I nearly missed the chance to snap a photo of these cheeses. I had just put them out at a dinner party I was having, and no sooner had I turned my back on them (whole, in perfectly uncut condition) than were they nearly devoured. In a matter of minutes.
The bottom line: find these now. They're delicious. And nearly perfect for autumn. While both are cheddars, they're different than most others for one innovative addition to the cheesemaking process: blue mold.
Both are made by fourth-generation cheesemaker Chris Roelli at Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg, Wisconsin, whose goal was to create a cheddar cheese, but with a bit of a kick. But first he had to convince his father to make the move from commodity cheese to artisan. Since 2006, he's won that battle, and the family business has shifted more and more into smaller production cheeses like these.
For Red Rock and Dunbarton Blue, Chris uses milk from a single herd of cows. And from about April to October, Chris uses raw milk in his cheesemaking, to highlight the quality of the milk while the cows are out on pasture. During the other months of the year, the milk gets pasteurized.
And while they each taste more cheddar-like than blue-like, there's most definitely a distinctly blue kick to them both. Chris actually presses his cheeses, a method entirely atypical for blue cheeses. Doing so inhibits blue mold growth, since blue mold needs oxygen to grow. Compression of the curd limits this growth and makes for subtle, rather than overt, blue notes. The resulting cheeses walk the complex line between blue and cheddar. And the balance is impeccable.
Dunbarton Blue tastes initially of an English farmhouse cheddar: earthy, with pleasant hay-like flavors and musty undertones reminiscent of wet stones and dirt. It's dense and toothsome with an intense finish to match. It smells like a blue. Incredibly savory, deliciously milky and complex. If you bite into certain spots, expect hits of straight-up mold flavors. Kind of intense. Bright flavors, as a sharp cheddar is, and nearly prickly on the tongue.
Red Rock is fudgey, like gjetost. The cheese is doused with a double-dose of annatto, which accounts for that gorgeous orange color. Texture-wise, it's dense, smooth, and creamy on the palate. Unique. Intense and earthy close to the rind. Truly, the best word to describe this one is fudgey! It's nearly perfect for dessert. Again, the pockets of mold can be strong, flavor-wise, but balanced by those rich, cheddar-y notes.
Find it! Dunbarton Blue and Red Rock are available at many find cheese shops. Click here for more information on where to find the cheeses near you.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and used to be 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 a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Image: Nora Singley)