A recent and disappointing cheese service taught the Accidental Locavore a couple of important lessons. First, the importance of affinage*. People may scoff at the idea and thinks way it's too precious to properly age cheeses (obviously they're not French), but an accidental (almost blind) taste test of the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill proved the value of this to me and my guests without a doubt!
We had been nibbling on a wedge of the Cabot that I brought home from the Cheesemakers' Festival before dinner at Red Devon. Now, I'll be the first to admit that schlepping a wedge of cheese in a cold-pack (in July), is not usually the best way to preserve it, but the aged cheddar was picked partially for its seeming indestructibility. And the cheese survived its journey nicely! The piece we had at home had all the qualities I love in this particular cheddar. It was nicely sharp with a really developed, rich flavor. Besides great taste, it had the little bits of crystallization (called tyrosine) that just takes it to a whole new level for me! My friend had never tasted it before and quickly became a fan.
Later that evening, after a lovely dinner at Red Devon, a local restaurant, we ordered the cheese service. Since Red Devon prides itself on local products, we were guessing as to what might be on the plate.** What we received were three cheeses, a blue, something soft (think Camembert) and something looking like cheddar. The blue was cold, so there wasn't much taste to it, the runny one was pretty good, probably the best of the three and the cheddar was not terribly interesting, with almost a smooth texture.
When the waitress told us what the cheeses were, we were stunned! The not-very-interesting, kind-of-plastic cheddar was my beloved Cabot Clothbound! My friend would not believe it was the same thing. To me, this is the prime example of how affinage makes (certain) cheeses taste so much better. It's like letting wines age -- just develops their full flavor potential. When I've bought the Cabot from Murray's (who are big with the aging caves!), it's always wonderful. Buying the same from Fresh Direct (local delivery service) and it's a ho-hum wedge of cheese. So, without getting too fussy about it, always buy your cheese from someone who will love them and take care of them and serve them at room temperature. And then if you really want to finesse the cheese service, make sure you cut your morsels properly...
Which brings me to my second lesson: If a little love makes cheese taste so much better, what does it do to everything else we eat?
*Affinage is a French word that means to age and ripen cheese (usually in a controlled environment, like a wine cellar, but for cheese).
**Our guesses: The blue would be a Berkshire Blue, the runny one a Camembert from Chatham Sheepherding, but we couldn't figure out who had a good, local cheddar. The most "local" one that was actually on the plate was the Cabot from Vermont.