I believe I finally had my stinky cheese moment. It's a defining one in a cheesemonger's career, and I've been waiting for it, ever since hearing that a former boss of mine once cleared a subway car with her cheese bounty. I thought that was cool.
Last week it came without warning, and in that instant I realized, unequivocally, that the cheese was the boss of me, and most certainly not the other way around.
I was standing in line at a retail store and could not make sense of why the person in front of me would ever leave the house smelling as she did. It almost made me angry, the way she stood so casually and unassuming, invading my space with her stench. And in the midst of my incensed musings about proper and improper etiquette about when one just plainly should not leave the house, I nearly jumped. Because it was me.
Or, more accurately, it was my cheese. And just like that, I was completely at the mercy of this stinky thing. I am quite sure that the person in front and in back of me knew that it was me who smelled. And while it was more embarrassing than anything else, it was my stinky cheese moment. All mine.
But, and I must put this in bold for the sake of the poor cheese unable to defend itself against this seeming attack: this cheese is delicious. As lovers of the stinky types know, this style of cheese — known as washed rind — is truly sublime, and many would argue that a cheese's level of stench is directly proportionate to just how ridiculously tasty it is.
And this cheese, named Pavé Henri, is no exception. It's a beautiful small square, reminiscent in shape of Pont l'Eveque but taller, with spots of whitish mold speckled on its edges. Pavé Henri is made by cheesemaker Joe Burns of Brunkow Cheese, in Darlington, Wisconsin, in very small batches, and all by hand. Remarkably, Brunkow Cheese has been around since 1899. They source their milk from 18 mostly Amish dairy farms and take pride in supporting the local economy and continuing to make cheese in a traditional, slow foods kind of way.
Pavé Henri is a new venture for the company and is made from a single herd of 15 grass-fed Jersey cows at Jordandal Farms in Argyle, Wisconsin. Jerseys are known for a milk with higher butterfat content and, therefore, some pretty rich flavor. The flavor is assertive, but not overpowering. It's dynamic: slightly funky in a "is this some obscure, amazing French cheese without export license to the US?" sort of way, in that it tastes not really like any other cheese around. It's perfectly salty, with a really lovely, smooth inner paste. Aged for just 40 days, each square is made by hand and cellar-aged on wooden boards in Brunkow's underground caves.
Also of note: this cheese is made possible by a grant from the Rick Bayless Farmer Foundation, which is given to small farmers to develop products to sell in Chicago farmers' markets.
Because this cheese is still being made on a very small scale, its availability is limited. Seek it out if you're anywhere near Chicago, where you'll find it at Green City Market, Federal Plaza, Evanston and Wicker Park farmer's markets, or at the Dane County Farmers' Market in Madison, Wisconsin.
Enjoy as you would other Trappist-style washed rind cheeses, with a sweet brown ale, some dark dried fruits like figs or dates, some crusty nut-studded bread, and, perhaps, outdoors.
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.
Related: Do You Like Stinky Foods?
(Image: Keith and of Leslie of Driftless Appetite, used by permission, via Wisconsin Cheese Talk; Nora Singley)