Head Cheese is going to be really irritated with me for posting this entry, because it’s all about one of her favorite hoarding cheeses, BUT I have a duty to spread the Gospel of Cheeses. I will be a burning Bucheret, and I will deliver a sermon on the Mount Tam! Am I going to hell for that slice of heresy? If so, I’ll remember to pack my raclette. (Rimshot!)
I first had this cheese a few months ago. We were standing around Ye Olde Stanke Cheeseshoppe, pre-cutting, pre-wrapping, and pre-pricing our more popular cheeses in order to ready ourselves for the impending Saturday Farmers Market onslaught. McCheese came bounding up to the barge, shrieking, “It’s here! Kiku is here!” She ripped off the sous vide wrapping, pulled a cheese wire through the round, and shoved a fig leaf-wrapped half in my face. “Take a whiff — it smells like coconut!” McCheese announced. I took a deep drag and she was…oddly correct.
This fresh, goat’s milk chevre that should have nothing whatsoever to do with coconut did smell amazingly like that tropical nut. Is it the musty Sauvignon Blanc that the fig leaf is soaked in? Something Kiku — the goat for whom the cheese is named — ate? That last one is sort of gross to think about but, hey, if you didn’t know that’s where cheese came from then I do feel sorry for you. Seriously, though, have you ever noticed that Parmigiano-Reggiano can be different colors? At times it’s fairly white and insipid looking, and other times it’s golden-yellow and quite rich looking. That’s all about what the cows were eating at the time, which thus influenced the milk they gave. Think about what happens when you eat asparagus.
Wait, that’s not a true parallel and really much more disgusting than I intended. What I’m saying is, think of terroir the way wine makers do. Everything around an animal or human or grape ultimately affects its…output. In the summers, cows eat buttercups and tender green grass which makes their milk golden. In the winters, cows eat hay and stuff and the milk is paler. Many professional eaters and cheesemongers will tell you that there is a distinct difference in taste between cheese from either season. For myself, I’ve never discerned that much of a difference and neither seems superior to the other. I love them both. The only thing I insist upon when using Parmigiano-Reggiano is that it must be freshly grated. I won’t buy green canned or packaged stuff — there’s just a marked difference in taste, texture, and appearance.
ANYWAY, back to Kiku. It’s a sumptuous cheese from the folks at Goat’s Leap up in St. Helena, CA. Kiku is tangy and bright and can make goat cheese lovers out of even the most skeptical. I particularly love to watch this cheese grow old. Do you see that runny, camembert-ish, edging right near the figs leaf wrapping? As the cheese ages, that beautifully sticky, viscous layer moves in like a weather front across the drier more crumbly part of the cheese and douses it in sharpness that isn’t offensive but will certainly wake your tastebuds up in the morning.
The recommended wines with this cheese are Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and anything bubbly. Personally, I love it with a rich sherry or a tawny port, but if I must have wine — and frequently, I must — I do love it with a comforting glass of Sangiovese.