The Cheesemonger: Willow Hill's Alderbrook

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Name: Alderbrook
Producer: Willow Hill (Vermont)
Milk: Pasteurized Sheep
Age: 2-3 weeks
Price: $8.99-$9.99

In describing cheese to customers, some adjectives, though accurate, are just not appetizing. Words like "barnyardy", "grassy" and "earthy", usually prompt me to quickly shove a sample into the customer's face, before they have time to think about the last time they ate dirt and grass. Like the smell of Limburger, the build-up is usually scarier than the end result. So, when I tell you that the Alderbrook smells strongly (and tastes slightly) of "caves" or "dank basements", please, don't let that scare you away.

This little bloomy-rind truncated pyramid couldn't be more pleasing. Maybe I should use other words to describe it. How about creamy, sweet, slightly herby, salty with a bit of earthiness. Well, there I go again; I was doing so well until I hit "earthiness". Needless to say, this is a pretty complex cheese. The American Cheese society thought so too. Alderbrook won first place in their "Soft-Ripened Cheese, Sheep or Mixed Milk" category in 2001.

When buying Alderbrook, pay attention to its age. Younger versions, weighing in at 7-8 oz., are significantly milder. As it ages, it loses moisture and weight, dropping to a slim 5-6 oz. and gaining that flavor that only the caves can provide (and tasting this cheese, one can really experience the cave, built into the side of Willow Hill).

Alderbrook is available for $8.99 from Murray's Cheese, as well by mail order from Fresh Market (1-800-447-1205) for $20.99/lb (averages at about $9.99 each). Be forewarned, this is a summer cheese (Willow Hill's milking season runs May to October, utilizing that great grassfed milk) and is only available for a limited time, so pick yours up today!