It's one that'll make a statement, if it lasts long enough to stick around. Check out this new cheese from upstate New York, coated in a dusty coat of black ash. And in addition to looking just plain cool, it tastes pretty good, too.
But what is it that makes it black?
Ash! Vegetable ash, more specifically.
Typically, you'll see ash-rinded goat cheeses in younger, fresher styles. Some of the most celebrated cheeses in the world are of this variety. Take for starters some of the French greats: Selles Sur Cher, Valencay, and Saint-Maure. And from the States, there's California's Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog, Vermont Butter and Cheese Company's Bonne Bouche, and Colorado's Haystack's Peak cheese by the same name, Haystack Peak. Originally, it was sprinkled on fresh cheeses to help keep flies and other pests away, and it also helps the cheese ripen: goat cheeses are naturally higher in acid, and the more basic ash acts as a neutralizer.
And now, a new player. But of such distinct variety. Aged for about four months, and weighing in at about 2 pounds per wheel, this is no soft, spreadable, tangy goat cheese. All that time devoted to aging renders the cheese firm, slightly but pleasantly dry, and intense. It's perfectly salty with an totally addictive goaty kick. It's only barely reminiscent of other aged goat cheeses, because it's actually made with 40% cow milk, in addition to the goat milk.
Blaak is the very first cheese made on the 200 year-old farm, located in Sharon Springs, New York. According to the self-titled "Fabulous Beekman Boys," Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, who own and operate the farm, they wanted their first cheese to be different and visually arresting. Their main motivation for using the ash was to make a cheese that would stand out on a cheese plate.
Josh and Brent are creative in other areas, too: They make not only cheese, but also goat milk soap and a black onion jam-- you can find it at Whole Foods now-- that they love to eat with their cheese. In fact, their recommendation is to eat anything sweet with their cheese, like honey, fig bread, or pears.
Beekman 1802 is as much a wellness farm as it is a cheese farm. Check out their website. In addition to being a place to find out more about the farm, there's tons content on decor, animals, gardening and farming, food, wine, and wellness. (Brent is actually Dr. Brent.) Their website features designs from local craftspeople, which you can peruse in person if you make it to the farm, where they have a shop with all of their goods. Food-wise, their site features recipes like Rhubarb and Black Pepper Sauce, Cinnamon Sugar Muffins, and Cajeta Cinnamon Rolls. Very cool, indeed.
So get ready, get set, but don't quite go. The next batch of cheese will be ready soon, probably next month, at Murray's Cheese and through the Beekman 1802 website. Since they're seasonal producers, there's sometimes some waiting around...
Related: The Cheesemonger's Seasonal Spotlight: Goat Cheese
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.
(Images: Nora Singley)