American Cheese Month at Eastern District
The rain returns, the beach is closed, and it’s dark by the time you’re home from work; Fall has a lot to apologize for. Luckily, like all the best apologies, this one involves lots of food: a lot of seasonal products come into their best times around now. While many of us don’t necessarily think of cheese as having a distinct seasonality, many of the incredible farms surrounding the city are currently putting out their best products at this time of year. Courtesy of Beth Lewand, Cheesemonger and owner of Eastern District, here are two great examples of Fall’s best.
The first is a firm sheep’s milk cheese from Vermont Shepherd in Putney, Vermont. Sheep’s milk is the hardest of the main three (sheep, goat, and cow) to procure in volume because sheep have the shortest productive season and simply produce less than other animals during this time. They generally give birth in the late winter or early spring and produce milk to feed their lambs during the spring and summer months when pastures overflow with the grasses and herbs that contribute rich flavors to the resulting cheeses. The wheel we tasted was originally made on May 14th of this year and has aged for exactly 141 days as of this writing, and the farmers tell us that the pastures at that time had lots of plantain and dandelion contributing to the sheep’s diet. The resulting cheese was exceptionally mild and smooth, buttery in a pleasant, clean way, and complex without being weird. A perfect offering for a mixed group that might not be into the funky stuff, and Beth suggested pairing it with one of the many regional ciders being produced in the French farmhouse style – crisp, not too sweet, and with a light, champagne-like carbonation. She extended this to suggest any product in the apple abnd pear family, fresh or cooked, served alongside this universally loveable cheese.
Slightly more assertive is Manchester, from Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, Vermont. Goats have a slightly longer milking season and are a bit more productive than sheep, and both animals have the highly desirable quality of thriving on rocky,hilly landscapes that can be too marginal for dairy cows. This makes them popular both in the often rock-strewn pastures of the post-glacial northeast and in mountainous areas of southern France and Spain. This cheese was on a similar schedule; the goats were pastured on spring and summer greenery while producing milk, producing a cheese that tastes a good bit different than the same style might if produced over the winter when the same animals are eating silage and stored hay. This cheese had a tangy quality and a well-balanced saltiness that contrasted nicely with the Vermont Shepherd and led Beth to suggest a pairing with the hoppy Schneider Weisse Hopfenweisse.
These styles of cheese are well suited to the fall; they go great with Oktoberfest beers, they’re satisfying without being overwhelming, and they’re best eaten outside in alternation with pieces of apples snapped off the core. Head to Eastern District and check out their cheese passport promotion in which a different American cheese is offered at a 25% discount every day of the month.