One of the most frequent questions I get at Ye Olde Stanke Cheeseshoppe is — no, not “Where is the bathroom?” No, not even, “Where is the Slanted Door?” See, the question I get most often is, “What’s your favorite cheese?”
The bathroom and Slanted Door directions I can give, but my favorite cheese? Where do I begin?
Well, today I was in the mood to be particularly taken by two cheeses from across the pond. The first was Coolea (“coo-lee,” you could call the pigs with that one! The name, I mean, not the smell. No, seriously, it smells lovely. As lovely as cheese can smell, which, in this cheesemonger’s opinion is quite beautifully stinky), a buttercup-yellow cow’s milk cheese from Macroom, County Cork, Ireland; the second was Berskwell, a snowy-white raw sheep’s milk cheese from Ramhall Farm in the West Midlands of England.
Berkswell is vegetarian, and by that I mean the coagulating rennet is not taken from the stomach of an animal, but rather from a vegetable source, like nettles. This sheep’s milk cheese is aged about six to nine months and has a compact, creamy grain. When you put a paper-thin slice — use a nice, sharp Oxo cheeseplane and you’ll achieve lovely thin leaves of cheese — on your tongue, it melts away, leaving behind a sublime taste of nutty richness. It’s highly addictive and highly sought after. We don’t often have it, but we happen to have a few rounds now. Come and get some before I eat it all.
Coolea is a totally different animal. No, seriously — it’s a cow, not a sheep. The best way to describe Coolea is that if caramel sauce ever took it into its head to be a cheese, this would be it. I think Coolea has a chewy toasted taste that lends itself well to being a before-dinner snack as well as a desserty treat. It’s also quite acceptable as an afternoon indulgence. Coolea is fun to bite into — your teeth gently pierce the slice and sink into bliss.
Most people want to know what wine is best with this cheese or that cheese, but with these two, I say “beer.” It’s a personal choice, really, because it was during my time in England that I learned that good beer wasn’t beer that had the word “Ice” after the name. For these two cheeses, I don’t even think you have to be so narrow in focus as to restrict yourself to only British Isles brews. I rather like Belgian-style beers, and tonight we paired Coolea and Berkswell with pints of New Belgium Brewing’s Abbey and more pints of New Belgium Brewing’s Trippel. New Belgium are the folks in Colorado who are responsible for the famous Fat Tire, Loft, and Sunshine, but I particularly love the Trippel, Abbey, and 1554 brews.
So tonight, this minute, Coolea is my favorite cheese. Five minutes from now, Berskwell will be my favorite. Then Fougerous, and Panache d’Aramitz, and Couserans, and Tumbleweed….do you see where I’m going with all this?