Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Eating through the Carr Valley Cheese list

I’ve never met the man, but Sid Cook seems to be a real nut, and I mean that in a good way. Master cheese maker for Carr Valley, his experimentation tends to the fantastical: “let’s mix up a bunch of milk and make it into cheese. Let’s add cranberries and cure it in olive oil – why not? Let’s put it in a cave and see what happens! And hell, while we’re at it, why not smoke it!?”
I can’t fault him his process, as he has won more top national and international awards than any other cheese maker in North America, according to the Carr Valley website.  Nor can I deny the fact that I am a big enough cheese fiend (I prefer it, vice-wise, over chocolate, wine, candy, or chips) that, when a few years ago a Carr Valley cheese store opened up just blocks from my home with possibly hundreds of different types of cheese to try, I decided to attempt to try them all.
I’m close.

(click for larger version)
They have a huge selection of cheddar as well as their artisan weirdo cheeses, and best of all, they offer many “adorable cheese orphans” in packages small enough that one doesn’t feel like a glutton for tasting hundreds of cheeses. And lucky for me, they publish a veritable tome of all the choices in the form of their brochure.
So here it is – my chosen favorite Carr Valley cheeses, as well as brief tasting notes for all of the cheeses that were listed in this version of the brochure (this is the third one I have acquired, having to transfer my scribbles each time). In the Other’s section, there may be cheeses not created by Carr Valley (I don’t think Dancing goat is, for instance) but I included those I tasted.
BEST OF THE BEST
Big Mutton Button – The first cheese I remember absolutely loving, so much so, I had to mark it down so I wouldn’t forget. While I am more of a goat fan, I do like a good sheep cheese. This is yummy and not sharp, rather earthy. To quote the brochure “Made in 3 lb. wheels, hard but unpressed cheese made similar to Brick Cheese. The flavor is bright and sweet with lemony tartness and will stand with any red wine. Took 2nd place at 2013 us championship cheese contest, 2nd place at 2014 American Cheese Society (ACS) competition, Bronze metal at 2011 world cheese awards.”
Benedictine – Yummy, creamy but curd-y cheese that is not too sour. “Cellar cured and hand rubbed for 12 weeks, has a creamy, intense flavored washed-rind finish. 2nd place at 2010 ACS competition and 3rd at World Championship contest”
Mobay – Just delicious. “Sid’s take on a French Morbier. It features a layer of sheep milk cheese and a layer of goat milk cheese separated by a layer of grape vine ash. Taste each layer separately and then together for three different flavor profiles in one great cheese. Took 1st place at the 2007 AVS competition, 2nd at the 2011 US championship cheese competition.”
Cave aged Marissa – Yum! Creamy, good cheese flavor. “This natural-rind variety gets its complex, sweet and slightly rambunctious flavors from open air cave aging. Best of show grand master award, 2005 Wisconsin state fair, 2nd best of show and 1 place at 2008 ACS competition. 1st place and 2nd best of show at 2011 ACS competition, 1st place 2012 and 3rd place 2014 world championship cheese contest. 1st place 2013 US championship cheese contest.”
Sweet Vanilla Cardona – The second cheese I remember having to make a note of. Pretty much tastes exactly likes what it says. If ever anyone doubted cheese with dessert, they need to taste this. “A delicious and unique sweet, vanilla goat milk cheese with hints of caramel, coconut, and nutmeg. 1st pave 2011 US championship cheese contest, 3rd place 2011 ACS competition.
Beer cheddar – OK so nothing super fancy about this cheese, but damn, some times you just want really good aged cheddar, and this one has a hint of beer to boot. Would make a killer beer cheese soup, tastes delicious on any salty sandwich. Smooth and sharp at the same time.
Garlic cheddar – fantastic cheddar, with the addition of a fragrant, savory garlic. Not bitter but full flavored. Really good.
Gurneys cheddar – Great midway cheese – not too sharp, not too mild. Pretty white and yellow, salty, good body without being rubbery or too crumbly. Great for everyday.
Smoked rope cheese – I was so surprised I liked this! I’m not a big overall fan of smoked cheese – which can range from overpoweringly bacon-y to “this is really gilding the lily”. This was salty and creamy and the smoke did not overwhelm but instead added a comforting toasty campfire taste.
…and the rest!
CHEDDARS
Squeaky fresh cheddar curds – good but not the best I’ve ever had (and I live in Wisconsin, so I’ve had my fair share). Seemed lacking in salt, and the texture was too rubbery.
Fresh day old cheddar – just like eating a block of curd. Rubbery.
Baby cheddar – I liked the baby better than the curd. It was squeaky, salty and sweet.
Mild cheddar – Ok. A little sharper than expected, soft.
Medium cheddar – Very commercial tasting.
Yearling – Good, but baby is better.
1 year aged cheddar – Is there a difference between Yearling and 1 year? I don’t know and didn’t taste them at the same time. This is good, with a long finish and pretty cheddary.
2 year aged cheddar – OK but not great.
3 year aged cheddar – Softer, sharper. Tastes old.
4 year aged cheddar – Actually tasted a little alcoholic. Starting to get sharper and less cheese taste.
6 year aged cheddar – Strong and creamy.
10 year aged cheddar – Good. Dark and strong. Very crumbly and has those little calcium nibbles.
Autumn harvest (seasonal) – Good solid cheese. Easy to eat.
Cranberry hickory nut cheddar (seasonal) – OK. Sorta clashes, but the cheddar was nice.
Horseradish cheddar – pretty strong. Would have to taste again to remember what I meant.
Irish valley cheddar (seasonal) – Plain, not strong enough.
Organic cheddar – Too parmesan-y and not cheddary enough.
Pinconning cheddar – if you think that all of these cheddars are the same with just different labels, try this one. And then let me know if you like it. I found it to be almost medicinal.
Wildflower cheddar (seasonal) – Very nice.
Winter solstice cheddar (seasonal) – I may have the wool pulled over my eyes, and these are probably all the same cheese, but out of the seasonal cheddars, I like this one the best. It’s a good solid cheddar with a nice milky taste.

