I have not yet told you about my good friend Chloe Zale, and this is a problem. Chloe, among many things, was the catalyst for me finally starting hearthstrung. I had been toying with the idea for a while, because I love food, writing, and photography, but it’s the sort of thing I thought about but never actually did. Over winter break, Chloe started a wonderful blog called Chloe’s College Kitchen, and as I read her entertaining stories (read the one about her stinky cheese-maligned party, it’s sort of hilarious) and ogled her photos, I was inspired to take the plunge into the blogosphere and try my hand at wordpressing. I even made it my New Year’s Resolution (one I was eager to make deserve its capitals).
In any case, this is one small reason why I adore the guts out of Chloe Zale. Another reason is that she is the most knowledgeable cheese aficionado I think I’ve ever befriended. She created an internship for herself (power woman, I know) at Murray’s Cheese Shop last summer (only the mecca of cheese shops in NYC for any even half-self-respecting caseophile), and knows so much about the art and science of cheese production that it’s bewildering and enthralling. I literally could listen to her talk about cheese for hours. And not just because it’s cheese.
Chloe has introduced me to many types of cheese I’d never tried or even heard of before, but one tasting that really stands out was the night we shared a Rush Creek Reserve. She had been telling me about this exquisite cheese ever since winter break, I think — it’s hard to remember when exactly the lore reached my ears. But I do remember thinking about this cheese ever since. It’s a raw cow’s milk washed rind cheese inspired by the Vacherin Mont d’Or of Switzerland, made by Uplands Cheese Company in Wisconsin. The former cannot be imported to the US due to federal regulation of foreign raw milk cheese (a large shame, but we will save that discussion for later), so Uplands has definitely tapped into a worthwhile market. They only produce it a few months of the year, and distribute it in small shippings, so it is notoriously hard to get one’s hands on a wheel (unless your name is Chloe Zale and you work magic), but it has nonetheless garnered much-deserved attention from a variety of blogs, magazines, and critics. Drawing from its inspiration, the raw cow’s milk is aged for sixty days, and the resulting wheel is wrapped in spruce bark and washed with bacteria that give the rind its distinctive orange colour.
But this cheese is not primarily about looks, though it is beautiful (and, as we will see, could easily qualify as food porn even if one is careful about it). The texture of the cheese is perhaps most remarkable. Runny all the way through, unctuous and decadent, this is a cheese designed for unabashed dipping. Crusty baguette has never known a better friend.
Chloe caught me at a perfect time for a necessary feast. C had left that morning, I had a long drive and tiring gig in NY state with the Cats, and then when I got home I found out my grandfather had died the night before. And I had rehearsal and schoolwork. Boo. When I got back from the gig, I was pretty beat, not to mention a little down from the news, and I kind of just wanted to crawl into bed for a nap.
That’s Chloe called me up and told me the Rush Creek Reserve she had ordered from Murray’s had finally arrived in the mail — the snow had delayed its arrival, but now it was finally sitting on her kitchen table, ready to be devoured, and she wanted me to help. Naturally, being a gentleman, I could hardly refuse such a request.
Like every time I go over to Chloe’s house, it was a long, delicious, leisurely affair, which was exactly what I needed that night. We spent hours just lounging around, nibbling at this prize of a cheese, talking and casually infusing her 7th storey apartment with all kinds of honest luxury. I brought over a bottle of Prosecco that C had bought on the weekend but that we hadn’t had a chance to drink, as well the last of my Black Truffle Chocolate from Mast Bros. Chocolate in Brooklyn (post on that adventure forthcoming). Chloe broke out some sour cherry compote, wildflower honey, and sliced some crusty bread, and before we knew it we were swimming in delicacy.
The opening of the Rush Creek was an almost sacred exercise. We peeled the top off the wheel as if it were the lid of some empyrean tin, revealing the smooth, creamy interior. I had become accustomed to the smell from when I first noticed it walking in (it’s not your average cheese), but removing the top engulfed me in an even more potent aroma of sprucey, savoury, barnyardy goodness.
Once we did that, there was no going back:
One of the biggest surprises about the cheese was its taste — it was much softer and creamier than its aroma might suggest, but still with that distinctive woodsiness from the spruce and the tempered pungency of the washed rind. It paired so well with most of the things on the table — the sparkle of the prosecco was a perfect counterpoint to the oozy, complex flavour of the cheese; the sour cherry compote was a welcome foil of fruity acidity and bite to the cheese’s saltiness; and the chocolate, with its rich aroma with notes of espresso and raw sugar, not to mention the unimpeded black truffle, complemented the earthiness and richness of the cheese while also highlighting its creamy lightness compared with the chocolate. Needless to say, the crusty bread was the most satisfying of them all. What better thing is there than runny cheese and crusty bread? Well, there’s truffle salt, which was a wonderful addition, for somewhat obvious reasons (especially with the chocolate). We even ended up bringing out Chloe’s big jar of miso, and you know what? It worked. It totally worked. Man, was this ever a cheese.
The only pairing we didn’t really like, surprisingly, was the honey. There was too much syrupy, creamy texture going on, and the cheese, though potent, couldn’t really stand up to something so saccharine, let alone so comparably gooey. But we were ok with that, because we had many other awesome pairings, and we could save the honey for another experiment.
It was a fun and relaxing night, and was just what I needed to save my day and recharge me for the week and the funeral.
As we lay on the couch, full and happy, we admired the remnants of our spoils, especially the empty spruce casing and bits of rind (yes, we even ate the rind). I’ve always found something so beautiful about a table at the end of a meal; this night was no exception.