(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
Cheeses whose creamy centers give like a soft-serve cone on a hot day will always have dates to the cheese prom. The spreadable, sweet demeanor of crèmes leads to instant popularity, and their snowy rinds and plush interiors make them some of the best-looking wheels around.
But even cheeses made of pure decadence and cream, whose presence can elicit sighs like Jake Gyllenhaal appearing shirtless in the "Prince of Persia," can bore. Talk to a cheesemonger who has been sampling Brillat Savarin or Fromage D'Affinois to customers for years, and you'll likely be met with a resigned sigh or shrug of the shoulders.
When a cheese lacks the complexity to captivate after the butter high fades and its only claim to fame is tasting like churned cream, many are left wanting more.
Ready to intervene are domestic beauties such as Bohemian Creamery's Bodacious, Scholten Family Farm Weybridge, Nettle Meadow's Kunik, Vermont Butter & Cheese's Cremont and Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk. Their flavors, textures, milk combinations and the interesting ways in which they are made set the foundation for a nuanced creamy relationship that lasts beyond the first sigh.
The prima donna of lush cheeses, the triple-crème sets the tone, composed of at least 75% butterfat. At 60% to 74% butterfat, double-crèmes come next. As with triple-crèmes, most have cream added to the milk to increase the butter factor. The single-crème, which despite lower butterfat, can taste nearly as decadent.
That category includes two of the newest, most compelling lush cheeses out there, Bodacious of Bohemian Creamery in Sebastopol, Calif., and Scholten Family Farm's Weybridge from Weybridge, Vt.
Bodacious comes in a shape owners Lisa Gotteich and Miriam Block say is "an ode to the breast." But, Gotteich adds, "not always the most thrilling one." Though deceptively low in butterfat because it is made of goat's milk, Bodacious' opulent mouthfeel fools the tongue. Adding Penicillium candidum mold to uncut fresh chevre curds encourages the growth of a plush white rind that keeps the cheese's center soft and fluffy like homemade cream cheese. Aged for five to seven days, Bodacious tastes like fresh milk and cream with hints of lemon zest when young and develops a tangy bite and yellow or gray rind mold as it ages.
Another curveball cheese that screams double even as it saunters in under 60% butterfat is Scholten's Weybridge. According to owners Patty and Roger Scholten, Weybridge tastes richer than the numbers report because it is made with milk from their Dutch Belted heritage cows. The milk from this white-striped cattle breed has especially small fat globulins that attach easily to proteins during cheese-making so less fat is lost during the process. In Weybridge, the result is a smooth, rich, dense paste with nutty, sesame, brown butter flavors and hints of mushroom.
Although most creameries want their cheese to stand out, veteran cheese-maker Alyson Hooper of Vermont Butter and Cheese made her new Cremont to cater to the familiar. A blend of cow's and goat's milk and cream, Cremont is a double-crème meant to pique the interest of those whom Hooper says "assume they don't like goat cheese before they try it" or who might be scared off by the style of some cheeses' "brainy rind." Cremont, tasting of cream skimmed off the top of a glass milk bottle, lemon and grass, was introduced last year to build bridges.
Triple-crème Kunik is also a blend of cow's and goat's milk. When current owners Sheila Flanagan and Lorraine Lambiase took over Nettle Meadow in Warrensburg, N.Y., they aimed to stabilize Kunik. A demanding style, the Kunik's fragile curds and high moisture content need constant attention and fixed temperatures and humidity — a challenge that Flanagan and Lambiase find inspiring. True to the cheese's unusual original recipe of goat's milk combined with high-butterfat Jersey cream, Kunik tastes like whipped butter, tangy spring crème fraîche and hazelnuts, and spreads like frosting over a cake.
Always available to add a punch to the triples' style is the classic Red Hawk. Made by Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes. Red Hawk is in its own category — a triple-crème, cow's-milk washed-rind. It was a happy mistake. Peggy Smith and Sue Conley discovered that after they doused their triple-crème Mt. Tam with extra brine and left it to sit, the region's indigenous Brevibacterium linens took over. The result was a creamy, soft, thick, sliceable, meaty, strong-smelling wheel with an orange rind that tastes as sweet as butter (slightly funky, salty butter).
Like an overly rich Chardonnay, a creamy cheese can fall short of inspiring if it lacks complexity. But cheeses like Red Hawk, Kunik, Cremont, Weybridge and Bodacious can stop crème lovers in their tracks. They prove that brains and beauty can go hand in hand.
Double- and triple-crème cheeses: Where to buy