Since it’s introduction several years ago, the cheese tasting at Apollocon has been growing in popularity. The sign-in sheet is always full, as is the panel. Each year it is a little different, having started with a very basic group of cheeses, and blossomed into a sort of free-for-all in the cheese departments of several stores.
This year the cheese selections were almost accidental. On the way to the event, we stopped in at our local Aldi for some supplies, and on a whim, checked out the cheese department. The selection so surprised us that we bought the cheeses for the panel then and there.
We were able to offer a comparison between a true cheddar and a cheddar-style, an Irish made selection to compare to a domestic, a flavored cheese, and hardnesses in a nice range. While we didn’t pick up a hard cheese, which was available, there were plenty of other textures for educating the audience.
As always, the selected cheeses were rated by the group for the snack-ability, and how they might be used in the kitchen, notably for grilled-cheese sandwiches and mac-n-cheese. These two dishes offer a wide range of possibilities and a common comparison for the meltability of a cheese, and how cheeses combine for surprising and pleasing flavors.
Aged Reserve White Cheddar
An extra-sharp white cheese, this unassuming package gave us a striking cheese. The cheese was a little dry and smacked into the taste buds like a freight train. It was almost to the crumbly sharp stage, breaking in a flaking pattern rather than tearing when sliced. There was nothing mellow about the flavor – it was exactly what I consider a sharp cheddar should be.
While not as meltable, nor as oily, as a younger cheese, this one definitely has a place on the table of those who appreciate sharp cheeses.
Kerrygold Blarney Castle (Gouda syle)
This was the first time I had encountered the Blarney Castle before. It was a sterling surprise. Listed as “gouda style”, meaning it was made in the same fashion as a true Gouda cheese, it gave the expected smoothness. With a strikingly rich flavor that marks all of Kerrygold’s cheeses, it pleases the palate without being overbearing. This one would pair nicely with a white wine any time, having just enough bite to offset the tannic acid of the wine, while not being overwhelmed by it.
It was considered to be a better eating cheese than grilling cheese, and had a high rating on the mac-n-cheese flavor chart.
Kerrygold Dubliner (Cheddar style)
What can I say about the Kerrygold line? There are no mistakes! The Dubliner is a smooth, simple cheddar that not only pleases the taste buds alone, it has so many possible culinary uses I can’t list them all here. The mellow flavor lends itself to pairings with white wines and various fruits, as well as for use in salads, biscuits, and omelets. With a medium meltability and a good spot of oil, it will bake into most dishes adding a lovely flavor and cheesy texture.
The Dubliner had a high rating on the mac-and-cheese list as a solid cheese choice, as well as a good choice for the grilled cheese sandwich.
Roasted Garlic with Tomato and Basil semi-soft artisan (Mozzarella style)
This cheese is simply delightful. With the texture and slice-ability of a mozzarella, this example of a flavored cheese is a tantalizing treat. Both tomato and garlic are mixed into the cheese curd well before it sets giving the final product a swirly red-brown pattern. The rind is rolled in what appears to be crushed sun-dried tomato and finely chopped basil. The overall effect is of a crustless pizza, with some undertones that are reminiscent of coffee.
This young cheese is great sliced with crackers for a snack, shredded for a pizza or other Italian dish, and soft enough with a smooth meltability that would lend itself to macaroni and cheese with an Italian twist.
A soft, bloomy cheese, brie is an interesting flavor/texture combination for the beginner in cheese tasting. In this case it was served at room temperature, which brings out the saltiness and a certain tang in the cheese. When served baked with an apricot marmalade and toasted pine nuts, the cheese simply puddles across both plate and palate with a rich, buttery flavor.
Some people like to eat the rind, others prefer to remove it. This is a personal taste thing. The rind of a Brie has been inoculated with cheese mold (Penicillium candidum generally) to give it that soft, white exterior, that will turn more golden as it ages.
Brie was not recommended by the group for either grilled cheese nor macaroni and cheese, though someone, somewhere, has doubtlessly given it a go.
Due to the zealous nature of my partner on the panel, one of the packages slipped away from my camera. You will have to trust me when I say that the creamy Dill Havarti is worth the time and effort to find and acquire. It has a delicate flavor to go along with the semi-soft texture, no bite at all, and would likely be an excellent candidate for a grilled cheese sandwich. The color is mildly off-white with little flecks of the green spice.
There are, of course other Havarti’s out there, but this product in both regular and dill varieties is an excellent economical and readily available sample of the type.
Now that you know what we were up to in that board room at Apollocon, maybe you will look us up at Apollocon 2015 and get on the sign-up sheet early. If you aren’t planning to make the event, remember that the cheeses we had so much fun tasting this year are all available at Aldi, and variations of them are available from other purveyors of fine cheeses as well.
Happy Cheese Tasting!
— Ann Cathey