This is a particularly exciting fall with elections around the corner. And with festivals and harvest celebrations to attend and cooler weather moving in, our taste buds are ready for a change too.
When it comes to cheese, great summer weather makes for great fall cheeses. Seasonality is one of the least understood aspects of artisan cheese production because it often has little impact on factory-made cheese. For artisan and farmstead cheeses, however, seasonality plays a large role in the flavor profile of the cheese. Summer milk is the best for making cheese because livestock forage on fresh grasses from the pasture, which provides much better nutrition and subsequently more flavorful milk than a diet of grain supplements. Often you can actually see the difference in the color of cheese made with winter milk as opposed to summer milk. Winter milk cheeses are generally white, while the summer milk cheeses will have a green, yellow or straw colored tint. Many of our American artisan cheeses made May through August are aged four to six months before they are released. The first of these aged cheeses start to arrive in September.
If you want to experience this seasonality for yourself, delve into Marieke Goudas from Wisconsin or Shepherd’s Way cheeses from Nerstrand, Minn. Their Friesago just took third place at the American Cheese Society’s 2016 awards. Another award winner—which garnered first place—is Red Hawk, a washed rind, triple crème made by Cowgirl Creamery in California. One of my favorite fall cheeses, also a washed rind, is cave aged Taleggio. Not all Taleggio is created equal! Due to aging in natural caves, a great complexity and sense of place is impressed on this cheese. With its great aroma and bold flavor, this cheese lacks the bitter finish of mass produced Taleggio and is a beautiful complement to many Italian red wines. For a delightful fall wine and cheese pairing, serve Big Woods Blue with an eiswein or late harvest Riesling as an after dinner dessert course.
Aside from fall cheeses, prosciutto—both di Parma from Italy and our very special La Quercia hams from Iowa – and Ibérico ham from Spain are wonderful this time of year. Of particular interest are the aforementioned cured hams from Spain. In case you have not tried them all, I will give you a quick introduction. Jamón Serrano is made from a white or Duroc pig. They are farm raised, generally fed cereal grains, and do some foraging as well. Jamón Ibérico is made from the Black Iberian “Pata Negra,” or black footed pig. It is a regional specialty of southwestern Spain. The Iberico pigs may have a diet of grains and forage, and spend a shorter time foraging for acorns in the fall than do the Jamón de Belotta. These pigs spend three months or more eating a diet exclusively of acorns. The Pata Negra can gain up to two pounds of weight a day, grazing and foraging on acorns, wild herbs and grasses. The acorn diet imparts the special nutty sweetness that makes this cured ham so special. A good Ibérico de Bellota ham has regular flecks of intramuscular fat due to the acorn diet. Much of the Jamón’s fat is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. After being cured and seasoned, it takes another two years of aging before they are ready to sell, and some age for three years. The best way to enjoy these special hams is to have them sliced very thin, served with nothing more than some good bread and perhaps spread with cultured butter. Like prosciutto, a slice of melon, peaches or figs will go nicely. We always use our very special manual Prosciutto slicer for our cured hams. A work of art in itself, this slicer is operated by turning a fly wheel. Unlike electric slicers, these slicers don’t heat the Prosciutto, Serrano and Ibérico hams as they are sliced.
Stop in and sample, savor and browse the next time you’re in the neighborhood; you are sure to get in the mood for the cool, crisp days to come.