Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peaceful Appalachian Spring (Cheese)

Little did I know that last Friday was going to be the last peaceful day that I was to have for a long time (more on that perhaps at a later date). It is something to celebrate, therefore, that it was a fabulous day. I managed a good hair day, just in time for picture day at the DMV, managed to be in and out of that bureaucratic maze in less than half an hour (Helpful hint - always make an appointment. Always.), and had managed to walk away from a specialty cheese counter with many tasty packages for just $22.  I was enjoying a moment of bliss in my cheese wedge lunch. It was indeed such a tasty cheese that I was loathe to sully it with crackers, eating it with just a knife and my oh so dainty fingers. Plus, it's totally Atkins approved this way, right?

I was noshing away on Meadow Creek Dairy's Appalachian cheese. It is a semi-hard cow's milk cheese made from milk produced by a heard of delightful Jersey's in the mountains of south west Virginia. It sports a thin and lovely Pennicillum mold coat and melts oh so well on the tongue. Like sweet butter. Only with great undertones of earthiness and just enough funk on a rind that could have doubled for a delicate lichen growing on a stone wall. This cheese is delicious and sweet with a nifty peppery hint at the end, and definite citrus notes. When you eat it with the rind, you get the feeling that you are eating a cheese with an old soul that has seen the pristine forests and mineral rich pastures 2800 feet up in the mountains.

Not only do the folks at Meadow Creek have happy cows making milk so high in beta carotene that the cheese is naturally the color of butter, but they have happy pastures too. They rotate where the cows graze allowing the grass to re-grow before it becomes another tasty luncheon location for their talented herd. Very cool.

This was the first cheese that I had really savored in this way in a very long time, and what a treat it was. In fact, it was so delicious, I forgot to take a picture before it was mostly gobbled up. I hope you'll forgive. While the mountains of Virginia aren't necessarily the first place I would think of when it comes to cheese making, I have definitely been schooled! Check out this amazing cheese if you can find it.  According to their website, their cheese is available in 29 states, including plenty of Whole Foods locations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cheese for Complicated Times

Arches Natl Park
Not quite desert, but you get the idea!

It’s been a while. I’ve been wandering the desert, in self-imposed cheese exile for months now. It’s a dark, unhappy place, let me tell you. And I’m full of excuses. First, I got a job that put me into rush hour traffic after the cheese shops had closed their doors for the night, and all of a sudden, it had been months since I’d smelled the inside of a cheese shop! And then, I wasn’t working. Finances took top priority and I stayed away, thinking I couldn’t afford the cheese I had grown to love. I convinced myself that I was being frugal, helping the family budget, etc. by eliminating cheesy goodness from our menu. Life was sad and blue – and not Roaring 40s Blue, but just an all around bummer! I tried to convince myself I didn’t miss it, but boy was that hard work!

But then, this morning, I was in town getting my driver’s license renewed and found myself near one of my favorite gourmet food and supply stores. Too tempting to resist, I went in with a budget in mind, and set to exploring the cheese case! The cheese monger was helping a mom and her kids pick out some Cesar’s Oaxaca Style String Cheese (made in Parma, WI) – yummy and very stringy! Watching 4 year olds excited about cheese just made me happier as I spied some old friends in the case and started calculating my budget in preparation for my number to be called. Ugh. Budgets.

But here’s the thing CheeseDreamers, just because an amazing cheese is made by a herd of happy Jersey cows eating spring grass in sunny, mineral rich pastures high in the mountains of SW Virginia (next post, I promise!), and carefully tended by a family that has been making prize winning cheese since the 1980s, it doesn’t mean that you need to blow your budget for your lunch! Yes, it may be $23 per pound, but for $3.50, you can get 2 ½ ounces of cheese – more than enough to satisfy your lunch time cheese cravings. And if the cheese is really good (trust me, this one is!), you don’t even need crackers with it – saving even more money and unnecessary calories! Don’t feel awkward about asking for smaller slices of cheese. Unless you are buying it for macaroni and cheese or for a dinner party, there is no need to get huge amounts of any one cheese.  Get a few ounces of 4 or 5 cheeses, and enjoy a new and different tasty lunch or dinner cheese course each night for a week. I walked out with a spring in my step, lots of tasty samples in my tummy, and 4 cheeses (1.3 pounds) for $22! Just slightly over my budget.

And when I sat down at the table, the laundry machine going in the background, coupons waiting to be clipped at my side, and list of potential career goals waiting for updating on my computer desktop, for a moment I was in another world - enjoying the funk and sunshine of a fabulous cheese, and feeling like a million bucks.