So, when I say, “American cheese” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you instantly think if those thin floppy slices wrapped in shiny envelopes of plastic, well stop that.
While I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for a grilled cheese, on square white bread only, made from those flavorless sheets of cheese colored waxy meltiness, true American cheese comes from artisanal producers all across the United States.
Wisconsin has always been known for their tremendous dairy production and they are still the leader in terms of very high quality and sheer volume. Those self-proclaimed, “Cheese Heads” have dairy flowing through their hard-working veins. They had to do something with all that leftover milk from those cows right? Cheese was the perfect solution. So, Wisconsin cheeses have been on our radar forever, names like Widmer’s, Roth Kase and BelGioioso being the first three dairies that leap to mind but there is a wealth of cheeses from other states here in the U.S. that are vying for top spot on the world stage of artisan cheeses.
Here in California we are treated to an almost embarrassing amount of stunningly luscious cheeses, especially from Northern California, one of those NorCal cheeses really caught the attention of renowned chefs and avid cheese lovers which seemed to really shine a wide and very bright light on artisan California cheeses, that cheese producer, Cypress Grove.
Cypress Grove is tucked away in a jaw-droppingly beautiful spot in Northern California where the coat and the redwoods meet. It was in this spot in the 1970s that Mary Keehn convinced some neighboring goats to her yard, so she would have milk for her children. Not long after Mary had more goats, and more milk than she knew what to do with. A trip to IFrance, devouring and learning about cheeses and in 1983 Cypress Grove Creamery was born. It was their flagship cheese, Humboldt Fog, that catapulted Cypress Grove to the very top of not only the American, but the world’s cheese food chain as it were.
Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog- A bloomy rind goat’s milk cheese with a thin layer of ash running across the center, the ash an homage to the thick fog layer that sweeps along the coast in Humboldt County. Depending on age Humboldt Fog ranges from mildly tangy with a soft but lightly crumbly texture that has a wonderful depth but finishes nice and light, to the aged version, (and all chesses age from the rind in, so look closest to the rind to determine age) which becomes almost custard like near the rind and has a much creamier and denser middle. The younger has a zippier goat flavor where the elder takes on more intensity and power.
Cowgirl Creamery- If anybody has put American cheese on the map it has to be this dairy. Insanely rich, dense and complex cheeses that rival those of France. Cowgirl set the foodie world afire with their Red Hawk, a cheese that resembles Epoisses from Burgundy with its pungent sticky rind and crave inducing fudgy texture. Bold. Assertive and aggressive but with a gentle hand. Mount Tam is also deliriously lovely, the triple cream offering a buttery body encased in a bloomy rind. Both cheeses are on that world class level. For sure.
Maytag Blue- There is iconic blue cheese and there is Maytag. Sharp, rich, intense and layered, this is a blue cheese that screams American. Big flavor, big linger, just BIG. Add some garlic, mayonnaise, sour cream and you have the best salad dressing there is. Stunning on a cheese plate with fresh fruit and crackers or atop a just-grilled piece of steak where it will melt and make its own sauce.
Cesar’s String Cheese- This Wisconsin creamery turns an old time favorite into a new grown up delight. Massively milky, creamy and rich string cheese with crave inducing. Hand pulled, artisan and what every lunch box/bag needs to have.
Beehive Creamery- This Utah creamery is offering some ridiculously friendly cheeses that have become staples for many of our customers. Barely Buzzed, a cow’s milk cheese that is rubbed with coffee and lavender, has just the right amount of intensity and punch. Floral and assertive with a creamy finish. Fully Loaded is another cow’s milk cheese but this one is washed with whiskey. Caramel, cream, brown butter all over the palate. Amazing with fresh fruit and white wine.
Alemar Creamery- This tiny creamery out of Minnesota is making some of the most French leaning cheeses we’ve seen from The United Stars. Cow’s milk, pungent, powerful and long. Bent River- is modeled after Camembert, mushroomy, creamy, decadent and sexy as hell. Good Thunder- An uber gooey and stinky cow’s milk cheese is more like Epoisses. Thick, runny, stinky and absolutely delicious. Think fruit and cured meats.