Scary Cheese! Ruuuuuuuun! Run before it gets you with its diaper bag smell, pustules of mold, and ambiguous bloomy rind! AHHHHH!
This is my entire family's reaction to non fresh cheese, meaning any cheese aged or brined or messed with beyond the curds and whey. Well, everyone except for my dad, who has lost most of his taste and smell from his two pack a day habit back in the 80s. He loves the blue cheese. He lurves the runny, smelly ones. So much so that he has his own tupperware container in the fridge, preventing his cheese from tainting everything in its proximity. My mom actually threw out some gorgeous fresh chevre because she mistook the ash for mold. As I dug my chevre out of the trash I turned to her with gravitas: "This stops now."
So off to Andrew's Cheese Shop I go, and I ask for the scariest looking and smelling cheese he has for someone yet to dip their toe in the stinky cheese pool. My wussiness was met with disdain, but once I explained the situation, Andrew understood. He explained to me that the magic word was "mild" and that looks could be deceiving. Each of the cheeses he sold me are either scary looking (like the puffy, spotty Besace Affine or the gnarled blue Strathdon) or scary smelly (like the pungent, slightly ammonia scented Colorouge) but had surprisingly delicate flavors. The blue was creamy with a piquant white pepper kick, the washed rind's scent dissipated when unwrapped and was luxuriously silky, and the dome of chevre was fresh and sweet, with a little touch of acid from the bloomy rind.
The trick to getting past the scary cheese phobia is talking to your local cheese monger and tasting regularly. To me, cheese is like film -- you might not like all Horrors/Musicals/Science Fictions, but you can certainly find one that suits your tastes. Oh, and sparkling wine. According to Andrew, "It's like cheating." The bubbles and dryness elevate the flavors, and add to the experience. Venture below for more details on the ones I tasted. They're each delicious, and will make you look impressively sophisticated at your next wine and cheese night.
White pepper is my most immediate memory of this cheese. Creamy and rich, with that spicy/smoky kick of white pepper at the finish. Awarded a silver medal at the British Cheese Awards 2004, this firm, creamy blue cheese is made by Ruraidh Stone (pronounced Rory) of Highland Fine Cheeses in Ross-shire. Until recently, Ruaridh's family were best known for a simple, traditional Caboc ( an Irish cream cheese rolled in toasted pinhead oatmeal) allegedly made from a recipe of family ancestor and originator of Caboc, Mariota de Ile, daughter of The MacDonald, Lord of the Isles. It's all very "Europe, where the history comes from" and very delicious.
Colorouge is a natural rind cheese that is "smeared" by hand, meaning, rubbed to help along the development of the special rind characteristics. It's like the little sister of Epoisses, a cheese whose rind is washed in brandy and so pungent it's allegedly banned from French public transportation. But apparently women are also not allowed to wear pants in public too, so, as long as they have their priorities straight. Soft and creamy with mild buttery overtones, this cheese gains a bit of spice with age. When you open it, the scent will smack you in the face, but it quickly dissipates so stay strong, it's worth it. Very luxurious and rich, I love it paired with some tart berry compote.
This makes perfect sense: Besace Affine translates to "old bag" in French, and it does look like one, doesn't it? Originating from Provence, which is known for sweeter goat cheese, Besace Affine has a sweet, aromatic center surrounded by a salty, dense rind which adds some lovely acidity for balance. Gorgeous with a bit of honey and black pepper.