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Autumnal Fromage

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Just-cut Gruyere in cheese case at the Ballinger Thriftway in Shoreline, WA.   Just-cut Gruyere in cheese case at the Ballinger Thriftway in Shoreline, WA.

By Rachael Lucas

This is a mound of Gruyere that I just cut for my cheese case at the Ballinger Thriftway in Shoreline, WA.   

Shelburne Farms Cheddar with Cab S PicmonkeyShelburne Farms Cheddar paired with Lobo Hills Cabernet Sauvignon

Fall is here.  While in the summer we are more apt to choose lighter, produce-rich fare, as the temperatures recede, so does our likelihood to eat light.  As the sun-filled, warm days wane, our bodies innately encourage us to physically wax for the upcoming chill.  There are forces at work that are not fully understood when addressing seasonal body behavior and its curious relationship with food.  Nonetheless, those forces indeed exist.  For most of us, cheese cravings are seasonal, as well.  During the lighter months, people tend to eat less cheese (a sad truth for cheese departments).  On hot days, spreadables like chevre and bloomy-rinded fromage (think brie), and summer’s all-star, mozzarella, are what people want.  These types of cheese don’t weigh us down.  They keep us light and energetic.  Come autumn, though, we start to yearn for foods that fill us full, stick with us, and ensure a nice lipidous padding to keep us warm through the dark months.  Cheese cravings come to the forefront.  After all, what could be more appropriate for our bodies than healthy doses of protein, fat, and salt to safeguard our survival until the warm days are again upon us?  

Fall is cheddar’s coming out party.  Any seasoned cheesemonger will tell you that people don’t purchase cheddar in the summer, unless it is for their burgers that they are grilling outside.  When apple season approaches, and people’s paunches start to desire the heft and vast flavor profile that cheddar offers--trusty ole’ cheddar cheese is there for us!  Nothing pairs better with an apple than a wedge of aged, sulfurous, tangy cheddar.  Have you ever tried a piece of apple pie with a generous amount of this brand of cheese melted on top?  You may never reach for whipped cream to top your apple pie again.  What’s more, an ideal wine pairing for cheddar is a tannic, robust Cabernet Sauvignon.  Sometimes two alphas make beautiful organoleptics together.  After all, autumnal flavors are meant to be assertive, spicy, savory, and bold.

My favorite type of cheddar is the traditional clothbound, cave aged sort of beast that rolls down hills.  Namely, I love Keen’s and Quicke’s cheddars for British fare; Isle of Mull is a Scottish, sort of boozy entity in and of itself; and domestically, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Vermont is wildly satisfying.  There are also some fantastic, less traditional styles of cheddars that, too, possess an explosion of flavor.  Mature versions are the cheeses that can be aptly referred to as sharp. Shelburne Farms in Vermont makes phenomenal block cheddars of various ages.  The two-year is ambrosial, punchy, and superbly melty.   Carr Valley Wisconsin cheddars are unparalleled.  The four-year-aged cheddar is one of the tangiest, sharpest cheeses that I have ever eaten.  They also make a six-year version that I am dying to try.  Old Croc is an Australian cheddar that has its own unique characteristics that include crunchy, crumbly, tropical, and piquant.  There is no shortage of cheddar in the U.S., so while we are in the teeth of the autumnal gale, I encourage you to shop around and find new ones to tuck into your cheese repertoire. 

Keens Cheddar PicmonkeyKeens Cheddar: Raw cow's milk British cave-aged, clothbound--Cavernous, earthy and rich.

Autumn urges us to get back into warm, savory flavors and hot dishes.  Recipes and tummies are calling for melty cheese.  I spotted sugar pumpkins today, which means one thing:  fondue.  While one can use an array of cheeses in fondue (so long as the cheese melts), most of us turn to alpine styles to star in our fondue pot (or pumpkin).  This type of cheese is built to melt.  In order to capture the most flavor volatility, I like to use three or four cheeses in my fondue.  Gruyere is my go-to.  I know that Gruyere and Comte were once assumed under the same name, but they are not the same cheese.  People tend to have a preference, and mine is Gruyere.  It is toasted nutty, pineapply, brothy, floral, and much more.  Along with Gruyere, I often add Emmenthal (though I prefer the French version of this cheese—Emmental) because it has a great stretch factor.  Often when you see videos of monumental cheese pulls, you’re looking at Emmenthal.  Besides these two base cheeses, the possibilities are countless.  I will often add another alpine cheese or two, such as Schlossberger, Appenzeller, Abondance, Beaufort, Fontina Val D’Aosta, Challerhocker, or L’Etivaz.  It is also fun to add a little funk.  Taleggio is a Lombardian washed rind that melts among the best.  With it, you get a different terroir, some yeast and breath. Other washed rinds that can be fondue friendly are Vacherin Fribourgeois, Reblochon, and Gres des Vosges.

While the above washed rinds are fantastic melters, other washed rinds do not require any melting.  They are sort of self-contained fondue.  These are highly savory, funk-riddled, redolent orbs of ooze that merely need to have their rinds ripped apart to expose their unctuous, odiferous underbellies.  All that an autumnal tummy-plumping cheese lover requires in this instance is some crusty bread.  Some noteworthy, wholesome goo bombs are Jasper Hills’ Winnemere, Vacherin Mont D’Or, Petit Vaccarinus, Affidelice au Chablis, Rollright, Uplands Rush Creek Reserve, and Epoisses.  These cheeses are high fat, full-flavored, and gratifyingly messy.

Now is an opportune time to experiment with cheesy fare, not only adding insurmountable spunk to any cooked dish, but also contributing texturally.  Besides, it keeps us fueled and warm, fat and happy.  And to be able to set out table cheese (yep, right now it’s cheddar on my table!) without it sweating from heat or attracting insects is one of my favorite signs of early fall.  A nibble here and there throughout the day staves off hunger and makes cheese lovers very, very happy.  What will you put on your table this week?

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.  

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