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The 13 Cheese List

Two of my favorite food blogs, Serious Eats and The Kitchn, recently posted lists of 13 cheeses they think everyone should know. The comments at both locations are lighting up with outrage at how some cheeses could have possibly been left out. Since I love cheese more than any other food group other than chocolate and would cheerfully become a vegetarian if I had to lost one to gain the other, I compiled my own list. Of course titling something Thirteen Cheeses Everyone Should Know from someone who is not a professional cheesemonger or even all that knowledgable on how cheese is made sounds pompous, but it’s all in fun.

Here are my thirteen:

  1. Parmigiano-Reggiano: The King of Cheese. Accept no substitute. I’ve been sucking this down since I was a child. A crackling salty, dense delight, it is an insult to name anything else “parmesan”. After this cheese, the list is unordered, but this one is naturally, unapologetically at the top. It embodies everything that is good about Italy.
  2. Epoisses de Bourgogne: A washed rind that smells to the heavens but when it’s ripe, the deep orange rind gives way to an avalanche of creamy yellow cheese that is so thick and dense it’s almost like Nutella. And it tastes like heaven, an assertive, complex cheese that will stare down just about anything you have in your wine rack. Vive la France.
  3. Cantal: An Alpine beauty that makes even the best Gruyere seem juvenile. Elegant and rich, I have put it in everything from omeletes to sandwiches to delightfully on its own.
  4. Montgomery’s: The truest, greatest farmhouse cheddar that responds to having its own name. I first had it at Neal’s Yard in London. Like parmigiano, there are many pretenders to the Cheddar throne and only one king. The rest is dross compared to this.
  5. Valdeon: A spicy Spanish blue that will clear our your sinuses if they need. Pairs beautifully with expensive Spanish honey and gorgeous port or sherry. Blues are hard to get to know for some people. Meet the one worth dying for.
  6. Mozzarella di bufala: Cheerful and sunny and it calls to mind hot sun and perfect summer tomatoes and green olive oil and a wine-dark Mediterranean sea. The buffalo milk makes it that much more interesting and when you start on its perfect whiteness, there’s no stopping. It’s what milk would taste like in a perfect world.
  7. Humboldt Fog: Hey, USA. It’s a goat cheese, it has ash, it is far more than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t do anything to it but eat it at room temperature so the different textures shine in this cheese that is far more complex than it has any right to be.
  8. Boucheron: Fresher and less intense than Humboldt Fog, yet more sophisticated and rich than Cana de Cabra, I love throwing a thick slab on some rustic bread and sticking it under the broiler until it’s lightly browned on top. Chevre chaude indeed.
  9. Pleasant Ridge Reserve: Wow. I had no idea a cheese like this could be so perfect. It’s hard and recognizable but so perfect is its complex flavor, so nutty, so lux, so rich. It’s worth it’s heavy price. And it’s made in Wisconsin.
  10. St. James: Meaty and stinky, St. James is a loud statement that England has arrived. Neal’s Yard ships these bricks to my local cheesemonger and I happily part with hard-earned cash. The texture is as dense as this style of cheese tends to be but not as unctuous as Epoisses. It’s a hardy, English cousin of the French great. I was floored by this.
  11. Roncal: More complex than the far more popular Manchego, it remains hearty friends with membrillo but adds just a little twist of complexity to that scale. Salty and oily and friendly, a big wheel of this is a hit at any party.
  12. Delice de Bourgogne: Aptly, aptly named. Don’t buy Brie. We in the US can’t get the good stuff. Instead, get this buttery perfection or Pierre Robert and don’t look back.
  13. Who should get the last spot? Who? Instead of trying to divide this easily amongst the great cheese nations or the various milks or mixes, I’ll go with the one that was spoken about for weeks after I served it at a Guy Fawkes party last year: Harbourne Blue. It’s a blue goat cheese. Track it down and you’ll be a cheese party goddess for life.

Those are my thirteen and I’m sticking by them.

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