Explore Cave-Aged Cheeses: July Cheese Club Selections

Explore Cave-Aged Cheeses: July Cheese Club Selections

July 2024 Cheese Club Picks: Cave Dwellers

Arguably one of the most important steps in cheese production when the maker can impact the flavor is during affinage, that is, the process of maturing a cheese to its ideal, desired characteristics. Whereas cheese aging is simply the passive act of letting cheese get older (but not better!), maturation requires constant TLC through attention to the temperature, humidity, and airflow in the aging rooms, not to mention the curation of natural microflora like molds, yeasts, and bacteria that impart both flavor and terroir (or a unique and irreplaceable sense of place). The goal is to provide cool temperatures around 55°F with humidity around 90%, depending on the cheese. Affinage also includes attentive labor in the form of wiping down and flipping cheeses, as well as rotating them to different areas of the “caves,” especially when triage is needed. While initially, cheeses were aged in natural caves, the term has come to include human-made vaults and refrigerated units where humidity can be controlled, as well as repurposing other cool, damp areas (like old railroad tunnels!). Our July cheeses each have been uniquely impacted by maturation, both in terms of location and labor. Ultimately, we hope you find the earthy and umami-laden flavor profiles of cave-aged cheeses just as addicting as we do!

Casatica

Style: Bloomy rind, pasteurized
Milk: Water buffalo
Producer: Quattro Portoni
Region: Lombardy, Italy

In the heart of the Lombardy region in Northern Italy, near Milan, sits Quattro Portoni, a sustainable farm operated by brothers Bruno and Alfio Gritti. When they took over the family dairy operation, it consisted of milking cows, typical for the region; however, they innovatively saw potential in a different path forward, bringing Mediterranean water buffalo to the area and beginning to recreate the region’s inspired cheeses but with the richer, tangier, fuller flavor of water buffalo milk. Today they divide and conquer: Alfio is the veterinarian who tends to the buffalo and Bruno is the cheesemaker. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet both in person and had the pleasure of tasting through their 25+ varieties of cheese in the historic farmhouse on the property. Casatica matures in their man-made aging rooms, affected by the intentional large brick shape and size which helps maintain ideal humidity and allows the development of the white, bloomy (and edible!) mold rind. Try a bite without the rind and then a bite with it. The paste is sweet and creamy with a distinct earthiness reminiscent of mushroom caps, almost wet-hay aroma, and tangy finish.

Opt for a complementary pairing with salty Quicos corn nuts, also an experiment in juxtaposing the creamy cheese with the crunch of the nuts. For a contrasting flavor, try our Raspberry Rose Preserves, offering both sweet and floral flavors. You can stop there or wash it all down with a crisp, yet smooth white wine, like our Naia Verdejo, made in the same Mediterranean climate as this cheese!

Sleeping Beauty

Style: Semi-soft, raw
Milk: Cow
Producer: Cascadia Creamery
Region: WA

While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, Marci and John fell in love with the town of Trout Lake in Washington and decided to make it their home in 2005, purchasing a 4th-generation family farm. Recognizing that the rich volcanic soil, temperate weather, mineral-rich glacial streams, and natural landscape are ideal for taking care of dairy cows who graze on nutritious grass and yield fantastic milk, they launched Cascadia Creamery and leapt into cheesemaking. Going “beyond organic” (in fact, they’re one of the first certified organic farms in the state), they produce prized A2 milk which they argue is easier to digest and has more health benefits. To highlight that milk and their sense of place, they do not pasteurize it and instead turn it into award-winning raw milk cheeses which develop lovely (edible), gray mottled natural rinds in their underground cave, built into a system and network of lava cave tubes at the base of Mount Adams, comparable to those of Roquefort, France. Sleeping Beauty is aged for up to 100 days, resulting in a texture that is both creamy and slightly crumbly with a sweet, buttered cream flavor and tangy finish.

You’ll find an ideal pairing - or rather trio! - in a nice cured meat and red wine. Our Olli Sopressata is seasoned with whole black peppercorn and garlic, making for a robust partner with a red wine like our Lulumi Pinot Noir.

Shepsog

Style: Firm
Milk: Sheep / Cow - Unpasteurized - Vegetarian Rennet
Producer: Grafton Village Cheese
Region: VT

Although Grafton Village Cheese has a big reputation, they have stayed true to their roots: a cooperative of farmers who have collected their surplus raw milk and turned it into cheese since 1892. While a 1912 fire took out the original facility, today the Windham Foundation helps Grafton Cheese to live their mission of promoting Vermont’s rural communities. Long known for their award-winning cheddars, Grafton got into the game of cave-aging some of their cheeses to better capture their taste of place. Shepsog is made with raw sheep and cow’s milk and then cave aged for 7+ months, developing cultured butter aromas and bright lemony flavors, notes of caramel, and a nutty finish. A nod to the native tribes and large herds of sheep that once roamed the area, Grafton named this cheese after the Algonquin word for ‘sheep’.

Few pairings make us sigh and relax into our chairs as much as a nice sheep milk cheese and red wine. Our Lulumi Pinot Noir has just the right earthy notes to complement this natural rind (try them together!); then add on some toasted nuts or Quicos corn nuts. Bonus: grab a honey out of your closet to offset all these savory flavors and make them sing!

La Española

Style: Firm, Raw
Milk: Goat
Producer: Goatilicious
Region: TX

Goatilicious Dairy is a Grade A creamery in New Braunfels (just “down the road” from Antonelli’s Cheese!). Launched in 1999, the dairy is operated by Robert and Claudia Ragels who care for a herd of Nubian, Lamancha, and Nigerian Dwarf goats in the Texas Hill Country, an area known for its springs, canyons, and stony hills (not to mention caves!). Aged for a minimum of three months in their maturation cellars, La Española is made with their raw goat's milk. During affinage, it develops a semi-soft to firm texture that is still creamy on the palate. The recipe, including the signature basket-weave pattern on the outside, takes inspiration from Manchego; however, Manchego is always made with sheep milk, and the goat’s milk gives this cheese its characteristic tanginess, acidity, and slight sweetness on the finish.

On your cheeseboard, pair La Española with Raspberry Rose preserves. The rose matches the earthy notes in the cheese, the raspberry and goat’s milk offer complementary tangy notes, and the sweetness offsets the salt. Bring out the white wine or our Naia Verdejo to harmoniously blend the acid from the goat milk, raspberry preserves, and white wine. After you’ve enjoyed it straight up, try this cheese chunked in a fresh chopped salad or grated over grilled vegetables with a drizzle of EVOO.


 

Each month, Standard Members receive 4-5 wedges each month, while our Deluxe Members get specialty pairings too! Our Cheese Club is available for local pickup or delivery and national shipping. Don't miss out on next month's box!
Checkout our Cheese Club information page to learn more about memberships or watch our tasting videos we make for each box to get a better visual!

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