By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(Boulder Weekly) We get excited during October about ales crafted from Colorado hops, barley, yeast and water. Some baker friends pride themselves on making pies using only apples, wheat and honey from within our watershed. Chefs have rightly celebrated our local bounty at farm-to-farm table dinners in Boulder County.
It’s ironic that so many of us end up pairing our local beer and pie with cheeses imported thousands of miles away from France, Holland and Italy, not to mention California and Wisconsin. As with beer a few decades ago, Colorado is becoming cool when it comes to sustainable curds.
The state is home to the American Cheese Society, which hands out the Oscars of the cheese world. It’s also home to Leprino Bros., the nation’s largest producer of mozzarella used by pizzerias. More importantly, Colorado is enjoying a boom in artisans who are turning goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s milk into amazing cheeses that are winning those national awards. Here are a few of my favorites:
Fruition Farm and Dairy (Larkspur): Chef Alex Seidel’s farm is one of the very few making sheep’s milk cheese. I like the soft-ripened Shepherd’s Halo and the rich ricotta, but if I had to name the best cheese made in Colorado right now I’d go with Fruition’s Cacio Pacora. At about 18 months old, it’s a firm Parmesan-like cheese with a craveable nutty, buttery flavor. fruitionfarmsdairy.com.
Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy (Longmont): Haystack’s chevre is mild, creamy and versatile, but I’m a fan of the grateable three-month-aged Queso de Mano and soft-ripened Haystack Peak. haystackgoatcheese.com
Mouco Cheese Co. (Fort Collins): One of Colorado’s original cheese companies, MouCo makes the spunky PepBert, a creamy Camembert with green peppercorns blended in. It makes outrageously good cheese toast. mouco.com
Avalanche Cheese Company (Basalt): Avalanche’s award winners are well known to cheesemongers nationally. Cabra Blanca, a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese, is so mild and clean-tasting that even goat cheese haters are won over. Colorado’s best blue cheese is Avalanche’s aged Midnight Blue with tangy, salty blue-gray veins running through it.
James Ranch (Durango): These farmstead cheeses are made from the raw milk of grass-fed Jersey cows. I’m fond of the creamy, tangy Gouda-like Belford and the Dutch-inspired Leyden flavored with cumin seed. jamesranch.net
Jumpin’ Goat Dairy (Buena Vista): Take mild goat’s milk cheddar and soak it in red wine for three weeks and you end up with Ruby Mountain Wine-Soaked Cheddar, a perfect cheese for crackers paired with a Balistreri Merlot. jumpingoodgoats.com
Ugly Goat Milk Co. (Keenesburg): Ugly Goat is famous for its beautifully mild farmstead cheeses made from goat’s milk, including chevre, feta and soft-ripened Ugly Ash. I recently discovered the creamery’s first class cow’s milk Camembert, as memorable as its French cousins. uglygoatco.com
Cozy Cow Creamery (Windsor): Nothing beats their fresh cheddar cheese curds, but Cozy Cow’s Greek-style firm grill-able cheese comes very close. cozycows.com
AnnaVail Cheese (Eagle): One of Colorado’s newest cheese companies makes a super-rich French-style cow’s milk cream cheese that elevates any bagel. The star curd here is Tomme de Vail, a natural rind sheep’s milk cheese — it is firm with a nutty, buttery taste like an aged Manchego. annavailcheese.com
Broken Shovels Farm (Henderson): Sprinkled with smoked salt, this chevre is my favorite from Colorado. The high butterfat content makes it profoundly creamy and spreadable. Dark Moon is Broken Shovels chevre dusted with ash and aged until it’s firmer and tangier. brokenshovels.com
Rocking W Cheese (Olathe): The cow’s milk Baby Swiss and Muenster cheese curds rival anything similar that Wisconsin produces. rockingwcheese.com
Serve an all-Colorado cheese board at a fall soirée and don’t let tell anybody where the cheese comes from until after they are tasted. You can find many of these cheeses at supermarkets, at Cured in Boulder and in the giant walk-in cooler at Longmont’s Cheese Importers Warehouse. When possible, buy directly from the cheesemakers and visit the creameries.
Treat cheeses right and serve them warm. Many soft ripened cheeses like Brie need to sit out on the counter for a few days away from the refrigerator until they get soft to oozy inside and fully develop the flavor you are paying for. They won’t spoil easily because they are already “spoiled” milk.
If you have any leftover cheese, bake some cheese popovers this fall and your family will love you. I got the recipe from Gordon Edgar, a San Francisco cheesemonger and author of the fascinating Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese (Chelsea Green Publishing). He told me he uses almost any type of firm or hard cheese he happens to have. Popovers must be eaten when hot… not that they ever last until they’re cold.
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon melted butter (plus butter for muffin tins)
1 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
about 1/3 pound Cheddar or other cheese, grated
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Ingredients should all be at room temperature. Mix together (by hand) milk, melted butter, sifted flour and salt. Beat eggs and add them slowly to batter. Do not overbeat! Heavily butter the insides of a large muffin tin, preferably nonstick. Butter all the way to top. Fill 1/4 of each tin with batter, 1/4 with grated cheese, 1/4 with the remaining batter and leave the last 1/4 empty for the puff. Put in oven immediately.
After 20 minutes, turn heat down to 350 without ever opening the oven door! After 20 more minutes you can open the door and they should be puffed up. Remove from muffin tin immediately or they will stick. Yield: Six big popovers.
Words to Chew On
“The taste for partial spoilage can become a passion, an embrace of the earthy side of life that expresses itself best in paradoxes.” — Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.
John Lehndorff is a contributing writer for Cheese Connoisseur magazine. He hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org).