I can trace so many of my very favorite cheeses back to Jasper Hill Farm, in Greensboro, Vermont. And it's not cheese made at the farm, it's a cheese that's aged in their cellars. Just last night my dinner consisted of a big wedge of their Bayley Hazen Blue. (And nothing else.) In short, they're no dummies when it comes to cheesemaking.
Winnemere is one of their gems, and I've always loved it. But I was recently speaking with an insider at Jasper Hill who told me that right now, Winnemere is especially great. The word that she used, I believe, was "slammin'." It was this endorsement that inspires this post.
Made from the raw milk of the Kehler brothers' Ayrshire cows, Winnemere is a unique washed rind cheese, modeled partly after Forsterkase, the Swiss cheese with held within a wooden binding.
And while it's especially good now, Winnemere, or, affectionately, "Winnie," to some, is special all the time for a few key reasons:
- It's wrapped in bark. How's that for a new kind of rind? Its oozing interior is bound by spruce bark, harvested right on Jasper Hill Farm. The resulting cheese has a decidedly woodsy flavor, smokey and meaty. You really have never tasted anything like it.
- It's washed in lambic beer, made by a neighboring brewery. Couple the intensity of the woodsiness with the slightly sweet funk of its wash, and you've got a cheese that's wholly distinct from everything else you've come across.
- It's pretty. Have you ever seen a cheese that so closely resembles a little round gift box?
- It's a seasonal cheese. Winnemere is only available for part of the winter and into late spring/early summer. There's something mysterious and compelling about its elusiveness.
- It's a farmstead cheese, made with the milk of a single herd of cows and produced on the same farm where the animals live. That's the ultimate in quality control.
Pick up Winnemere when you're in the mood for something different. Invite your geekiest cheese friends over and luxuriate over a wedge. I have a distinct memory of taking Winnemere to a party last year. It struck one guest into submission; after one taste, he was entirely unable to pull himself away, and couldn't join conversation. Instead, he sat himself down in front of the cheese and whittled away at it until none remained. Indeed, Winnemere has this kind of power.
It's perfect with a dark, smoky porter or some whisky, and has the heft to stand alone on a cheese plate. It may in fact be best enjoyed this way, without distraction from other cheese. What I may love most is its consistency: rich, smooth, and eggy, like fondue or Vacherin Mont D'Or, and slightly runny, like a soft custard. Serve it alongside some cured meats for a truly decadent first course. Or, if you're out of Bayley Hazen, you can sub it in for your dinner.
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 TV chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Images: Nora Singley and Carrots and Ginger, used with permission.)