Sunday, August 02, 2009

Cloth-Bound Cheddar and Huet Vouvray

Edward Behr wrote about cloth-bound Vermont Cheddar cheese in issue number 75 of The Art of Eating, his outstanding quarterly journal on food and wine. I've been wanting to try this cheese since reading the article. Good cheddar - forget the blocky orange food-product that passes for cheddar in supermarkets, good cheddar is world class cheese. And Behr says that this particular cheddar, Cabot Creamery's Vermont Cloth-Bound Cheddar is "the world's best cheddar." Hard to be more definitive than that. Edward Behr does not use that kind of language often. More on this cheese, all quotes are from the Edward Behr article:

Very little is made --"Cabot makes just 50 wheels of the cloth-bound cheddar every two months..."

Almost no one ages cheddar in cloth anymore, but it makes the finest cheddars --"The best English Cheddar is aged merely in cloth, the same cloth that lines the molds and prevents loss of curd during pressing. This traditional 'bandage,' left in place, keeps the new cheese from sagging outward and provides a barrier against flies, once an important consideration."

It requires skill in the cheese cellar and it is time consuming and expensive -- "For the cheese producer, the great advantage to vacuum-sealing in plastic is that it eliminates all the turning, rubbing, and brushing of traditional aging."

Cloth-bound cheddar loses water to evaporation, about 12% of its weight. The concentration, the breathability of the cloth, and the surface molds on the cheese produce complex flavors -- "We made the same cheese in a vacuum-seal..., and compared the two. You're just not getting the same intensity of flavor."

The cloth is still visible at the corner of the cheese. The sides are over-run with mold.

It is not easy to find this cheese. 25 wheels per month are distributed to specialty shops around the country. Imagine my surprise when I saw it at my food coop. I asked to make sure, and it is indeed the cheese I hoped for.

Is there a classic wine pairing for Cheddar cheese? Behr, strangely, doesn't offer any advice in the article. My gut instinct was Oloroso Sherry or Port, something fortified. I checked around the Internet (information super-highway, for those who are unfamiliar) and found nothing definitive. I was on my own, and with no Oloroso or Port in the house. I honestly could not think of a red wine that I wanted to drink with this cheese. I decided on an off-dry white when I read this in the Behr article:
This cheese's outstanding appeal, apparent in some wheels more than others is a powerful caramel sweetness, to the point that it overtakes other flavors...Where does so much caramel come from...a special starter culture: 90% of the flavor of a piece of cheese comes from the milk, unless you've added something to change the flavor, which in this case we have.
And let me use that quote as a springboard - I did not like this cheese. And it wasn't a borderline, on the fence situation. Plain and simple - I didn't like it. I didn't like the caramel flavor - it didn't taste like cheddar. I know, after all that build-up! Edward Behr is a master of the edible and potable, but I disagree on this one point. It wasn't just me, either. My friend who tasted it was not impressed, and BrooklynLady tried it on another evening with no fanfare whatsoever, made a face and said "This doesn't taste like cheese." And she's right, it doesn't. It tastes like caramel and weird bitter vegetables masquerading as cheese. Why did they have to add the fancy starter to alter the milk's flavor? What would this have tasted like with a neutral starter? Did I get a chunk from a poor wheel?

Anyway...the 2002 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demi-Sec, about $32 on release, Robert Chadderdon Selections, was so awesome that the cheese ceased to matter. I chose it because I thought it would have the acidity to stand up to a rich cheddar, and also might compliment the sweet flavors of the cheese. Domaine Huet is, with Philippe Foreau, the top of the top in Vouvray, and this wine was a great example of why this is true. Although it clearly will live forever, it is in a beautiful place right now, full of rich aromas and flavors, and cracking acidity. The nose is the essence of Vouvray, with beautiful orchard fruit and a woolly, waxy undertone. After about an hour there are clear chamomile notes too. This is a powerful wine that crackles with energy in the mouth, but it is also graceful and elegant, very well balanced. It's as close to a perfect glass as I've had from this part of the world, and my attempts to describe it just seem silly compared to the experience of smelling and drinking it.

What is the classic wine to pair with cheddar, anyway? Was I right - Oloroso?


Weston said...

When you said Caramel I was thinking Big Oaky Chard...imagine having the pairing and If I didnt like the cheese. A Cheese and Wine Pairing that both I would not like [I don't like Oaky White Wines]

Anonymous said...

Why not pair it with a cask or pale ale? That is what they do in the Farmhouse cheddar mecca know as England. You don't have to drop 30 bucks. About $2.50 and a knowledge of fine ale is all you need.

Cliff said...

Bummer about the cheese. But at least you got to drink some amazing wine.

Alex Halberstadt said...

Another lovely post; your blog has become part of my daily reading.

A current favorite for a date with cheddar is the Pedro Ximenez Don PX 1971 from Bodegas Toro Albala. It's a vintage-dated PX that's lost some of its sweetness and unctuousness to age, and tastes surprisingly like a 50-year old Bual Madeira for a tiny sliver of the cost. And, frankly, it does just as well by itself.

Wendy said...

While we, of course, are thrilled that Edward Behr is crazy about Cabot's Clothbound Cheddar, we're sorry to hear it wasn't your thing. Different strokes, right? I think you might really like some of our specialty cheddars - the Vintage Choice Cheddar, Old School Cheddar (Aged 5 Years), or Private Stock Cheddar. I adore the Seriously Sharp (readily available in grocery stores!) - it's my families' favorite.

