a Blue Cheese challenge planned for tomorrow night - stay tuned.)
To celebrate surviving till Friday, I picked up a cute little cheese from Vermont's Ploughgate Creamery called Hartwell. I had read this cheese somewhere, and was excited to see it at the shop, but didn't realize that I would have to buy the whole cheese (about 8 oz for $13- not that much, but still...). It's ok though. Money well spent. What an delightful little cheese. Darling Husband and I managed to work our way through half of it with no trouble at all.
When I first unwrapped it and took a whiff, there was a definite ammonia smell coming off this bloomy rind cheese. Not too surprising, considering the spots of grey mold amongst the soft white bloom. It was a little overpowering, but as it came up to room temperature, the smell seemed to dissipate. It just needed to breathe a little (as all cheese does).
Ultimately, the smell is one of the most amazing things about this cheese. When I took a little piece (including the rind) and stuck it right under my nose, I swear that it smelled like fresh raked leaves. You remember that slightly damp, earthy, crispy leaf smell that would surround you when you jumped in a pile of leaves as a kid after you worked all afternoon to make the pile? Maybe you raked leaves yourself recently Sadly, there aren't that many delicious piles of leaves being raked up and jumped into in Southern California, but I still remember that smell, and the memory of those leaf piles came right back to me when I smelled Hartwell. An amazing gift to get from a cheese.
This cheese is delicious spread on a little baguette with a glass of Merlot. The paste is rich and buttery, with just enough tang. Smooth and delicious, with enough complexity to be interesting without being difficult. Eat it with the rind. Without it, it is almost too rich (not necessarily a bad thing, but I personally need the contrast).
Hartwell is made in Vermont at Ploughgate Creamery by two cheese artists who after years of making cheese for others, decided to start making it themselves. They started in May of 2008, and their cheeses are made in small batches from milk they buy from neighboring Vermont farmers. It's that kind of amazing story of knowledge, gumption and guts that I just love. They are working so hard, and it's really paying off!
I now heart Hartwell, and I am pretty sure that if you can find it, you will heart it too.