"What is your favorite cheese?" is one of the top questions I get asked working at the cheese shop. There is one bit of fromage that always seems to make it's way to my top 10 list: Cato Corner Farm's "Hooligan."
Hooligan represents those most intimidating of cheeses: washed rind. Washed rind cheeses smell horrible and their tastes, though usually not as strong as their smells would have you believe, pack a gamey zing that's not the most palatable of flavors.
A washed rind cheese is simply a cheese that, during the aging process, is periodically 'washed' in a solution; from simple salt water to beer or even calvados. This process encourages the growth of bacteria, which, when in full-bloom, creates the cheese's distinctive orange rind. The bacteria and the washing liquid also help create the flavor of the cheese.
In the case of Hooligan, its wash is a mixture of buttermilk and a salt-water brine. Though the rind is edible, even as a devoted rind-eater, I find Hooligan's to be a bit too grainy in texture and sour in flavor. The interior, though, is creamy, white and has a certain sweetness mixed with a moderate pungency that reduces as the cheese gets to room temperature. The taste lingers with you for a while, so Hooligan fits best towards the end of a cheese plate, lest it taint the flavors of the cheeses that follow it.
For pairing this cheese, I'm going to go break with tradition and tell you to throw the corkscrew out the window and pick up a bottle opener. Washed rind cheeses in general, and Hooligan in particular, are awesome with beer. The farm even offers a variant on Hooligan called Drunk Monk, which is washed in beer. Try something spicy like a Belgian Abbey-style Ale or even a white ale.
If you must have wine with your cheese, go with a bottle of Gewürztraminer, though I'd make sure the one you pick leans more towards the sweeter side than dry.
The Cato Corner Farm's 'Hooligan' is available for $25.99 at Murray's
Cheese, for $29.00 per pound at Artisanal and directly from the farm, which frequents the NYC Greenmarkets. A schedule of their visits as well as more shops and restaurants which stock their
cheeses is available on their website.
- The Cheese Monger