Sharon Ruwart, co-founder with Perri Dong of the Beijing Cheese Society and popularly known about town as The Cheese Vixen, brought a full load of fromage from New York to the latest BCS event, November 14 at icehouse. While in the Big Apple, Sharon visited Artisanal, which, she writes, “[is] not only a wonderful cheese-focused restaurant, but also boasts the only cheese-maturing “cave” in the United States.” Sharon picked up five cheeses for our tasting pleasure. She also gave us a quiz, in which we learned, among other things, that a woman in Wisconsin wore a “cheese bra” to a sporting match. (“I bet it was made from Swiss cheese,” quipped the woman beside me). In any case, here are the cheeses, in tasting order, with excerpts from her handout and some notes of my own.
Azaitao, Farmstead, Portugal: “Coagulated with thistle rennet, the interior should be smooth and almost runny at room temperature: Raw milk, aged 90 days.” Yep, it was smooth and almost runny. Being a people person, I asked my tablemates – Lisa, Yuntao, Mike and Toni – to rank each cheese from a low of 1 to a high of 10. (We were like a Little Cheese Society within a Big Cheese Society.) We gave the Azaitao a 6.75.
Bouc Emissaire, Chaput Dairy, Quebec: “You’re got to love a cheese called “the scapegoat,” creamy, buttery: Raw milk, aged 60 days.” “Smells like ammonia,” said Mike, and I had to agree. I thought this one was more chalky than buttery. We gave it a 7.1. The Bouc-E was great with Chardonnay (see the wine list below), but gross with the Merlot-Cabernet.
Constant Bliss, Jasper Hill Farms, Vermont: “[Made from] uncooled evening milk: The cheese ripens from the outside in, going from a bone-white to an ivory color as the cheese ripens and softens. The cheese is named after a Vermont settler killed by local natives in 1718 when guarding a local military road. Raw milk, aged 60 days.” All I can say is that Bliss got a bum deal with this tribute: salty attack, gluey finish, 5.75.
Gruyere, Farmstead, Switzerland: “Hand-selected by a Swiss farmer named Rolf (cue Sound of Music), firm but supple texture [the cheese, not Rolf] and complex taste.” Sharon got tricky, putting this side-by-side with a Gruyere from Jenny Lou’s. We hemmed and hawed about which tasted best, which shows how much we know. Our scoring system fell apart, but it didn’t matter because the king of cheeses was up next. Ladies and gentleman, presenting:
Shropshire Blue, Colston Bassett Dairy, England: “We picked this because a cheese plate should always have a blue, and because with its deep orange color, it’s gorgeous. It’s a modern cheese, invented in the 1980s [the decade that gave us Duran Duran, the Breakfast Club and the BBO – “bottom bottle opener” – a groove in the glass of a beer bottle’s bottom that could be used to open your next brew. Pure genius! Pure 80s! But I digress] – meaty and tangy. Pasteurized cow’s milk. Aged 90 days.” This crumbly cheese was, as Sharon put it, “gorgeous.” According to my notes, “It started off with a tangy cheddar taste that quickly morphed into a blast of dirty diaper-stoked stinkitude.” I had three helpings. Score: 9.5.
The three wines for the night came from ASC, with the able Karen Nelson on hand and the icehouse staff keeping the vino flowing. The wines were: Santa Rita Reserva Chardonnay (Chile) 2004 (128RMB), Columbia Crest Two Vines Merlot-Cabernet (Washington State) 2001 (151RMB) and Taylor’s Special Ruby Port (Portugal) (192RMB). Sharon gave special thanks to Jackie Connar for helping with admin and to Susie Jakes and Jeff Prescott for bringing the bread. Sharon is on the lookout for “mules” to hand carry cheese into China, so if you’re interested, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. (There, I wrote that whole story without a single “who cut the cheese” or “who moved my cheese” crack.)
(From Beijing Boyce IV, first emailed on November 18, 2005)