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America, We've Stepped Up Our Cheese Game

April 18, 2014

The wedges, blocks, and wheels that are redefining American cheese.

By: James Gaddy

April 2014 Issue of DETAILS

For too long, cheese born in the USA was defined by those rubbery, wax-dipped bricks of schoolbus-orange Cheddar found in the refrigerated section of your local supermarket. But those days are over.

"The bar has definitely been raised since I started, in terms of the sheer number of farms producing cheese and the number producing really good cheese," says Anne Saxelby, who opened her eponymous New York City provisions shop in 2006.

That’s partly because American makers have started embracing terroir—a concept borrowed from vintners that suggests that geography and climate influence how something tastes—to create flavor-packed takes on European classics. It’s a difference you can taste in salty wedges seasoned by early-morning fog off the Pacific and pungent blocks ripened in a humid Virginia summer. “It starts with where the cheese is from,” says Jason Sobocinski, owner of New Haven’s Caseus.

Here’s how the New World’s cheeses stack up:


Goat Tomme
Twig Farm, Vermont

Created by Michael Lee on a modest farm with 50 goats, this semi-firm Tomme is the American goat-cheese version of the Tomme de Savoie, a rustic variety aged for two months in eastern France. Lee ages his for 80 days with a natural rind that marries well with its creamy texture and herbal undertones.


Purple Haze
Cypress Grove Chevre, California

This fresh chèvre isn’t actually a potent strain of weed. It’s coated with subtle lavender and wild-fennel pollen for a tangy, lemony backdrop.


Bonne Bouche
Vermont Creamery, Vermont

As a student, co-owner Allison Hooper lived with a French family in Brittany, where she learned to make the local delicacy. This soft cheese—aged 10 to 80 days for an ash-ripened, bloomy rind—is a jewel box of flavors ranging from mushrooms to crème fraîche.


Hudson Valley Camembert
Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, New York

This little white square is made from a blend of cow’s and sheep’s milk to produce a decadent version of a French Camembert—creamy, buttery, and with just the right amount of sweetness and salt. “Definitely a crowd-pleaser,” says Elizabeth Chubbuck, of Murray’s Cheese in New York City.


Beecher’s, Washington

Kurt Beecher Dammeier’s downtown-Seattle institution is known for this cross between a Cheddar and a Gruyère, made with sheep’s and cow’s milk and a Swiss culture added for sweetness.


Vermont Shepherd, Vermont

If you can’t get to the Pyrenees and devour the flaky cheese the locals make, try this one instead. Its edible natural rind develops during a four-to-five-month aging process in one of the oldest maturing caves in Vermont.


Caveman Blue
Rogue Creamery, Oregon

It took almost 10 years for one of the country’s ace blue-cheese-makers to perfect a strong, stinky, salty wedge that’s less creamy than your usual Roquefort.


Spring Brook Farm, Vermont

"The ultimate snack," says Chubbuck. "It’s my Saturday cheese between lunch and dinner." Like its inspiration, the French Alps–born Abondance, this semi-firm cheese strikes a balance among flavors that can range from nutty to pineapple.


Prairie Breeze
Milton Creamery, Iowa

Crumbly and firm, it combines the texture of a traditional white Cheddar with the sweetness of an Alpine cheese. It’s aged in the same place as Flory’s Truckle, another phenomenal pick, which tastes more like a Gouda with hints of salted caramel.


Meadow Creek Dairy, Virginia

The closest thing Europe has to this stinky, gooey washed rind is Taleggio or Ardrahan. Depending on the season, it can smell like onion, beef, or even charred asparagus.


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