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Professional Perks

Tuesday, 25 February 2020 11:15
Butterbloom,, a mind blower from Briar Rose Creamery in Dundee, Oregon Butterbloom,, a mind blower from Briar Rose Creamery in Dundee, Oregon

By Rachael Lucas

I love being a cheese buyer.  Even though I have plenty of general and pedestrian fromage in my case, I also bring in cheese that titillates people’s senses in ways that they didn’t think possible. 

Merion Park Cynwyd Knoll cheese PicmonkeyMerion Park's Cynwyd Knoll

I have created a destination cheese department with a rotating selection where one can locate treasures that are not easily found in the Seattle area.  The best part of being a cheese buyer, though, is that I can order (providing that I stay within my budget) cheese that I personally want to taste.  Because of this, I have acquired new favorites this past year that I would not even be familiar with had I not taken this professional position.  

The first striking new fromage is called Cynwyd Knoll.  Cynwyd Knoll is hand made by a man I met on Instagram.  Emiliano Tatar is a Pediatrician in Pennsylvania by day and an artisan cheesemaker by night.  His is proof that great cheese doesn’t necessarily have to be farmstead (farmstead cheesemaking means everything from the animals living on the property, milk production, cheesemaking, and all this entails is done in one locale).  Emiliano sources high quality, local milk and makes and ages his cheese in his own little space.  Cynwyd Knoll is a raw cow’s milk, garlic fraught, Tellicherry black pepper encrusted weirdo.  It is aged for sixty days and then sold mostly in Philly at noteworthy cheese shops and restaurants.  Cynwyd Knoll packs a punch and is meant to be grated, though it is delightfully prickly when shaved thinly and melted on the tongue.  Otherwise, you can grate it into pasta, onto salads and roasted veggies, or even into bloody marys!

Another remarkable bit of goodness that I brought into my cheese department this year is known as Clochette de Fontenille (Little Bell of Fontenille).  It is a semi soft, brainy-rinded, goat’s milk Frenchie from Poitou-Charentes.  This is an exquisite cheese by Pascal Bellevaire.  It is clean, zingy, and tastes of cultured cream.  The inner paste coats the mouth like fudge, and the cream line just under the rind is thick and silky, saline and earthen.  Clochette de Fontenille is suited for bubbles if you like a bit of goaty spume.

Clochette de Fontenille PicmonkeyClochette de Fontenille

Ah Rollright.  Rollright is a pasteurized cow’s milk, spruce squeezed, washed rind made at King Stone Dairy in Gloucestershire, England.  This is a Neal’s Yard Dairy--a world renown British affineur/exporter--goodie that is not readily accessible, which makes it such a treat when I get it into my case.  Rollright has a thin rind that enthusiastically contributes to the overall flavor.  The custard paté greets the palate with heavy notes of wood and dusty peanuts.  This British Mont d’Or style will make you say cheerio(!) to the ordinary softies that you’re accustomed to, especially if you couple it with a thick brown ale.  

The next mentionable mind-blower hails from Briar Rose Creamery in Dundee, Oregon.  Oregon is a state to watch in the cheese world.  They are coming out with extraordinary, next-level cheese selections.  Butterbloom, a pudgy, pasteurized cow’s milk disc, is one of them.  It is a rich, approachable bloomy rind. This fromage imparts flavors of sweet cream and fresh grass.  The minimal rind is delicate, and the paste is a lot like biting into a soft chunk of butter.  Butterbloom makes for some of the best cheese toasties I have ever eaten; I make sure to include the rind.  If you want an unctuous, life-altering puffed pastry, you found your cheese.  Butterbloom likes to kick around grass with a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Green Dirt Farm in Weston, Missouri is an up-and-coming powerhouse in the American artisan cheese profession.  These folks are doing it exactly as they should, from sustainability and the highest level of animal husbandry, to creating some of the most phenomenal cheeses in our country.   Prairie Tomme (modeled after Croatian Paški Sir) is a pasteurized ewe’s milk tomme-style with a bit of a wash on the rind.  I have to pre-order this cheese, and as soon as I get a wheel, I pre-order another one.  Since it is artisan, each wheel is nuanced a little differently.  The wheel that I currently have tastes like Juicy Fruit chewing gum with a whiff of wool.  Prairie Tomme is one of my go-to cheeses when I do cocktail tastings.  Try it with something bitter or the chewiest, most tannic red wine you can find. 

Boxcarr Cottonbell cheese party platter PicmonkeyBoxcarr Cottonbell in party platter

It is no secret that I have a crush on Boxcarr Handmade Cheese in Cedar Grove, North Carolina.  The Italian style cheeses that come from their facility are made impeccably.  Though I have not had the opportunity to try all their creations, I have eaten a handful of their formaggio.  Two of theirs have outshined nearly every other cheese in my department.  Cottonbell has a devoted following in my store.  This is a pasteurized cow’s milk bloomy-rinded square that has all the clean, velvety, lactic gratification and nearly none of the mushroomy, earthy (also yummy) tones that one expects from this brand of cheese.  If you can wait until she is perfectly ripe, Cottonbell presents herself as a sort of umami bisque encased in its container of skin.  You can ladle out spoonfuls of the stuff and eat it like soup.  Or drizzle it on broccoli.  Or slather it on crusty bread.  Don’t forget the dry gin martini!  The cream cuts right through the astringency of the gin and creates a mouthful of velveteen spruce.   Lissome is my most recent obsession.  It is like Taleggio’s and Capriole Creamery’s Mont St. Francis’s love child.  This semi-firm goat’s and cow’s milk, beer-washed funk sponge is savory and yeasty (like a warm dinner roll). The rind adds complexity to the paste—it isn’t crunchy like lots of washed rinds--and so it proves to be a flavor contributor rather than a textural distraction.  This cheese can be melted into risotto, onto burgers, or savored in its nude state.  I like it naked, intermingled with a vanilla-forward bourbon.  

Being gifted autonomy as a cheese buyer is nearly unheard of.  Someone usually wants to have a say as to what gets ordered.  My employers at The Ballinger Thriftway are not only kind and eager to taste the cheese that I bring in, but they trust me implicitly and seem to be content with my trial and error mode of cheese buying.  Thanks to their confidence, my cheese department is thriving.  Moreover, I have grown not only as a cheese professional, but also as a palate warrior, and I relish the fact that I can support small businesses and artisan creameries.  For all these reasons (and more!), I think I’ll dig in my heels.


Rachael Lucas with cheese wheels MUG


Editor’s note:   Rachael Lucas is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP).  She also has the distinction of being one of forty-six people in the country with the ACS C.C.S.E. (Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator) accreditation.  You can most often find her cheesemongering in the Seattle area.  When she's not working with cheese, she's eating it, talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and dreaming about it.  She can be reached with inquiries about fromage and food excitement in the Seattle area at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last modified on Tuesday, 25 February 2020 12:04


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