SHEEP
Montan - Mild, flaky, tasty. Very hard.
Ba Ba blue -Super creamy, very blue and very soft. Almost catches in your throat with pungentness.
Black sheep truffle – Rather sour and dusty with a milky tone.
Marisa – Very good with yummy nibbles.
Smoked Marisa – Warm and sheepy.
Virgin pine native sheep blue – Really not very blue at all. Strong.

COW
Apple smoked cheddar – Not as smoky as some. Rich and good.
Apple smoked garlic cheddar – Smelly! Cheddary and acidic.
Bread cheese – Buttery, toasty but a little plasticy.
Cave aged cheddar – Sharp and musty, deep. Not crumbly. “Wisconsin’s only cave aged cheddar.”
Cranberry chipotle cheddar – Exactly what it says. White cheddar.
Crema kasa – Dull. A little sharp. Soft.
Glacier wildfire - Not too blue. Not too soft. Kinda hot. Pretty tasty.
Maunster – Effervescent. Sharp.
Virgin-pine native blue – Musty. Really un-blue! Nutty.
Glacier blue – Cow. Very strong and salty.

GOAT
Bandaged Billy – Cave aged, musty and goaty. Did not like. May have had too small a sample that contained too much rind.
Baraboo blue – Sweet, not very moldy. Like an aged feta.
Smoked Billy blue – Smooth, somewhat goaty. The smoking was not necessary – too complex to make sense.
Black goat truffle – Mild and interesting.
Cardona – Mild, smooth, very light goatness.
Aged cardona – A touch of must. Lots of nibbles. Strong.
Cave aged cardona – Good mustiness, soft and goaty.
Cocoa cardona – OK. Gouda-like, strong.
Goat cheddar – So mild, and hardly goaty.
River bend goat – Smelly. Sweet.
Snow white goat cheddar – Moldy.

MIXED MILK CHEESE
Airco – Like the smoked skin on a skin-on hotdog.
Bessie’s blend – Soft, parmesan-y.
Carnaria – Strong and musty.
Casa bolo mellage – Firm, creamy, flavorful.
Cave aged mellage – Flavors of mushroom. Salty and creamy.
Gran carnaria – Lemony. Grassy. Creamy.
Menage – Spanish. Easy to eat. Gouda-y.
Shepard blend – Soft, sharp, sour.

OTHER
Colby – I’m very picky towards my Colby. I like it crumbly, mild, milky and salty. Texture is too moist with this one, and not salty enough.
Monterrey jack – Pretty sharp, very soft.
Veggie jack – Super oniony and soft.
Ba ba blue smoked – Soft and salty. Sausage cheese.
Bread cheese – chipotle – Like a smoky spicy eraser.
Chevre au lait – Gouda soft, strong. Good. Not goaty.
Cured brick - Tastes (and smells) like you shouldn't eat it.
Double Gloucester – Like a sharp, soft cheddar.
Edam – Good and snacky.
Feta cow – Salty, cheddary. Not very feta.
Feta sheep – Too milky.
Feta goat – Fresh, salty, slightly goaty. Cheesy.
Fondella – Wine cheese, smooth.
Fontina - Jackish. Smooth.
French fontina – Quite smooth.
Glacier penta crema – Cow, creamy, salty.
Mammoth cheddar – Delicious. Crunchy bits.
Mellage – Crumbly, sharp, Gouda.
Monastery – Creamy, sharp, nibbly.
Native sheep – Sharp, crumbly, almost mealy.
Native sheep smoked – OK. Wiener casing, creamy.
Organic baby Swiss – Moist. Very few holes. Not too sharp.
Port salue – Soft, creamy, sharp.
River bend sheep – Sour, socky yet interesting.
Sid Bahl baby smoked – Warm and smoky.
Sid Bahl baby Swiss – Mild and a little off.
Tom's Swiss - Crumbly. Not Swiss like but good.
Swiss - Normal! Full bodied.
Fresh goat – v. good!
Aged Swiss 2yr + - Pungent taste, good Swiss flavor.
Asiago – Dry, strong, good, sour.
Baby Swiss loaves – Smooth and flavorful.
Medium brick – No taste.
Butter kase – Very creamy, mild, mild, Velvetaesque.
Chocolate cheese – Fudge with nuts.
Dancing goat Gouda – Very fresh milk taste.
Dancing sheep – Very smooth, cheddary.
Mozzarella whips – Good.
Provolone – Pungent, soft.
Romano – A good, hard cheese.
Rope cheese plain – Good.
Wunderbar – Rubbery, mild, good amount of salt.



I have yet to taste the following (some of these I have not seen in the store, some are not made by Carr Valley but are listed in their brochure, whereas others I may have tasted, but forgot to write them down, so they didn’t count!): Cow – Carr Valley Blue, Hot Pepper Jack, Smoked Hot Pepper Jack. General – sharp cheddar, x sharp cheddar, 5 year cheddar, 8 year cheddar, apple smoked goat cheddar, cranberry hickory nut cheddar, hickory nut cheddar, smoked cheddar, garlic bread cheese, jalapeno bread cheese, cheddar (like, really? just plain cheddar? ok...), smoked crema casa, smoked fontina, gouda, smoked gouda, aged gouda, havarti, Aged Marisa, Swedish farmer, beer kase, mild brick, caraway brick, brie, co-jack, farmer low fat, Gruyere, Limburger, mozzarella, Parmesan 3 year, smoked provolone, Romano, string and Swiss lace.

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