Crafting a Hudson Valley cheese board involves combining textures, flavors, and providing a few simple accompaniments to complement your selection. From mild and tangy to cave-aged specialties, the Hudson Valley is becoming a destination for delicious cheeses, so it’s easier than ever to assemble a board that reflects local flavor. Start with softer style cheeses and progress to an extra-aged or blue cheese to finish, then add a mix of artisan breads and crackers, in-season fruit, nuts, and local honey. Pair with your choice of beverage—sparkling (try cider), white wine, or a lighter style of red. A dry bubbly, like Brotherhood’s Blanc de Blanc, works well across the board. The fine bubbles cut through the fat in the cheese, and in effect, cleanse your tongue in preparation for the next tasty bite.
Clockwise, starting at the bottom of the board:
Fresh cheese is cheese in its youngest, purest form. Fluffy ricotta, creamy goat cheese, soft mozzarella, crumbly feta . . . these are all delicious examples of fresh cheese. This style of cheese is loved for its simple, yet satisfying, flavor. It tastes mild, sometimes salty or tangy. Fresh cheese does not have a rind and is not aged for any significant amount of time.
McGrath Cheese Company’s Fresco goes from fresh cow’s milk to cheese in just two days. Its buttery, smooth, and rich flavor makes it one of the best fresh cheeses in the Hudson Valley.
Some of my favorite cheeses are mixed milk. Each kind of milk (cow, goat, sheep) has its own traits, bringing unique contributions to the cheese world by way of flavor, texture, and aroma. Nettle Meadow Farm is a star when it comes to making mixed milk cheeses. For some of the best examples of mixed milk cheese try their Kunik, a triple crème; the firmer Three Sisters; and Briar Summit, a combination of three types of milk and cow cream infused with raspberry leaf tea.
Bloomy Rind or Soft-Ripened
A bloomy rind is a rind found on some soft cheeses that has formed due to the presence of helpful bacteria called Penicillium candidum or Penicillium camemberti. This bacteria encourages a thin, soft, sometimes fuzzy rind to grow or “bloom” on the outside of the cheese.
These cheeses are also referred to as soft-ripened, becoming creamy from the outside in. They have a totally edible rind. Camembert and Brie fall into this family. Try Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s Nancy’s Camembert for a luscious spin on an Old World classic.
Semi-Soft (and melty)
This style of cheese is creamy and delicious, and makes both a welcome addition to a cheese board and a killer grilled cheese. Cheeses in this family can be made from a single milk or a mix of milks, with a variety of rind styles. Most famous are Comte, Fontina, and young Cheddar. McGrath’s Rascal is a stellar example of this style; its smooth fudge-like texture melts in your mouth with sharp pungent flavors of brown butter, earth, and a meaty finish.
Magic can occur when cheesemakers team up with skilled affineurs (cheese aging specialists, or “nannies” of cheese). Using a variety of techniques that may include washing the rind with beer, spirits or cider; introducing specific mold strains; or wrapping the cheese with leaves or bark can turn an already special cheese into a masterpiece. Try Dutch Knuckle, produced from the raw milk of brown cows at Sugar House Creamery in the Adirondacks. Aging 8 to 12 months in the caves adds a smooth, rich, beefy note. Crown Finish Caves in Brooklyn and Murray’s Cheese in NYC have also partnered with a number of local cheesemakers to create unique, cave-aged cheeses. These wildly popular offerings are often made in small, limited batches.
Some of the strongest flavors in the cheese family belong to the blues. These rich, spicy, veined cheeses should always be consumed last, as their assertive flavors can spoil the delicate flavor of other offerings on the cheese board. When including a blue (try Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s Ewe’s Blue), plate it on its own with a variety of nuts, apples, and dark chocolate. Pair it with a sweet, port-style wine such as Highlands Fine Ruby from Hudson-Chatham Winery which has a rich, jammy flavor—just the thing to stand up to a spicy blue.