We took a trip to one of our most trusted sources for cheese in Manhattan the other day, looking for a great cheese for beer. What we found did the trick, but it could just as easily stand all by its lonesome, without the aid of any pairing beverage. It's now officially this cheesemonger's new favorite cheese. And the story behind it ain't bad, either.
Jura Erguel (pronounced "Err-Gell") became a player in the US cheese scene in 2004 after the owners of the Boston-based cheese retailer Formaggio Kitchen discovered it at the Slow Food cheese festival in Bra, Italy. It is made in Courtelary, Switzerland, in the Jura mountain range: the heart of fondue and mountain cheese country.
Apparently, and this is what's interesting, a Swiss cheese consortium in charge of regulating certain aspects of cheesemaking went bankrupt in 1995. One regulation that they had mandated-- that Swiss family farms could only make one type of cheese for marketable sale-- went out the window, making way for all of the smaller, previously unknown cheeses that generations of Swiss families had been making under the table for private consumption. They're cheeses that you could find only if you visited the farm itself.
Jura Erguel was one of them, and while it's made in the same style as many mountain cheeses and is raw cow's milk, like most cheeses of that style, it's much smaller-- only 15 pounds. So it ages more quickly and its flavor is that much more intensified. The family who makes it used to make Appenzeller, so you can imagine the similarities to that centuries-old cheese.
On first taste, it appears to be just another-- albeit pretty excellent-- mountain cheese. But wait for it: The Finish. It's sweet, assertive, and lingering, with a spicy, tongue-prickling effect. It's this that makes the cheese so special. There's some crunch, too, which adds to the textural complexity of the cheese.
Try it as we did with beer. Its full-bodied sweetness makes it a pretty versatile beer cheese, but it was most definitely spot-on with La Fin du Monde, a Belgian-style triple. Or, with such supreme melting capabilities, use it for a ridiculously delicious grilled cheese.
Jura Erguel is available at Formaggio Kitchen for $27/lb and at Murray's Cheese for $25.99/lb.
Related: Cheese: On Melting
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Image: Chas & Co.)