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Say Cheese: Beyond the stink, glorious flavor

Oma and Red Cloud. (Domenica Marchetti)

If there is one type of cheese that people still tend to shy away from, it’s stinky cheese.

I’m referring to the soft, creamy cheeses that are washed with a brine as they age. The bacteria in the brine, B. linens, produces the distinctive reddish rind that is characteristic of a washed-rind cheese. It also is responsible for the strong, pungent aromas that cause some to flee in fear. But if you can learn to appreciate (or at least get past) the aroma, you’ll see that these cheeses deliver on flavor.

Among the more famous of the washed-rind cheeses are Epoisses, the rich, runny cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy; and Taleggio, from Italy’s Lombardy region. But there are plenty of others, and, increasingly they are being produced by domestic cheese makers. Meadow Creek Dairy, in southwest Virginia, produces Grayson, a popular, award-winning washed-rind cheese. Cowgirl Creamery makes Red Hawk, a stinky triple-cream cheese that has also won its share of accolades.

Oma is made by descendants of the singing von Trapps. (Domenica Marchetti)

I wanted to try something new (to me) and found two promising candidates at Arrowine, in Arlington: Oma, a smalll, squat, aged raw cow’s milk cheese from Vermont ($29.99/lb); and the somewhat taller and firmer aged raw goat’s milk cheese, Red Cloud, from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Colorado ($15.99 for an 8-ounce wheel). 

To begin with, Oma has a crowd-pleasing story to go with it. It is made by brothers Dan and Sebastian von Trapp (descendants of the famous singing von Trapps) at their farm in Waitsfield, and then aged by another set of brothers, Andy and Mateo Kehler, at the Cellars at Jasper Hill (where the Kehlers also make their own award-winning cheeses). Oma means grandmother in German, and the cheese is named in honor of their grandmother, Erica von Trapp, who started the farm.

Oma, which the von Trapps began making only last year, has a firm, orange-brown rind, mottled here and there with a thin coating of white mold. The paste inside is thick, creamy and supple, with small eyes. The cheese is loaded with flavor; it’s salty and tangy and buttery all at once, with a barnyardy finish. The more I tasted it the more I liked it. If Maria von Trapp were alive today, she would no doubt be singing its praises.

Red Cloud, which won an American Cheese Society award in 2007, smells even more pungent than Oma. I found the sticky, pink-tan rind too gritty in texture to be enjoyable but loved the interior paste, creamy but firm. It’s pale in color, sort of a golden white, salty, though not overwhelmingly so, and appealingly sharp and tangy.

For some reason I was reminded of cauliflower; this may have had something to do with the strong aroma (if you’ve ever boiled cauliflower you know what I’m talking about). But I also think the two would go well together, perhaps in the form of a cauliflower gratin enrobed in a Red Cloud cheese sauce. This potential pairing just occurred to me, so I haven’t had a chance to try it out, but I’ll post a recipe for it here on the blog as soon as I do.

-- Domenica Marchetti
(Follow her on Twitter.)

By The Food Section  |  March 2, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese  
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