If you want to try any, you can see who carries it at - there are tons of retailers in your area!

Thanks for trying and writing about Cabot. We appreciate your time and your thoughts.

Unknown said...

Very interesting post. I have had Cabot Clothbound on many occasions and have never been disappointed with it. I feel like you may have gotten a bad chunk. Not sure if your piece was fresh cut from a wheel or not. You might want to try some Montgomery's cheddar from Neal's Yard Dairy in England (you may have already tried this before). But being someone who loves aged cheddar, Cabot Clothbound and Montgomery's are my two favorite.

Cliff said...

I love the Montgomery and find it goes with a wide range of wines. Don't think I've tried it with Huet, though.

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Wendy - thanks so much for your measured response to this post. I rarely write negative reviews about wine because I don't feel comfortable defining someone's hard work as "bad" just because I didn't care for it. The funny thing is, I have much more context for writing a negative wine review than I do for cheese, and so I'm not sure why I felt comfortable writing what I did.

Anyway, I apologize if my post offended you, I did not mean it to. Just throwing my cheese-novice opinions around on the web, that's it. Thanks again for your most diplomatic reply.

Brooklynguy said...

@Weston - funny, that's exactly the question that Behr asks in the article.

@Anon - cask ale sounds AWESOME. I will try that next time.

@Cliff - what are some of the wines you'd do with Montgomnery? I'm still stuck on fortified.

@Alex - thanks very much for those kinds words, much appreciated. and I guess I wasn't so far off on the fortified guess.

@ncmussell - i don't know if it was fresh cut from a wheel. i kind of doubt it. my coop work shift is cheese cutting, and sometimes the cheeses can sit for days on the shelves. clearly i'm going to have to try this cheese again, but perhaps from a specialty cheese shop that fully understands how to care for cheese. that's not the coop's specialty, i can tell you that.

Cliff said...

I think those sherries would be a great match, but the cheese is hard enough that I think it works with a bunch of different reds and whites. I confess, I haven't tried it for awhile, but I recall liking a bunch of my favorite reds with it: Puffeney's Trousseau, Foillard and Desvignes' Morgons, Baudry and Breton... Admittedly, I think these wines go with everything, and I don't recall the pairings being magical -- but very good. With whites, I think the Huet would be terrific, Peillot's Altesse, any number of Austrian wines would fit the bill. As I say, I think there's a wide range.

Cliff said...

I bet some of the older Wirschings Lyle brought in a year or so ago would be beautiful matches

Wine Clubs said...

It is definitely port, at least I'd think so. Sherry as well I guess, although I'm not usually a fan.

peter said...

I just had some of this yesterday, and I freaking love it. Maybe you did get a subpar piece.

David McDuff said...

Beaujolais, brother. Cliff's definitely on the right track. And yes, cask pale ale is hard to beat.

mark Anisman said...

the word from Napa, Ca is : try the cheddar again. it was superb!

Steve L. said...

I haven't tried this cheese, but I'm intrigued by the quote: "90% of the flavor of a piece of cheese comes from the milk." In my experience, cheeses taste WAY different than milk does. American milk, French milk, Italian milk...pretty much the same. But let's say Epoisses vs. Parmesan? I'm not sure I believe that "the milk" accounts for 90% of the difference between the tastes of those two cow's milk cheeses.

Brooklynguy said...

cliff, McDee - good ideas, thanks.

peter and mark - i will have to try it again, from a different purveyor i think. cheese supposedly is more variable than wine!

Steve L - welcome back to the comments my man!!! Great to see you out and about. to your point: i think the idea is more that epoisses versus another washed rind cow's milk cheese taste different because of the milk. i also am not sure about the idea tha italian milk tastes the same as american or french milk. don;t the cows eat grasses with different minerals, and all of that?

Joe Manekin said...

Neil - what an unexpected turn on this post! I'm very curious to try this cheddar. For mature, more nuanced, longer aged cheddars, it could be a good chance to experiment with mature claret. Doesn't have to be too fancy. Maybe a 15 year old tradional Haut Medoc, or lesser known Graves, our Moulis.

Cliff said...

For mature, more nuanced, longer aged cheddars, it could be a good chance to experiment with mature claret. Doesn't have to be too fancy. Maybe a 15 year old tradional Haut Medoc, or lesser known Graves, our Moulis.

That sounds really good. I think anything medium weight, on the restrained but rustic side of the spectrum, with bright acidity would be good. I bet Houillon's 2007 Poulsard would be magic.

Charles Rinehart said...

Great blog. That food looks great. All the best.

Vince said...

You almost certainly got an old cut from a bad wheel. When Cabot Clothbound is cut fresh from the wheel, it is remarkably balanced and delicious. Don't buy your cheese from a food coop (or anyone else, for that matter) that pre-cuts their pieces and wraps them in plastic.

Also, you are way, way off on the rarity of this cheese. It is aged and sold by Jasper Hill, and they aim to sell around 600 wheels a month to help break even with their ambitious program with their Cellars. The ultimate goal of the Cellars at Jasper Hill is for this cheese to be "ubiquitous" in shops nation-wide.

Anonymous said...

CIDER is the definitive partner to Cheddar - a partnership going back hundreds of years in Somerset (where Ale is actually a relative newcomer, and wine / sherry have barely arrived).

Get the best, most unadulterated Cider that you can find - made solely from proper bitter/sweet cider apples.

Then you will understand that the 'off' flavours in your cheese are actually what it's all about.