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Say Cheese: Triple threats

Mt. Tam and Red Hawk, both by Cowgirl Creamery, and a triple-cream mascarpone-Gorgonzola torta, from Whole Foods, share a plate with wedges of Gold Rush apple and date-walnut crisps. (Domenica Marchetti)

For many of us, the 2009 holiday season is likely to be more about saving than splurging. And while I agree that restraint is a good thing in times of economic uncertainty, I also think restraint should not be confused with deprivation.

Small indulgences such as a sparkly new ornament for the tree, a flute of champagne, or a chocolate truffle, can go a long way toward lifting one’s spirits and putting folks in the mood to make merry.

In the world of cheese (or at least in my world of cheese), a small indulgence means one thing: a triple-cream cheese. It is the “gelato of the cheese world,” as one Web site described. Some, like mascarpone, are fresh. Others, including Saint Andre and Brillat-Savarin, belong in the category of soft-ripened cheeses: generally mild, delicate and creamy, and aged for a few weeks to produce a bloomy white rind and a soft center.

Cowgirl Creamery makes a washed-rind triple-cream called Red Hawk that combines characteristics of both types of cheeses. Keep reading to get the details.

What makes the triple-creams even more indulgent than other soft-ripened cheeses such as brie or Camembert is that cream is added to the fresh curd at the beginning of the cheesemaking process, boosting the butterfat content to 75 percent or more. (Classic double-cream brie, by contrast, has a butterfat content of 60 to 74 percent).

Triple-creams are rich beyond rich, almost more buttery than butter. Their texture ranges from mousselike to silky smooth. In general, their flavor is mild, salty and a little tangy. Some cheese enthusiasts find them to be a little “one-note,” but the type is considered as a good beginners' cheese, with a number of more complex examples to boot.

Triple-creams range in price from less than $10 per pound (for Saint Andre) to north of $29 per pound (for Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk). But because they are so rich, only judicious portions are needed. In fact, for a holiday cheese platter I would recommend just one triple-cream; there’s indulgence, and then there’s overindulgence.

Keep in mind that triple-cream cheeses also make a lovely alternative to dessert. Serve them with spiced nuts and dried fruit, fruit mustard or jam, or with a drizzle of a robust honey, such as chestnut.

Here is a sampling of triple-cream cheeses available at supermarkets with well-stocked cheese departments, gourmet shops and area cheese shops. Prices are approximate:

1. Brillat-Savarin,$19.97 per pound. Named for the famed 18th-century French gastronome, this fat little disk was the first triple-cream ever created, in the early 20th-century in France’s Normandy region. It has a thin white rind and a pale golden paste that is very smooth, buttery, and on the salty side.

2. Pierre-Robert, $25 per pound. Essentially a longer-aged version of Brillat-Savarin that is slightly more complex in flavor. The rind is mildly mushroomy and the paste a little more tangy than Brillat-Savarin.

3. Explorateur, $28 per pound. This small cylinder of pure indulgence was created in France in 1958 and named for the first U.S. satellite, the Explorer. Its downy white round turns to mottled beige as it ages. Inside, it is smooth and buttery, with a mild flavor that deepens with age.

4. Saint Andre, $9.99 per pound. This was the first triple-cream cheese I ever tasted, many years ago before I knew what triple-creme meant, and I still love it, despite its tameness. The snow-white edible rind gives way to a layer of silky smooth paste that is slightly more firm in the center. A great dessert cheese.

5. Belletoile Brie, $7.50 per pound. A triple-cream brie with a golden, buttery paste, Belletoile is an affordable indulgence, although I found it to be slightly more bland and less runny than double-cream brie.

6. Mt. Tam, $25 per pound: Cowgirl Creamery’s take on triple-cream has a thicker rind with a slightly bitter finish, which I like for its contrast to the smooth, buttery and slightly nutty interior. It is less salty than its French counterpart, Brillat-Savarin.

7. Red Hawk, $29.99 per pound: Also from Cowgirl Creamery, it combines the pungency of a washed-rind cheese with the buttery richness of a triple-cream. It has a pronounced, classic “stinky” cheese aroma and a slightly sticky orange exterior (from the mold b. linens used to ripen the cheese). It’s a true splurge. But on the other hand, a little really does go a long way.

8. Mascarpone-Gorgonzola torta, $17.99 per pound. Technically, only the mascarpone in this layered torta is a triple-cream cheese. But with its alternating strata of creamy white mascarpone, blue-veined Gorgonzola and its exterior coating of sliced almonds, it was too pretty to pass by as it sat in the display case at Whole Foods. It would be equally at home on an appetizer cheese board or a dessert plate.

-- Domenica Marchetti is the author of "The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy" and "Big Night In." Follow her on Twitter.

By The Food Section  |  December 1, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese, triple-cream cheeses  
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Yumm. I can feel my cholesterol level going up as I read this. It's hard to resist St. Andre when we go by the cheese section at Costco. Eat well, just a little less.

Fortunately, that low fat Indian cookbook I just picked up will help balance out the diet.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 1, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Triple-cremes are the BEST! Two weeks ago I got a hunk of Brillat-Savarin and a roll for my lunch - and that's it. Perfectly satisfying!

Posted by: golda78 | December 1, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Red Hawk. How I love thee and thy stinky, funky goo. I feel the need for a Cowgirl run.

Posted by: newsie16 | December 2, 2009 8:53 PM | Report abuse

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