Cheese Tasting at Apollocon

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

Aged Reserve White Cheddar

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

Kerrygold Blarney Castle

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)

Kerrygold Dubliner

Kerrygold Dubliner

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 & Basil

Roasted Garlic with Tomato & Basil

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.

 

Brie

Brie

Brie

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.

 

Dill Havarti

Dill Havarti

Dill Havarti
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

Suggested Wine and Cheese Pairings

Not everyone is an expert at wine and cheese pairings, but everyone should know what they like.

If you are setting up tasty treats for a gathering and would like a simple guide to wines and cheeses (and other tasty ideas), this list is taken from my own experiences. I’m not an expert in the field, but I know what I like and what combinations are pleasing to my palate. I’ve added links to the different types of cheeses and wine varieties for the curious.

If you enjoy Brie, cold or warm, Riesling chilled or at room temperature is lovely. With the Brie, if it is being warmed or baked, add a sprinkle of pine nuts and some jam. Apricot, raspberry or loganberry have all proven to be excellent. Serve with thinly sliced baguettes.

Soft goat cheeses are good with Shiraz (or Syrah). They come in several flavors these days, most notably honey, garlic and herb, and sun dried tomato. Pair these with sliced sweet apples, crisp crackers, or a “party bread” (small loaves baked and cut specifically for canapes).

Parmesan and Asiago are very dry, crumbly cheeses most commonly found grated or flaked for toppings. They are also delightful tasting cheeses and pair nicely with Chardonnay.

Sangria and pink Moscato are favorites to pair with fruits and mild cheeses such as Mozarella and cheddar. These are most often used as dessert wines and tend to favor sweet accompaniments.

Red Moscato and chocolate and dipped fruits are a winning combination. Along with Belinnis, this combination is fun for brunches.

Some traditional standards that are generally true for meats are red wine for red meats, (beef, pork, venison, buffalo, duck), and white wines with white meats (chicken, turkey, fish). I have found this to be true for the most part.

Merlot and Shiraz pair well with grilled red meats. Chardonnay is a crisp counterpoint to may seafood dishes. Sauvignon Blanc goes well with most chicken dishes.

As for cheeses, when in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a good cheddar.

I hope this clears up a little of the mystery of pairing wines, and that you will experiment for yourself to find the combinations that most please your palate.

 

— Ann Cathey