We're purists when it comes to cheese. While we're willing to offer the occasional exception to horseradish cheddar, a guilty if entirely realized pleasure, the peppercorned, the fruited, and the flavored inspire a resounding, collective "nay."
But what about smoked cheeses? Below, the three cheeses, one of which pictured here, that keep smoked cheeses on our "yay" list. And if you've never been a believer but you're willing to become one, just read on.
When it comes to smoking cheese, it's got to be done just right. And when it's good, it's great, and misses the flavor profile of your standard grocery store smoked gouda by a mile.
Here, three sure bets-- a cow, a sheep, and a goat, incidentally-- all of which have us thinking twice about the seductive persuasion of smoke.
River's Edge Up in Smoke is made in Logsden, Oregon by Pat Morford. It's made from the pasteurized milk of Pat's small herd, which started with just five goats in 1990. Today, not without sacrifice, she's mastered the art and science of cheesemaking and is making truly delicious goat cheese. Up in Smoke is a small disc of smoked chevre wrapped in maple leaves from the farm's property. The leaves are smoked over the same alder and hickory chips used for smoking the cheese. The leaf wrappers are dampened with some bourbon to help with their malleability. We think it helps with the consumption, as well. Up in Smoke is available at Murray's Cheese for $15.99/each.
Idiazabal, pictured above, is a raw sheep milk cheese from the Basque Country. There, its ubiquity makes it the Basque table cheese, and pairs wells with the ciders and txocoli wine unique to the region. You can find Idiazabal in a range of quality, from mild to gamey, simple to complex, and unsmoked or smoked. If you've come across a good version, great. If not, keep searching, because they're out there, in the same way that both mediocre and superlative versions of brie abound. Traditionally, Idiazabal was always smoked, in chimneys, actually, as a way to preserve the wheels. Smoke heightened the sheepiness of the cheese, and in these traditional incarnations of the recipe, you'll taste a particular rusticity that can be addicting. Try a wedge from Zingerman's for $13/.5 lb if you can't find a good import from your local shop.
Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue will stop you short. The cheese already has the legacy of Rogue Creamery's blue cheesemaking behind it, as if that's not enough. The smokiness is subtle and sweet, from 16 hours of smoking over local hazelnut shells. Need we say more? Maybe just this: In 2005 the cheese won Best New Product at the Fancy Food Show in New York, beating out over 1,200 other new products. The cheese is enticing also for its trendsetting: Smokey Blue is the first blue ever to be smoked. Taste for yourself at iGourmet.com for $12.99/.5 lb.
So what's your weigh-in on smoked cheese? Yay or Nay?
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. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.