Cheese, glorious cheese. Many thanks to you, oh creamy fromage, for always being there when we need a snack, a spread turned meal, or simply a tasty addition to a dish otherwise lacking. You complete us.
Of course, we Advocate staffers jumped at the chance to eat cheese. Come on, we know we’re not the only ones delighted by the curds and whey that have been the stuff of life for thousands of years. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, it is believed the first cheese was made accidentally by an Arabian merchant, who slipped his milk stash in a sheep’s stomach he had handy as he set out across the desert. Supposedly that was about 4,000 year ago. Later, some brilliant bloke gave Queen Victoria a 1,000 pound wheel of Cheddar as a wedding gift and the rest is modern history.
Now, macaroni and cheese is an American favorite and there are about 2,000 different varieties of cheeses — not even counting the many subcategories and styles.
With all the options out there, we can see how choosing your favorite cheeses can turn into a melting hot mess. Don’t get your rennet in a bunch. We’re here to help.
No one makes cheese the same way, or the same style. So, we took a stab at collecting similar local cheeses using two rules: the cheese had to be made with raw milk, and it had to be aged.
We rated five area cheeses on a scale of 1 (yuck) to 5 (yum) — Chase Hill Farm’s Herdsman (an alpine-style cheese), Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar, Grace Hill Farm’s Wild Alpine, Jasper Hill’s Alpha Tolman, and Spring Brook Farm’s Reading Raclette — all purchased from cheese counters at Provisions and River Valley Coop Market, both in Northampton.
For some beer and wine pairing expertise, we brought in Nancy Clarke, a certified cicerone and sommelier who works as a beer and wine associate at Whole Foods in Hadley. In-house judges were staff writers Amanda Drane and Hunter Styles, editor Kristin Palpini, production manager Jennifer Levesque, and events coordinator Laura Dintino.
Fifth Place: Grace Hill Farm’s Wild Alpine, 3 points
The pasta cheese
Amanda: A very mild cheese with a faint sour taste.
Kristin: It was pleasantly chewy and it did that thing where it squeaks on your teeth. It would be good over pasta.
Hunter: I would totally make macaroni and cheese for my kids with this. If I had kids.
Nancy: A hard cheese. It reminded me a lot of pecorino toscana. I’d pair a Sangiovese with this. Its mildness makes it accessible to anything — I can’t really think of many beers this wouldn’t go with.
Jen: It was kind of making me thirsty, so eating more of this I would probably drink a tall glass of beer really, really fast.
Fourth Place: Spring Brook Farm’s Reading Raclette, 3.5 points
“This one’s for you, people of the rind”
Amanda: This one was softer, more pungent toward the middle and milder toward the rind.
Kristin: It’s a good fondue cheese.
Laura: It really was a stinky cheese, which I kind of like in a cheese.
Hunter: It’s soft, silky, with a chewy feel to it. A bite or two in it was prickly on my tongue.
Nancy: You’re right, Hunter — it does have that prickliness to it. That means it’s walking that fine line between ripeness and over-ripeness. This is the sort of cheese that screams macon chardonnay.
Third Place: Jasper Hill’s Alpha Tolman, 3.8 points
Gotta love those crunchy bits
Jen: It was okay, but had a funky aftertaste — this type of cheese I would definitely want to eat with a cracker.
Amanda: This one was salty, creamy, and with a bite. It has a nutty taste toward the rind.
Hunter: It’s got that earthy mold — a mild-mannered mold. It has a friendly personality. Not all molds are out to get you.
Kristin: When I think of this cheese, I think of clean, and grassy. And there were those crunch crystals — what are those called? I love those.
Nancy: There’s a name for those crystals [calcium lactate crystals, Google verified]. This one had some funkiness to it. It would do well with a hard cider, like West County — that sharp finish would pair well with the sharpness in the cheese.
Second Place: Chase Hill Farm’s Herdsman Alpine, 4.3 points
The cheese for all occasions
Kristin: Quintessential cheesiness. I would definitely serve this on a cheese plate for the holidays.
Jen: This is definitely the type of cheese I’d get when no one is around because I’d end up eating all of it.
Hunter: It’s a cheese that loves you back.
Nancy: Mmm. I want a nice belgian quad with that, or an English porter. It’s salty with a touch of sharpness, so for me this is something that wants a belgian quad to balance it.
First place: Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar, 4.4 points
Jen: It has a distinctive taste of wood.
Laura: I love the sharp, crumbly Cheddars. Love the crunch crystals.
Nancy: This one would go nicely with a sparkling dry red wine, like a Lambrusco.
Kristin: I think this is a straight-up eatin’ cheese. If you were going to put it on anything I’d put it on apple pie.•
For tips on what we should review next, contact Amanda Drane at firstname.lastname@example.org.