Occasionally, when picking up a new cheese to review, I get home and open my books and laptop to find that I’ve rolled snake eyes. I’ve bought a cheese that is either too obscure or simply the victim of very little written coverage. Birchrun Blue is of the former category. My library of cheese books, the first line of research after personal knowledge, yields nothing. The internet, my last line of hope (as you already know, the internet is full of inconsistent and inaccurate info), yields only the most minor details. In this case, even attempts to contact the farm were unsuccessful at first. Normally, I give up and head back out for something a little more commonplace. With Birchrun Blue, I find myself just loving the cheese too much to let facts stop me. As Steven Colbert would say, I’m going with that I feel “right here in my gut.”
Birchrun Blue is a natural rind blue cheese, a bit of a rarity in a realm dominated by foil casings. It’s a welcome change, as it contributes a pleasant earthiness to the flavors. It’s also an exception in that it trades in subtle and complex flavors instead of brash and tangy tastes. If it weren’t for the rows of small holes around the outer rind, it would be hard to believe the cheese has been pierced because of the subtlety of the blue veining. In between the layers of molding, I taste up front flavors of light caramel, notes of slightly fermented apple cider and a nice musty finish. The texture is smooth and lush, with a consistency and look not unlike something like Tomme de Savoie. That is to say its rind is rough, rustic, and brownish grey, with mottled patches of dusty white. The rind is edible, though some might find its flavors to be a bit too instense and bitter, so it is probably best avoided.
Update:I recently had a chance to talk with the very friendly Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm. She was kind enough to fill in a few gaps in my story. The farm has been producing cheese since August of 2006, making the quality of their cheeses in such short time nothing short of amazing. After 20 years of producing milk from their herd of Holstein cows, they found they were no longer able to maintain their livelihood and turned to cheesemaking (a suprisingly common story these days). They currently only produce two cheeses; the one I’ve reviewed today and a Gruyere-style one called Highland. Their website is currently under construction and they plan to increase cheese production throughout the summer, making them a cheesemaker to watch for in the future.
Birchrun Blue is available at Saxelby Cheesemongers for $21.99/lb. It’s also available at Ramondo’s Cheese in Phoenixvilla, PA and through the Birchrun Hills Farm CSA. It can also be ordered directly from the farm for $17.00/lb. + shipping by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.